Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Battle of the Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairs

Those of us who watch how members of Congress deal with Veterans issues and how they treat veterans themselves, would do well to keep an eye on the actions and actual voting record of newly appointed GOP chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, Congressman Jeff Miller (R-FL),  who promised a thorough review of spending for veterans' programs.

I support a thorough review of any DC committee's budget, but I am concerned when it feels like there may be a hidden, or not so hidden agenda.  Congressman Miller said  he thinks veterans understand why fiscal responsibility is necessary. "I think it's fair to say the veterans in this country have sacrificed in their service to our nation, but they are willing to do what's necessary to help get this country's fiscal house in order".  Wait, let's back up a minute.  Vets are "willing to do what's necessary to help get this country's fiscal house in order"?  No, NO and NO WAY!   With 1% of our population carrying 100% of the burdens of these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, why don't  we make sure that our military members and our vets have their own fiscal houses in order?  THAT is what I want the 112th session of Congress to do.

GOP Speaker of the House, John Boehner said he "can’t think of anyone in the House more capable to serve as the Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs than Jeff Miller"  as he announced Miller's election as Chairman of the House VA Committee, he went on to say 

““Jeff’s efforts for veterans are well documented and his credentials as a conservative leader are without question.  Jeff will continue to work to ensure that all of our nation’s heroes receive the proper respect and care that they earned.”
A quick review of Miller's  website brags about how much he supports Veterans issues with such statements from the Congressman as: 
“I am humbled by the opportunity to serve the more than 22 million veterans who have so proudly served this great nation,” “I will work to ensure that we meet our veterans’ needs.” 

I hope so, but not so fast, Congressman Miller.  In October 2010, IAVA, a well known and well regarded veterans advocacy organization published their Congressional Report Card on how members of Congress voted on Veterans issues.   Sadly, Congressman Miller came out with a D, so it doesn't matter how pretty his website is, or how many nice things he says, remember how he voted on the issues when it comes to voting for your Congressional Representative.

Fortunately, Miller's newly appointed counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Patty Murray, said she will be watching Republicans "like a hawk" to ensure veterans get their financial due.  Note: Senator Murray received a B from IAVA.

As the 112th session of Congress starts working on issues, let's see who really supports veterans and their issues and who doesn't.  We'll be watching!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Oprah & the Bravest Families in America

Oprah Winfrey had an "ah-ha moment" of her own on her show about military families today. She admitted  that she was one of the people in this country who did not know anyone serving in the military, or as Tom Brokaw calls them "one of the people who really doesn't care about the war or the men and women who are fighting it".  That didn't surprise me at all.  It also didn't surprise me that Oprah didn't know what a Blue Star family was until the First Lady, Michelle Obama explained to Oprah that it described a family who had a family member actively serving in the military. Mrs Obama had already explained that a Gold Star family was one who had lost a loved one who had been serving in the military.

It didn't surprise me that Oprah didn't know anyone serving, but it does surprise me when I meet someone and I am the first Gold Star mom that they have met. I guess that goes to point that less than 1% of the country is carrying 100% of the burden of these wars. As people have told me "there have been so few casualties". Don't say that to one of the 5892 families who have buried a loved one from these current wars; any number more than zero is too many casualties.

Tom Brokaw said  "the struggles ought not to be left to these families alone" and that our military families just want to know that the public is aware of what's going on as we live in our own war zone.

Gold Star mom, Terry Arciola was shown visiting her son at Arlington National Cemetery in Section 60 where many of our loved ones who were killed in Afghanistan and Iraq are buried. I have not met Terry, but I know her son's story from a mutual friend who helped both of us through the very early days of our grief. LTC Cathy Huley, who worked with Casualty Affairs picked me up when I was so broken and guided me through the bureaucracy to bury my only child at Arlington after he was killed in Iraq. Cathy was also assigned to the Arciola family for the same task a few months after Ken was buried. I'm sure that Casualty Affairs bond with some families more than others.  I consider Cathy to be a good friend of our family and I am glad I see her and her family every year on Memorial Day when we celebrate Ken's life at Arlington and mark another anniversary of his death.

When asked if Terry felt that people have forgotten about the wars and the sacrifice, she said said yes, she thought many people had.  She referred to her son Michael when she said, "If people will forget about his sacrifice.....they did it for us.  If people don't remember that, it's like they didn't exist"  I don't think you will find a Gold Star Mom that would  disagree.

Oprah promised that "we will not forget Michael (Arciola) sacrifice, nor any of the soldiers".  I hope not and we can hold her to it. As the head of her own network, and with her powerful voice, she owes it to us.

Regarding the wars, "our country is suffering from an  epidemic of disconnection"  Bob Woodward explained.  The conversation continued with him asking Oprah "What do we owe these people?  Everything.  What are we giving them?  Not enough.  We haven't figured out how to re-engage the country in these wars.   People have got to be informed- countries get in trouble when they don't pay attention."  Mr Woodward went on to say that military families "feel we have been isolated by the country".  He got that right, too, especially the part about disconnection and isolation.  Honestly, I would not wish this life on anyone; no one should ever have to bury a child, especially as a result of war.

If someone had only watched this Oprah show, and none other, they might believe that she had never done any shows regarding the military or that she had never interacted with members of the military.  Sadly, that is not true.  When Oprah was in DC for President Obama's inauguration in January 2009, she made a trip to Walter Reed Army Hospital to visit wounded troops. If a visit to Walter Reed did not have an impact on what these wars are doing to our young service members and to our country, what else would?   I wonder if it was the power of Tom Brokaw and Bob Woodward, who suggested the subject for this show to Oprah, that finally made her face our reality, our new normal.

In October 2010, Oprah did a show on Homeless Female Veterans.  How did that not become an "ah-ha" moment for her regarding military needs.

I'm glad Oprah got her wake-up call and has said she is now thinking about what she can do to help.  My question to Oprah is what took you so long?  These wars have been going on for nearly 10 years and it is disappointing that this is the first time that she did a show like this about military families. Why did these wars not become a part of Oprah's consciousness until now?

Thank you, Oprah for doing the show, we'll be waiting for your next step.  Thank you, Tom Brokaw and Bob Woodward for standing up for our military families and making sure our stories were told.