What Is the Price of War?

Several years ago Mike, a Vietnam veteran, took my Macro and Microeconomics classes. He always came on time, hopping on his crutches with speed, expertly avoiding anything that might trip him. You could tell he was in pain –he winced occasionally and sweated profusely from the effort to stay upright. He was missing his right leg above the knee.

Mike came back from Vietnam physically whole. He lost his leg in a car accident caused by a drunk driver. The mental scars, he said, were impossible to heal. He understood that his country drafted him to fight the spread of communism but he also knew that the industrial military complex had to stay in business profitably.

He described the stifling air in the jungle, so humid that it was hard to breathe and uniforms never dried, crawling on red dirt covered with ants and snakes, digging underground for cover, bitten by snakes and creepy insects the size of a man’s palm, being shot at and not knowing where the enemy was hiding, the Vietnamese watching them and tracking them by their shaving cream.

Seeing your best friends blown to bits or die in your arms from stray bullets was something Mike could never erase from his mind. When he came home, he was spat at by liberals who were unhappy with the war. They took their hatred and disdain out on the returning countrymen who were drafted to fight a war liberals vehemently opposed from the luxury of their cozy homes and freedoms protected by the very soldiers they were maligning and abusing. Mike was bitter that the faceless bureaucrats who sent them to war were never harmed or blamed. He resented Hollywood and Hanoi Jane (Fonda) for comforting the enemy.

Mike took my classes not because he was hoping to get a better job. Who was going to hire this broken man, he said? He had a thirst for knowledge, he wanted to learn, to continue his schooling that was abruptly interrupted by the draft. He did not have the luxury of refusing the draft or hiding behind a powerful daddy or go to medical school in order to skip the draft.

Being a veteran, Mike had to drive four hours many times each month to seek medical help in the nearest VA hospital. I thought it odd at the time that this man, who served his country in Vietnam and was promised stellar medical care for the rest of his life, could not be seen at the nearest local hospital, ultra-modern, and equipped to handle any health needs Mike might have had. His VA hospital appointments dragged on for months and years before he got his first prosthesis for his missing leg.

Judging by the recent VA scandal, things are a lot worse than Mike had described years ago. Citizens should be outraged that so many veterans died while on the waiting list to be treated at VA hospitals.

Americans should ask the question why are our veterans receiving third world medical care when they have earned and were promised the best of care for the rest of their lives while we give free stellar health care to illegal aliens in California and elsewhere, medical care they are not entitled to and have not earned?

Rationing health care to our heroes is the wrong way to trim the budget and the out of control spending. What happened to the Hippocratic Oath that doctors take when graduating from medical school? Are performance bonuses for rationing care to our needy veterans more important than the oath to do no harm?

A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll reported that only 8 percent of veterans believe Veteran Affairs is doing an excellent job. Six in ten troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan believe VA is doing a “less-than-good job of meeting the needs of veterans.”
(Gregg Jaffe, The Washington Post, May 21, 2014)

According to Stars and Stripes, “nearly half of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are filling” disability claims, “a flood of claims that has overwhelmed the VA and generated a backlog of 300,000 cases stuck in processing for more than 125 days. Some have languished for more than a year.” Last year there were 611,000 claims.

“We’re not where we need to be, but we’re making progress,” said our President. It is an understatement to call this debacle a “national embarrassment” and “a mess” when so many lives were lost, the appointment books cooked, and the backlog is huge.

The scars, the constant pain, the missing limbs, the headaches, depression, the numerous surgeries to fix indescribable physical and mental damage to the bodies of those who survived, the frustration, the changed lives, brought out the question posed by doctors in Afghanistan who “had debated whether they should even be saving these troops” who previously, without the advances in combat medicine, would have bled out on the battle field only a few years earlier” – “What kind of lives could they lead?”

Army Staff Sgt. Sam Shockley, who suffered multiple debilitating wounds and 40 surgeries so far after stepping on a buried bomb that blew his legs off, had a simple answer, “I always think that it could be worse.” “I would say I came out of this with my head on my shoulders.” http://www.stripes.com/1.284278

What is the price of war? As Stars and Stripes wrote, “VA calculates war’s true cost, one disabled veteran at a time.” It is hard to account for the actual cost of the war machine and the cost in human lives lost and families destroyed. Pricing a human life, the loss of body parts, of mental acuity, and of lifelong pain and suffering are highly arbitrary. For a surviving veteran, a lost foot or hand cost $101.50, two missing legs cost $1,000-$1,300, and missing arms cost $1,600-$1,800 a month in disability payments. Those vets who need help around the clock are paid $8,179 a month. Vets would give anything to get their corporal and mental integrity back.

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