Saturday, April 29, 2006

Yellow Ribbons in NYC

It is now almost 5 years since that horrendous day, September 11th , 2001. I still have vivid memories of that time, rushing from Hunter College down to the armory, I can still picture my first sight of ground zero late that night, fires still burning. Standing in the pouring rain on the night of the September twelfth, shivering as we kept the unauthorized from wandering onto the recovery sight I turned to Willy and Jason and said “We’re gonna be busy for the next few years!”

Two weeks later we were sleep deprived zombies after staring into that burning chasm for 13 straight nights. Released from our mission we were encouraged to talk to an Army psychologist. I don’t remember his name. I do recall staring across the Hudson towards New Jersey, while he asked me in a sad and timid voice: “What do we do now?”

“I guess we get used to it.” I said. It seemed that as our war with terror
went on we would adjust. In many ways we have. People have. We shrug off, for the most part new airport procedures, the threat of subway bombings, and bag searches, here in NY.and We the troops, many of us Guard and Reserve went to war. We all go about our business. Millions of caring civilians Hang Flags, we buy yellow ribbon-magnets or red, white and blue ones proclaiming our aim to “Support the Troops!” and stick millions of these decals on bumpers and trunks. Even Americans opposed to the war mainly display their goodwill towards America’s warriors. Unfortunately our political will does not yet match our displayed intentions.

With federal debt once again spiraling upward the Bush administration has started to limit increases to the Veteran’s Administration’s budget. A budget that has for years been designed to deal with a stable population of veterans. A Veterans budget that doesn’t account for hundreds of thousands of new combat vets. A Veterans budget faced with nearly twenty thousand new cases of physically wounded soldiers. No one has counted, nor can they yet count how many psychically wounded we face.. Here in New York, there is still a real threat of closure at the Manhattan VA hospital, which would force city veterans to find their way to the less accessible hospitals in other boroughs. And the VA Hospitals are far from friendly places. Once a vet manages to pass through a security checkpoint of police with metal detectors, he or she faces a bewildering bureaucracy, and a pass the buck cancel the appointment approach to care.

Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are just beginning to seek help Home from Iraq for a little over a year now, friends who I deployed to Iraq with are just starting to admit to readjustment issues. As are my buddies from the 1-69 who were six months behind in there rotation. These men and women are starting to admit to trouble adjusting, to nightmares, to depression to drinking too much. Already Social Service agencies are reporting homeless veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. If Vietnam is any lesson at all, this is the tip of the iceberg. Things are going to get worse, without our help.

In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, a wave of returning veterans was met by a society unprepared to assist them. America ended up with a population of veterans with higher than average incidents of psychological disorders, unemployment and homelessness. Popular opposition to war was often taken out on veterans, political will was lacking, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the most prevalent psychological effect of the war, was still not properly understood. Can we afford to repeat those problems? In Iraq and Afghanistan as in Vietnam the enemies preferred weapon is surprise. The Jungle Ambush has been replaced by the IED, the Improvised Explosive Devise, the Roadside Bomb, which like the Ambush comes out of nowhere. One minute you are riding up Highway One, maybe in the back of an un-armored truck, The next minute the world is spinning in five dimensions of horrendous sound and blinding fury. Then you are frantically trying to apply a pressure dressing to a comrade bleeding all over you. These are the things that nightmares are made of. And PTSD too.

Many of NYCs veterans today are guardsmen and reservists. Many more are young men and women who inspired by 9-11 enlisted in the Armed Forces to avenge that bloody day. We have fought several countries. We have helped overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan, where Bin Laden hatched his horrific plot. We participated in the destruction of another evil regime. Guardsmen from this very city helped compile the very evidence being used to try Saddam Hussein right now. Additionally we stood at ground zero when we were called. We secured NY’s airports for months to reassure a terrified flying public, assuring NY’s economic wellbeing. We continue to guard subways and commuter rails, stations and trainyards, as needed.

We usually ask for little more than thanks. And the New York city sadly offers little more these days. I am given to understand, perhaps incorrectly, that state regulation and funding call for one veterans counseler per county, or borough in our case, and that this funding in NYC goes to the Mayors Office of Veterans Affairs, with a staff of only three. This office has, as I have seen in the last year little to no interest in outreach, or counseling. Surely with only three people it has little ability in any case. But if we wish to avoid the veterans problems of the 1970s, homelessness and serious mental illness, neglected by all we need to do something. New York’s veterans are now asking for help. Veterans deserve this, we’ve earned it. And most of all we need it. It’s time we put our money where those magnets are.

The Defense of Mario Lozano


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