Who Supports the Troops? - Part II
In the midst of flag waving and parades on this Fourth of July, it should be pointed out that the cost of the Iraq war is about to hit the $200 billion mark with no end in sight. Even after spending this much money, the Bush administration can't seem to find $1 billion to pay for troops healthcare. In April, Republican senators voted to defeat a Democratic effort to add $2 billion to the 2005 VA healthcare budget. After news of the VA shortfall broke two weeks ago, the House and Senate attempted, but failed to agree on an emergency spending bill. Politicians, who have left DC for the Fourth of July break, say they will make another attempt when they return.
Here are a few articles about this issue:
Leave No Veteran Behind by Congressman Michael Michaud of Maine
Veterans Center of Congressional Battle - AP
Bush's Unforgivable Coverup - Ignoring Veterans Health by Allen Roland, a Navy Veteran
The War Against Veterans - The Toledo Blade
Here is is Part II of my interview with Jack Ricardson, legislative director of the Paralyzed Veterans of America of Dallas, Texas.
What do the guys who come here for treatment say about the war?
They agree with Afghanistan. They think Iraq is a personal thing for Bush. For the man. They felt they should have stayed after bin Laden, the man who attacked the United States instead of pulling our troops out of Afghanistan, leaving 9,000 tense rangers over there, 20,000 French, 20,000 German and some New Zealanders to chase the Taliban. We pulled 100 and something thousand out to go start a war with a country that was not at war with anybody. We had no fly zones north and no fly zones south. They had a little strip of their own country, which isn't as big as Oklahoma in the first damn place, so they were really a big threat to the United States, right? A big threat. We already knew there were no weapons of mass destruction over there because we knew how much we sent over in 1982 when Ronald Reagan signed the order to fight Iran. They used it one time. Then they put them in a warehouse and never used them again. I'm not defending Iraq. I'm just saying they used them one time. When they saw what it did, they warehoused it. We blew it up during Desert Storm. We blew up the warehouses with airplanes.
Have you seen the effects of depleted uranium?
My personal opinion on that is you're gonna see leukemia. I don't think the government knows and I don't think they care about the effects of depleted uranium. This group just don't seem to care. To them, the military is a non-entity. Cheney said one day, well it's all volunteer. What does that mean? They're nothin'? So they volunteer, so they don't mean anything to the country. So they're cattle. They can just go out and shoot 'em and kill 'em and it's no big deal. Of course, they had deferments because they had better things to do. Truman said the truth: any politician that goes to Washington and comes out rich is a crook.
What do you think about the level of loyalty in this country? I've met a lot of Republicans who aren't happy with Bush's environmental policy or the huge deficit, but when it comes to the war, they hesitate to speak out. Some do, but they ask to remain anonymous.
If you are not behind it, you're not patriotic. It's that patriotic crap. To me, the most patriotic people in this country are the ones who are fighting the war; the ones who are against this war because they don't want to see their young people killed. Before this damn thing ever started, I said, there's not one American life worth Saddam Hussein's life. I wouldn't trade one American soldier for Saddam Hussein and you're gonna go over there and you're gonna kill thousands. They killed 3200 women and children going into Baghdad in their apartments doing nothing. These people are home. They are with their families and their kids and we blew the holy hell out of them. They got relatives. Cousins, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles. We're creating millions who hate us because of the uniform we wear. People are crazy if they don't realize that. What are they gonna get out of it? Didn't we learn anything in Vietnam? I spent two and a half years over there. Didn't we learn anything? One day we packed our bags up and left. They're doin' a pretty good job over there. Why aren't we over in North Korea dealing with the atomic bomb? There's no oil in North Korea.
How does all of this shape your politics?
I was a Republican. Let me confess. I donated lots of money to the Republican party and I'm so damned ashamed of it, I can't see straight.
Up until when?
Up until this jerk took office. I did vote for Clinton. I didn't vote for the senior because senior had gone downhill in Iraq and I believed that deregulating everything was going to be a disaster in this country. The controls and regulations were put in during the 30s to help the people, not the billionaires. It was to keep the billionaires from making the people pay more than they could afford. That's why Roosevelt put the regulations in there. I've been around 67 years and my people were in the depression. My dad was workin' for a dollar a day. A guy comes up and says, I'll work for 50 cents a day and they told my dad to go away. This was in Arizona. If you read the newspaper, you'll see the Mexican labor is at $4 an hour. Four years ago, it was at $4.97.
Were you raised Republican?
No, my dad was a Democrat and my mom was a Republican. My dad was in World War II. He got shot three times. He and my mama only fought over that cause he was for the little guy. He was for the worker. He taught me how to weld before I could do anything else. When I got out of the Air Force, I went to work as a welder in California, building freeway signs and handrail. Los Angeles handrail. I welded 5,000 miles of damn handrail. I can't even believe it. (laughs) I'm serious. It's always been, in his mind, you gotta keep the people working in order to grow the economy and keep the stock market healthy. I have money in the stock market. That's why I can do this. I spend over $200 a month out of my pocket coming here to work.
So you're a volunteer?
Oh yeah, for four years.
How many hours a week do you volunteer?
I get in here at about six in the morning, everyday, five days a week and I usually leave around 3:30. I open up, make coffee, deliver it to the patients and get their breakfast orders. If they need something from the store, I'll go buy them things.
Do you receive funding for that?
No, I pay for it. I just drove to Washington DC and back in February. I spent five days up there. As you can see, I take a lot of notes.
During the election, people said Bush is going to win because he has the military vote. Based on your experience and the people you work with, why does the military tend to lean Republican?
I can tell you about some of the people who said they were told how to vote. They had to vote for their commander-in-chief. That's what they all said. If you don't and they find out, it's a career killer. That's a fact.
Is that because they're so used to following orders?
They follow orders. I don't know if you saw 60 Minutes where the young man is going through PTSD. In Iraq, he killed a seven-year-old kid. The kid had a gun. He was holding it by the clip and he killed him. He's going through mental hell right now. It's just like Vietnam. We were told to go in there and kill. Don't leave a chicken, a pig or anybody alive. I don't care what the brass says. You talk to the guys who actually did the killing and they're going through hell. When I was in basic training, I had to follow orders. You may not get a chance to talk. You may not get a trial. And that's what you're told.
During the election and running up to it, American casualties were an issue. Since the election, it has become very difficult for Iraq to become a front-page story, especially with stories like the Runaway Bride and Michael Jackson.
The news media doesn't want to talk about it. They oughta be ashamed of themselves. Why do you think Walter Cronkite came out of retirement and started writing commentaries in the newspaper? Because he was sick and tired of only seeing half the story. Half a truth is also half a life. I don't feel the media is honest. I had a guy come in here one day who was hollering about that damn liberal media. I said, do you know the definition of liberal? He said, well no. I said, why are you cussin' the liberal? I said, you get out of here and read the definition of liberal and you come back in here and tell me what it is. Same thing for conservative. I took the dictionary and pulled up the definition of liberal and conservative and typed 'em up and gave copies to everybody. I said, now let's see, what's the problem with being a liberal? I've had people here tell me they believe Iraq had something to do with 9/11. I stand there and argue with them. I gotta get the map out and show people. Look at that tiny country there. What are you scared of?
How do people respond when you share your information?
They've all come back here and agreed. They didn't realize until they started reading and paying attention. They just watch TV. Mike out there voted for Bush. Now he can't believe he was conned by just watching TV. It's all deception.
A few people I've spoken to who have relatives in Iraq and are in favor of the war say they don't watch TV because it's so negative. They say we're building schools and hospitals, but we don't see that side of the story.
They feel like they're doing a service for the people there. The thing is, they really shouldn't have been there in the first place. The 1600 that are dead really shouldn't have been there. What about the 40,000 that are maimed? You can see them out here with their arms blown off. They're trying to figure out how to use their arms. Their legs are blown off. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is hitting these kids years faster than it hit the Vietnam Vets. The vets that came back from Vietnam didn't know what PTSD was. They crawled in alcohol bottles. They crawled in whiskey and marijuana and anything they could do to eliminate their minds. They wound up here 30 years later. We have a wing of them on this floor. You'll see them wandering around here saying, where am I?
Tell me more about the people you help here.
We got a guy here who's trying to live on $800 a month. He's paralyzed and he's in a wheelchair. He's a vet. He's not 65. He don't get social security. He begs for money to buy gas to come in for therapy. He doesn't have enough money for gas. Do you buy food or medicine or gas? Or do you get kicked out of your apartment? Mike over there arrives with me and I take him home. He has no car. He has no money. Social security is gonna be a lifesaver for him. At one time, he was a business owner and made tons of money. His divorce wiped him out and now he lives in an apartment and has a few pair of clothes. That's it. They want people like Mike to pay $50 for an office visit for specialized care, $40 for a standard visit and $15 for each therapy session in the pool. They're charging people who have no money. They're gonna take everything they got. Once a year we have a program where all the homeless vets come in and we feed them, clothe them and cut their hair. We check their teeth, their eyes, give them backpacks and sleeping bags. We get about a 100 of 'em. These guys come in looking like hobos and they don't live inside. These are the trash leftover from Vietnam and Desert Storm. Then they all have a big turkey dinner and get fed. Then they put their stuff on their backs and walk off into the night. We have a meeting next week to talk about what park we'll have it in next year.
How are your injuries? Are you getting better?
No, my spinal cord is smashed. I'm almost 67-years-old. I'm way beyond getting well. I've had a great life. I've been in this chair over 30 years and I've been to Paris, Nice, all over the world. I've been to Hawaii seven or eight times. I've been on cruises. It doesn't stop me from going anywhere. I saw my grandson graduate from high school last Saturday. I got 10 grandkids. One called me up the other night and read a book to me. He likes to read. I've had a lot of fun. My problem with this bunch [the Bush administration] is I've got 10 grandkids who are going to live in this world and it scares me thinking about what they have to look forward to if this gang don't get kicked out. That is the bad part. They're not gonna have the shot I had. I come off a dirt farm. I come off the cotton fields. I retired as a VP of engineering. I was making six-figure salaries for the last 15 years of my job. I didn't mind paying $30,000 a year income tax because it paid for the infrastructure. It paid for the roads, the streets, the lights, the gas. That's what it's all about. That's my whole objection about trying to get some honesty up there. It's for my grandkids.