No more Jason Stifflers
Yesterday was Veteran’s Day. Everyone from
the president to small-town mayors praised American vets for their honor,
courage and sacrifice.
Today, the treatment of America’s
returning sick and wounded veterans is fast becoming a national disgrace.
In August, The Wall Street Journal
profiled Army Private First Class Jason Stiffler who had been injured when a
watchtower he manned collapsed in Afghanistan.
Stiffler was returned to the U.S. for
medical treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where
he recovered limited use of his legs. Then he was dropped through cracks in the
He returned home to find that the
Veteran’s Administration had no record of him. So, he received no treatment and
no benefits. Government officials told him to seek help from churches and seek
public assistance to support himself, his pregnant wife and son.
Only when his story hit the news—after
Stiffler’s car was repossessed, the bills had piled up and an eviction notice
had arrived—did his problems receive attention. Stiffler is not alone.
Last month, United Press International
reported from Fort Stewart that about 600 "sick or injured members of the Army
Reserves and National Guard were warehoused in rows of spare, steaming and dark
cement barracks in a sandy field waiting for doctors to treat their wounds or
The Toronto Star reported that they were
housed 60 to a barracks, forced to hobble across sand to use the bathroom, and
had to pay for their own toilet paper.
UPI reported similar conditions at Fort
Knox where the sick and injured waited weeks and months for medical attention
while housed in "... Spartan, dilapidated World War II-era barracks with leaking
roofs, animal infestations, and no air conditioning in the Kentucky heat."
Only after the press coverage, did the
Bush Administration address the appalling conditions.
It’s not only sick and wounded vets having
problems. In the last year, about 1,300 National Guardsmen and reservists filed
discrimination complaints with the Labor Department, up from 900 the year
before. Half said they missed out on jobs, promotions or weren’t reinstated in
their jobs. Such discrimination is illegal.
The mistreatment of America’s veterans and
active military personnel is shameful.
In a recent television documentary,
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi said the V.A. can do better. He
blamed problems like Stiffler’s on the agency’s computers, which cannot
communicate with computers at the Department of Defense.
Computers, typewriters, quill pens—it
shouldn’t matter. The president, Congress, the V.A. and the Defense Department
must do better. Abandonment of the soldiers who protect this nation should never
be an option. The government’s new motto must be: No more Jason Stifflers.