Reforming The Department of Veterans Affairs Should Come Before Intervention In Syria

An Argument To Consider The Future of Our Veterans When Considering Action In Syria And Elsewhere

Over the past 48 hours, There’s been a ton of division among even the most staunch supporters of President Donald Trump, following the aftermath of The Executive Branch’s decision to authorize a Tomahawk missile strike on a Syrian airbase which the mainstream media claims was housing jets carrying it nerve gas which has killed dozens of innocent men, women, and children in the region.

The split amongst Trump supporters is primarily over whether or not President Trump’s executive actions constitute an act of war, and secondarily, whether or not US Military action in Syria is justified or not. On that note, my colleague Joshua Johnson has written a scathing article criticizing the current foreign policy actions in Syria.

For now, I have personally decided to abstain from commenting on whether or not President Trump’s actions are justified, as I am currently of two minds on this topic. I will however state that I am against a full-scale war like we had with Iraq and Afghanistan under President Bush II. I’m not an isolationist by any means, and I’ve often called for The CIA and the clandestine services to take out radical Islamic Terror cells with extreme action and prejudice. However, Johnson also points out that Assad has not been identified as having any ties with radical Islam thus far.

This brings me to my main topic of concern which relates to the domestic problem of an ineffective Department of Veterans Affairs, and how full-scale intervention in Syria could worsen an already severe problem here at home.

Full-Scale Warfare Leads To More Wounded Veterans, Which Leads To Them Being Left At The Mercy of A Bloated Bureaucracy.

In 2007, Army Times Journalist Kelly Kennedy wrote an in depth report on how The VA Hospital System was unprepared to fully service wounded veterans coming back from the Iraq/Afghanistan conflict. She showcases how retired Staff Sargent Ian Newland was forced to contend with an unresponsive and oftentimes uncaring hospital staff and management team. Here is the excerpt about the hospital system from Kennedy’s story:

From “Nothing Was Done” Published In The 12/23/2007 Edition of The Army Times:

Every soldier believes that if he makes it to an Army hospital, he’s going to be treated to the best care.

But just two days later, Dec. 6, 2006, the hospital sent Newland home — doped up on morphine, his left hand a useless claw, and nerve damage so bad to his left leg he could barely walk.

“They told me they needed the bed,” said Newland, who then lived in Schweinfurt, headquarters of 1st Infantry Division.

He was not told when he was discharged that a scan showed he also had suffered traumatic brain injury, and so did not understand why he stuttered, had blurry vision and experienced short-term memory loss.

There was no homecoming for this wounded soldier, who arrived from Iraq with a Purple Heart pinned to his blanket.

He had no key to his house, so the fire department broke in for him — and later sent a bill for the job.

And when he finally got inside his house, it was empty — his wife, Erin, was in the States for Thanksgiving, unaware that her husband had been seriously wounded in combat.

“I didn’t even get a call from the unit,” Erin Newland said. “Before I left, I gave the unit all my phone numbers, but they didn’t call.”

She was shopping in a Wal-Mart in Minnesota when Ian’s aunt called her: “He’s been in an accident. You need to call his dad.”

She immediately tried to get back to Germany.

But tickets for her and her two toddlers would cost $6,000. She contacted the Army and requested to be put on the priority list for a space-available flight.

“They told me I had to have a commander’s note,” she said. She would spend days getting back to Germany — the unit never did send the paperwork she needed for the priority list.

At home, Ian dug through a bag the nurses had sent with him, hoping for a prescription for pain medicine and directions for care. He found a shaving kit and no further information.

“When the pain got so bad it was intolerable, I went to the health clinic,” he said. “They said, ‘There’s a phone right there. You need to make an appointment.’”

It would be a week before anyone could see him at the clinic in Schweinfurt.

“I pulled the Spec-4 through the window and threw him on the floor,” Newland said.

“They told me I had mental health issues. But there was no psychiatrist (in Schweinfurt).

I was like, ‘I’m bleeding in your clinic here.’”

Newland informed his command he planned to blow up the health clinic. That got an ear.

“I went straight to the Schweinfurt commander,” he said, describing all the shortcomings he and fellow wounded had endured in trying to get proper medical care.

“I told them, ‘You know my guys are in a high-conflict area. You’ve got guys living in the barracks in wheelchairs,’” he said.

“I skipped every chain of command possible.” Still, he said, “nothing was done.”

Newland took it upon himself to care for the wounded at Conn Barracks in Schweinfurt, keeping their appointments marked on a dry-erase board.

But his own issues soon took over. He went to Washington, D.C., for the funeral of Spc. Ross McGinnis, at Arlington National Cemetery. McGinnis, a fellow member of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, had thrown himself on a grenade, saving Newland and three others in the Humvee. For that, McGinnis has been nominated for a Medal of Honor.

“When I got back from Arlington, I was suicidal,” Newland said, explaining he felt guilty about McGinnis’ loss. “I called the health clinic and asked if I could check myself in. They told me to go to the German emergency room.”

Finally, he said, the Army medical system hooked him up with a civilian social worker — who specialized in families and kids.

“I told her about the bodies we found in Adhamiya, and she started crying,” Newland said. “I called the mental health commander and I went nuts. ‘When 1-26 gets back, if you don’t have a plethora of mental health options, you’re going to have problems.’”

Newland said the Army then sent him to group therapy. It consisted of him and one other person. The other guy, not a combat veteran, said he couldn’t relate at all and stopped going. So did Newland.

Then, he said, he went to the 5th Corps commander at the time, Lt. Gen. James Thurman. Newland’s concerns were forwarded to the Schweinfurt health clinic, but this time under authority of 5th Corps.

“The context of Ian’s complaints were very appropriate,” said Maj. Daniel Ducker, health clinic commander. “We thought, ‘Let’s take action.’”

But for Newland, it was too late. With his wounds, he could have reclassified into a desk job and stayed in the military.

He left the Army and now lives in Colorado, where he plans to go to school.

“I was just so down,” he said. “I loved the Army. But after the way I was treated, I was done.”

The VA System Is Still In Desperate Need of Massive Reformation And Buracratic Cutbacks.

Note: SSG Ian Newland is someone who I personally know and care for as a friend. I had the honor of giving him my former service dog Clark, who was key in helping Ian put his life back together when all seemed lost. Clark passed at the end of last year, but you can read about his life on IJReview.

SSG Newland was one of the first veterans from The Iraq War to share his story with the public and expose the deep flaws within the VA hospital system. Keep in mind that this was back in 2007, when the conflicts in The Middle East under President Bush’s administration were still in full swing, yet wounded veterans were receiving inadequate care here at home. Sadly, Many of these problems with The VA healthcare system continued under The Obama Administration. Despite claims from President Obama that he was doing everything in his power to reform the system, even mainstream media outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Chicago Tribune have all admitted that The Obama Administration’s actions have done little or nothing to fix the actual problems that need addressing.

Many will remember that VA reform was one of Candidate Donald Trump’s main platform issues along with Immigration and Boarder Security. He was so serious about taking care of our veterans, that he even skipped out on a critical primary debate to host a fundraiser for our veterans, an act which earned him the endorsements of many veteran organizations, military figures, and common citizens alike. He promised to put our own military and veterans well being above those of foreign nations who show no love for our military or our veterans.

Putting Veterans First.

I still believe that President Trump cares deeply for our military personnel and veterans. After all, he did appoint General Mattis as Secretary of Defense, and Stephen Bannon is a Navy Veteran himself who served for 7 years with honor.

While I cannot question Trump’s respect for the military, I do question his consideration for further action in Syria, as another massive conflict would only add to the number of wounded and dead solders, and further exacerbate the problems with The VA. I humbly ask President Trump to think of the future of our solders when making foreign policy decisions, and to keep his promise to put them first.


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