No Difference

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News January 2015

All veterans should gain equal treatment regardless of their period of service.

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There’s always reluctance on the part of an editor to write about an issue that’s potentially “hot” or one which is so controversial that more than your fingers can get burned. However, the purpose of this column is to do exactly that. With that in mind, I’ll proceed and jump out of the frying pan.

On Sept. 11, 2001, a day we all remember, an act took place that should be remembered for more than the tragic events and the tremendous loss of life that took place. It was a date when Congress began to do something previous governments hadn’t done before. Congress, in its foolishness, began to create two classes of veterans.

The difference in the two classes of veterans is those who served before 9/11 and those who served after it. Prior to that date, there was no difference in entitlements veterans received, regardless of whether they served in World War I, World War II, the Korean War or Vietnam. We were all entitled to and judged by the same established rules and regulations.

Suddenly, Congress deemed there was something different between the folks who served in the military prior to and after 9/11. I’ve not been able to determine or define what that difference is.

I guess an argument might be made that those who served after 9/11 were volunteers and those who served before were drafted. That logic fails because many people who served in prior military conflicts didn’t wait to get drafted, but served out of a sense of duty.

Congress passed laws affecting the post-9/11 veterans which provided them with increased benefits and entitlements. Unfortunately, they didn’t make those benefits and entitlements retroactive to their injured, older brothers and sisters.

I submit there’s no difference in a 26-year-old quadriplegic and his or her 76-year-old compatriot as far as medical disability and need is concerned. Unfortunately, when it comes to aid and attendance, insurance, home grants, etc., there’s now a difference.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating for taking anything away from the new veterans. I don’t think the nation can ever pay enough to a veteran who has lost both eyes; a veteran who has lost his or her limbs by amputation; a veteran who is paralyzed and suffers almost unbearable pain all his or her life with no possibility of ever having a day where he or she doesn’t have to suffer and hurt; a veteran who has experienced a traumatic brain injury and will never be the same person that his or her family saw when that person left and after he or she returned. The list goes on and on.

The argument I’m making and taking our government to task for is passing laws that treat older veterans unfairly. Older veterans quietly endure the inequity because they won’t do anything that could be perceived as detrimental to their younger brothers and sisters. What should occur is that all veterans advocate for equal treatment regardless of the period of service.

As I write this, I think back to 1973 at the spinal-cord injury (SCI) center in Long Beach, Calif., where I went through rehabilitation. The Vietnam War was still going hot. Then, we were all in a barracks-like medical center. No privacy, no private rooms, just about 60 men in the same barracks complex, all suffering from SCIs. There were five of these wards with not enough doctors, nurses or nursing aides. No special place to put anyone who was dying.

How do you compensate for that? It’s impossible, but we’ve made significant advances since then. We all received equal medical treatment then and we all do now. We should all receive the same benefits and entitlements, as well.

We now have a new Congress that’s just taken office. Let us hope this new Congress will look at what was done and correct the inequities and injustices that were previously made.

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy once said when speaking about veterans, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

Congress should recall President Kennedy’s comment. To do otherwise is to continue to perpetuate two classes of veterans.


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