A Bronze Star and the Brush-Off
Americans don’t understand this latest failure of government. We have a hard time with stuff that doesn’t work; organizations that are constantly ‘surprised’ that dikes can fail and wars can produce wounded, ‘swamping’ the agencies designed to deal with just exactly that.
Ian Urbina and Ron Nixon are a couple of NYTimes writers who, like many, now that the public finally knows how the military is caring for its vets, are piecing together stories. They are not Walter-Reed centric, they are flooding in from all over the country. Specialist James Webb is one of them.
Unable to work because of post-traumatic stress disorder and back injuries from a bomb blast in Iraq in 2004, Specialist James Webb of the Army ran out of savings while waiting 11 months for his claim. In the fall of 2005, Mr. Webb said, he began living on the streets in Decatur, Ga., a state that has the 10th-largest backlog of claims in the country.
“I should have just gone home to be with family instead of trying to do it on my own,” said Mr. Webb, who received a Bronze Star for his service in Iraq. “But with the post-traumatic stress disorder, I just didn’t want any relationships.”
After waiting 11 months, he began receiving his $869 monthly disability check and he moved into a house in Newnan, Ga. About three weeks ago, Mr. Webb moved back home to live with his parents in Kingsport, Tenn.
The Bronze Star isn’t a Medal of Honor, but it’s the 4th highest combat medal the Army awards and it proves Jim came by his disability both honorably and honestly.
Americans don’t understand this latest failure of government. We have a hard time with stuff that doesn’t work; organizations that are constantly ‘surprised’ that dikes can fail and wars can produce wounded, ‘swamping’ the agencies designed to deal with just exactly that. We are impatient with pastures full of brand new and rusting trailers while Katrina victims are still homeless; weaponry in Iraq and Afghanistan that is still not up to spec after four years of kids getting blown up; military hospitals that are the best in the world at trauma treatment and then turn wounded kids loose to fend for themselves.
This country used to work. Stuff got done. We bitched and complained about our government (as is our constitutional right), but for the most part we took care of our own.
Now we can’t care for anybody. Rich as we are, the wheels have come entirely off of this administration’s ability to function, even at the lowest possible levels of competency. It is the spoils system of government that allows the winning party, either party, particularly if they dominate both houses of congress, to flood the agencies of authority with their own.
And flooded we are—left to wring out the cruddy water of nepotism and special interest, hopful the sponge that’s left is up to the work at hand.
"In 2004 (NYT), a system was designed to track soldiers better, prepare for surges in demand and avoid backlogs. But the system was shelved by program officials under Secretary Jim Nicholson for financial and logistical reasons, V.A. officials said Thursday at a hearing before the House Veterans Affairs Committee."
Thus far, in stunning failure and shocking incompetence, the agencies of George Bush’s government and George Bush’s military have not yet failed to come up short. No one knew the levies would fail, no one prepared for body-armor and vehicle enhancement, no one realized one of the longest wars in our history could not be fought with reservists, no one organized the smooth transition from wounded to longer-term care, no one recognized there would be bills to pay and kids too physically wrecked to pay them, no one stopped the privatization of fighting and feeding and caring for your and my sons and daughters that has cost us so dearly.
Welcome to the government of no one.
James Webb is merely one of thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands, who are not able to argue philosophically over how we got into the Middle East and if it was a right or a wrong thing to do. For them, the argument is made moot by their injury and Scooter Libby’s outing or not-outing a blonde-chick CIA agent is merely a feeble distraction. For them, stock prices and that latest little shiver China sent through Wall Street, are just one more instance of a country busy elsewhere.
For them, the business of today and tomorrow and the day after tomorrow is another numbingly unchangeable paper-chase, physical therapy routine or struggle to understand that what happened to their bodies and minds is not returnable for a full refund.
There is another James Webb, as fate will have it and this namesake is also a winner of The Bronze Star. He is the newly-elected United States Senator from Virginia. He is a member of both the Armed Services Committee and the Veteran Affairs Committee. Like our specialist with the 11 month wait for paperwork, Senator James Webb is a no-bullshit guy.
I expect that the Senator will be outraged—truly so, as only a decorated combat veteran can be, rather than outraged for the press. There will be hearings and perhaps he will shove closed the barn door of an already-empty barn. Fingers will be pointed, jobs lost, toes stepped upon and new legislation passed.
But what has really passed seems unrecoverable.
The conservative administration we have endured these past six years has failed to conserve our most valued treasure. Our honor, our financial security, our care for each other as individuals, our attraction as a nation of possibility and peace, have all gone begging. To conserve is an honorable endeavor but we are spent instead, and the disbursement of a government that once worked, no matter how imperfectly, has bought us nothing of value.
That’s a hell of a price to pay and James Webb the specialist as well as James Webb the Senator, along with you and me, our children and our grandchildren, are going to have to pay it.