Thanks, Now Get Lost

Chris Anderson Dec 23, 2004

Not content to simply send its young men (and later young women) off to fight and die in foreign wars, the U.S. government has frequently ignored its returning veterans.  While the 1944 G.I. Bill has assumed mythical status, other government policies toward returning vets have been less inspiring.


In 1932, tens of thousands of jobless veterans led by a former cannery worker named Walter W. Walters, began arriving in Washington, D.C, to demand payment of a bonus Congress had approved for their ser vice in World War I. Veterans waited nearly two months, but the Senate ultimately failed to ratify the bonus. Major General Douglas MacArthur ordered a force of 600 soldiers, and tanks to wipe out the veterans camp on July 28.  Hundreds were injured and four killed during the course of the day.  The New York Times wrote on July 29, “Flames rose high over the desolate Anacostia flats at midnight and a pitiful stream of refugee veterans of the World War walked out of their home of the past two months, going they knew not where.”


Vietnam veterans returned home from a brutal war facing a lack of government support and desperately trying to come to grips with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Thousands of Vietnam vets still suffer from PTSD today.  What’s more, tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans have had to deal with the lingering effects of exposure to the chemical defoliant Agent Orange.

GULF WAR I: Repeating the longtime denial of the side effects of Agent Orange, Washington attempted to mount a similar coverup of “Gulf War Syndrome.” Atul Guwande wrote in Slate Magazine in 1996, “After returning home, American, Canadian, and British veterans began reporting a variety of chronic symptoms including fatigue, joint pain, headache, difficulty sleeping, diarrhea, or nausea.” More than 100,000 veterans are believed to be suffering from Gulf War Syndrome. The condition is thought to be a result of the toxic battlefield, the use of experimental vaccines on troops and the military’s large scale introduction of depleted uranium munitions.


With the second Gulf War not even over, George W. Bush has closed seven veterans hospitals and cut veterans health benefits.  Bush’s budget for 2006 is expected to cut funds for Veterans Affairs by 3.4 percent or roughly $1 billion.

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