Still getting ready

Monday, August 14, 2006

Michael, who has been working with veterans since his service in Viet Nam and who has personal contact with many of them who are homeless, says that already there are homeless Iraq war veterans showing up here. 

All wars leave a terrible trail of destruction in the lives of people on active duty in the armed services.  People my age almost all know someone who has struggled with physical or mental disabilities due to the Viet Nam conflict.  A school friend of mine has been a parapalegic since that war and the husband of another friend suffers from symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. 

George is working with a provider of mental health services for some of those most at risk of serious mental illnesses with the fewest resources to get treatment.  He says that psychiatric center, already stretched to meet the needs of its population, will be even more hard pressed to help the Iraq war veterans as they return.

Last week on a walk up Central Park West, I noticed a young man apparently asleep on a park bench.  One of his legs was amputed just above the ankle.  My first thought from his appearance was that he must be an Iraq war veteran, right age, right kind of injury, homeless.  Maybe, maybe not.

We do know that the Bush administration, which labels as unpatriotic if not traitors all those who are opposed to the war and tells us that we are undermining and disrespecting the troops when we challenge it, has made cuts in veterans’ benefits.  They have also sent our young women and men into combat unprepared and unequiped.  The Gold Star Families for Peace website (see link at right) has a place for bake sales to help buy body armour for our service people in Iraq.  They still do not all have those protections.  Nor do their vehicles all yet have armour.  Who, I ask, is not respectful of our troops?  We who say that their lives are being endangered and lost for no good purpose and ask that they be brought home, or those who send them into an illegal and unjust war unprepared and then fail to give them the health care and benefits that they deserve?

I have written to my elected officials repeatedly but with no apparent result.  It is now time for me to go further.  I am preparing to join with others who are asking the same questions I ask and who desire the same results. 

I spent many hours today getting clothes ready and finding a straw hat to protect me from the sun.  I am concerned about days of living outdoors under the relentless sun there.  Still, I know that our young women and men serving in Iraq endure conditions even more brutal and they risk their lives every day.  I will be back in the temperate climate here in New York next week.  Our young women and men serving in Iraq may not live to come back; many are serving terms that keep being extended.  Even if they survive, they will not be home in a week.

Lena and Tomas generously allowed me to borrow their big tent and a sleeping bag, so I went to their house to pick them up.  I now have everything I need and will get it packed up tonight and tomorrow in readiness for the early departure on Wednesday.  Going to Camp Casey is the least I can do to make a statement with more than my words about what is valuable to me. 

Ricardo sent a message early this morning from the border between Israel and Lebanon where he is working.  He says that the cease fire had been holding there for six hours and that he could hear the birds. 

I thought about the birds in the biblical stories; those who were important messangers about the end of the flood and the appearance of dry land for Noah and about the song of the doves being a sure sign of peace in the land of the psalmists and Hebrew poets.  I am so glad that my friend Ricardo can hear the birds in Israel today.  It is an age old sign of peace.

I can hope for peace in Iraq as well.  I can know that violence is not required and that we can work instead for nonviolent resolutions to conflicts.  We can bring our own young people home now.  Only our will to do so is required. 

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