Ninety-three years ago, the slaughter in Europe we now call World War I came to an end.
In a little more than four years, there were nearly 10 million military deaths and 20 million more service men and women were wounded.
Six million civilians died, either by military actions or as a result of famine and disease.
It was called “the war to end all wars,” but as the rest of the 20th century unfolded, it was merely the beginning.
U.S. veterans of the First World War were promised a bonus for their service, payable in 1945. With the Depression and increased unemployment, many veterans were demanding immediate payment, but Congress rejected it.
In the spring of 1932, more than 40,000 people – 15,000 veterans, their families, and supporters – came to Washington D.C., and camped near the Capitol. By the end of July, the government ordered them removed. U.S. Army troops, along with several tanks, drove them out and burned their camps. After another, smaller march in 1933, Congress finally approved the payments in 1936.
Today’s veterans are suffering through the current recession. They have a higher unemployment rate are are more likely to be or become homeless than the rest of the U.S. population.
Thankfully, the Senate yesterday unanimously passed jobs for veterans legislation that should begin to help.
But other problems remain. As many as 25 percent have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and suicides are rising. Forty-six-thousdand have suffered devastating physical injuries, and as many as 360,000 may have brain injuries.
With this set of problems, the Veterans Administration doesn’t have the necessary resources to meet the profound need.
Vets often wait weeks for mental health treatment to begin and some in urgent need of help have committed suicide while waiting to see a doctor.
Stiil with Congress in the throes of budget-cutting mania, a variety of proposals to cut veterans’ benefits are on the table. Those proposed include freezing health care spending, increasing out-of-pocket expenses for prescription drugs, cutting disability benefits, and so on.
In recent weeks, many veterans have been joining the Occupy encampments in various cities.
"For 10 years, we have been fighting wars that have enriched the wealthiest 1 percent, decimated our economy and left our nation with a generation of traumatized and wounded veterans that will require care for years to come," Iraq veteran Joseph Carter told AP in New York City.
Last month, one such veteran, 24-year-old Scott Olsen — a former U.S. Marine who served two tours of duty in Iraq — was seriously injured when a police projectile struck him in the head during an Occupy demonstration in Oakland, Calf.
Can we hope that in all the flowery speeches that will be given today by politicians, hailing veterans as heroes who served their country, they will pledge to increase rather than cut benefits?
That would a fitting tribute on this Veterans Day.
Duane Shank is Senior Policy Advisor for Sojourners.