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Monday, May 28, 2012

Veterans' Worst Problem - The loss of the One

On Being a Part of One: Memorial Day 2012

I have an idea for helping veterans that I feel, as a veteran, would benefit many of those returning from our multiple wars, those who have already returned, and those who will do so in the future. It's my considered opinion that the problem so many who seek to understand the issue overlook is that returning vets are no longer surrounded by people who have the same sort of experiences. Returning injured veterans miss the companionship of their sisters- and brothers-in-arms. What they lack, what they need, what they want, we can give them for probably no more, or at least very little more, than we currently spend. So what's the solution? Veterans' Villages. Allow me to explain.

From the moment you enter initial reception in the military, you become part of a greater One. Your One might be the US Army, the US Navy, the US Coast Guard, the US Air Force, or the USMC. It doesn't matter which One you belong to, what matters is that you are there to become an integral part of One. That One will stay with you from the first frightening days where nothing is familiar and people with funny hats scream at you and make you do pushups. Your personal One might make you swab decks, eat sand, pretend to fly, crawl through mud, or any silly thing one can imagine that 99% of the population wouldn't do. But what your One is really doing is to mold you into a functioning, capable, highly-skilled Warfighter, a part of One.

You'll always want to be part of One, but when you leave your service, your One has to focus on the new players in order to create your replacement, so you feel left out in the cold. Your One has abandoned you, in your way of thinking, and you feel bereft of your One's special attention.

For those Warfighters who return broken, physically, mentally, or emotionally, their One has to keep its sights on the enemy and sometimes forgets to shine its warm, beatific smile in your direction. Sure, you have "family" - those people who brought you into the world, who reared you, fed you, clothed you, educated you, and either supported or didn't your decision to leave them in order to serve your nation and become part of One. But your FAMILY is still Over There, some working hard to purchase the freedom that everyone who lives in the free world enjoys. The same freedom that you purchased with your blood, your sweat, your fear, and your nightmares. When you were sent back to the States, you left the only real FAMILY you've ever felt truly, really, wholly connected to. This in no way diminishes your love for your "family", and they often have trouble understanding this because they haven't been Over There with their FAMILY, facing death, dismemberment, pain, worry, fatigue, scorching heat, biting cold, bitter drink and insipid food. You try to tell them, but they Just Don't Get It, and they never will. Inside, deep inside, you know this, too. Your One deserted you. Your One turned its back on you. You feel the anguish and sorrow for those you LOVE who are still Over There. You miss them, and NOT A DAMNED SOUL at "home" understands why you want to leave your "family" and "home" and go HOME to your FAMILY. More importantly, you can't talk to anyone about it because you spent Eternity Over There with it bottled up, maybe letting out a bit to your battle buddy, but never being able to spill it out because that's a sign of cowardice and you'll damned sure walk out in front of a speeding vehicle rather than let your friends see it. Because that's the ultimate act of cowardice, in your way of thinking - showing the fear that you all have in front of your FAMILY.

You're "home". You're scared, not for yourself, but for both your "family" and your FAMILY. You're afraid someone in your "family" will set you off or see you confronting the demons that are issued to everyone returning from Over There as a Thank-You gift from your Grateful Nation. You're afraid you'll hurt someone at "home". You're afraid that the new guy Over There just doesn't know how to Do It Right and someone will get hurt; someone whom you love and have been through the gates of Hell with. Because that person is your touchstone, your One.

Veterans' Villages

The missing link is togetherness, as in "live togetherness", just as you did when you were part of your One. I got ya. I read you five-by. I think I know just what you need, because I could damn sure use a little bit of it myself. We need a way to stay part of a One, maybe not the old One, but a new One, just like changing duty stations. Surrounded by people just like me. A new FAMILY, some of whom are almost certainly part of my old FAMILY.

I propose that our Grateful Nation set aside funds to purchase land. Perhaps generous land owners (spurred on by tax incentives) would donate some or part it. This land would be used to create Veterans' Villages, each with a different climate, some located in lush mountains, some in the plains, maybe a few near the beach. It doesn't have to be prime real estate. Hell, not many of the places we've been stationed are prime real estate. Give us a couple hundred acres. Let us help build it, even. Hey, we'll even stay in tents until we get our permanent homes built. The work and comradery will keep our minds and hands busy. We'll build new friendships and probably even have a few of the old ones right next to us. Most importantly, we'll get our One back.

We will build Veterans' Villages with a mix of multi-unit housing and Tiny Houses. The multi-unit housing will allow those who don't want the lawn and solidarity to live right among their friends. Each will have a day room and a TV room, just like back HOME, maybe a community kitchen, and every veteran will have her or his own small, studio apartment. Severely disabled veterans could all be given ground floor residences which might be built for wheelchairs and mobility-assistance clearances. Facilities maintenance would be done by veteran employees who live right there in the Village.

The Tiny Houses are another thing altogether. Small - 250-400sq ft -, tidy, inexpensive, each with a small tract of yard, just enough for a little garden and a flower bed. For those of us who need to get our hands dirty in the soil. Some of these Tiny Houses might be made from recycled steel shipping containers of the sort used aboard ships and then dropped onto the backs of tractor-trailers for deliveries before being loaded up and sent back. I've seen some fantastic living spaces made from them, and they're virtually storm-proof (maybe veteran proof, too!) I've also seen them made from old railroad boxcars. The point is, we veterans would be willing to be pioneers in the field of Tiny Houses and might be able to be the cutting-edge in it. First we learn from the Tiny House experts how to build them. Then we live in them. Then we teach others in communities all over the country where people seek to downsize. There are so many possibilities for veterans to give back, once again.

We will have community gardens, also. The soil under my nails is a powerful pain reliever and curative. The fruit of my labors - squash, tomatoes, peppers, herbs - feed me and taste twice as good as the best I've ever had before.

The VA could establish clinics in our Villages; clinics we will build ourselves. Talk about a captive audience for the VA medical corps for improved communication and monitoring of routine and preventive care... We could have community 'canteens' - cafeterias - staffed wholly by veterans where residents could get 3 nutritious meals a day at no or low cost. These meals might be paid for from the same source of funds currently used to provide low-income and homeless veterans with Food Stamps. I'm sure that the appropriate modifications to the program could be managed if the will is there.

We will have our own stores, maybe owned by the nearby community, but staffed by vets. We will have jobs, some right here in the Village, others in the nearby communities, but we should always be mindful to prevent taking local jobs from those who the Villages get sited near. MPs who live among us might be our Village cops, and former military cooks would work in and even run our eateries, if they chose to. With the broad spectrum of skills brought to the Village by veterans, the Village might become the best resource for local communities for technology needs, or perhaps just day labor. Some might even go on to own businesses in the Villages, a situation where they could move on and free up space for a new vet. Who better to understand what we're going through than those who already have experience in dealing with us and who are part of our new One?

We will have picnics, BBQs, outtings. And of course we'll have counsellors on hand, again perhaps those who have Been There, Done That and TRULY understand what we're going through. I don't trust Mr Former War Protester Turned Counsellor with my feelings, but I can trust Mr Former Grunt because he can SEE my demons...because they're his, too.

Our friends from "home" can come see us, see how we live, see our progress. Our goal is to move back to be with our "families", but we understand that if things get really bad, we're always welcome HOME to our FAMILY, here at the Vets' Village.

There will be rules, there always are. There will be counselling. There will be Smart Recovery, AA, NA, and any other appropriate group organization. But this won't be a group home where you're treated like a kid in detention. You'll be treated like an adult here, respected for what you've done for your Nation, Grateful or not.

Our One will be open to any of the 1% who have served. We will make every effort to pay our own way, perhaps through a higher payroll tax, perhaps through community services that we can render that aren't deemed profitable for businesses. Cleaning and restoring our Nation's National Parks, State Parks, building and restoring playgrounds for kids and critical infrastructure, all of the sorts of things that help US as well as helping the U.S., for we're still patriots, and we have proved it, but damned sure don't mind keeping at it!

We don't want a handout, but the country is throwing handfuls of cash at problems without results. This is a program that will help because it addresses our problems in holistic methods. You can't bandaid our problems, and our core problem is that we need our One. Kids from every background enter the military at an early age and in doing so, many miss the life lessons learned by those who have the advantage of stable home lives or the college experience. Those kids are now blooded adults and changing the patterns of their lives is difficult, or even impossible.

For our leaders, I ask you to have your staffs look at this issue carefully. Parse the fine print in the reports concerning vets too and you'll see that the overarching issue is addressed with this program. Have your staffs do the math. Take a look at the money we're throwing down the toilet, especially in this economic slump. Remember that building the Villages is a one-time expense and that we veterans can supply most - or perhaps all - of the necessary labor. Yes, there will be a need for planners, architects, and contractors, but those costs could be offset by offering tax incentives for pro bono services. For that matter, there's the Army Corps of Engineers and the Navy Seabees who might lend engineering expertise, possibly even heavy equipment.

And repeat this mantra until you BELIEVE it:  This is NOT a partisan issue!

Veterans already receive pensions for disabilities and some draw retirement pay. This money will provide many veterans with the income they need if they don't have to pay rent, or if their rent is subsidized by a Section 8 type program. Again, look at how much the VA already spends to get homeless vets off the streets. This is a much more permanent solution. While you're doing the math, make sure you include money spent on older or disabled veterans by the Federal government, state governments, and local governments for home modifications, energy assistance, food, and so forth. Count all of it. Don't short us - we didn't short you.

Yes, there will be a need for several of these across the country. I highly suggest to place them in locations that will promote serenity. The US has public lands all over the country that could be used for this, however I don't think that a location so remote as to be difficult to reach would be wise, either. Here are a few locations that come to mind for Villages, all within 1 hour or less of a major VAMC:
a) Clarks Hill Lake (J Strom Thurmond Lake) on the Georgia-South Carolina state line near Augusta, Georgia. (VAMC in Augusta)
b) Columbia River on the Oregon-Washington state line near Portland, Oregon. (VAMC in Portland)
c) Santa Fe River or Payne's Prairie near Gainesville, Florida. (VAMC in Gainesville)
d) Texas Hill Country near San Antonio, Texas. (VAMC in San Antonio)
Of course, there are many other locations within 1 hour of a VAMC, too.

There are military bases being closed under BRAC that might be perfect for this plan, already containing barracks that might be modified for use by veterans. We wouldn't even need the whole base, in most cases, just a few acres, buildings or no.

The primary advantages I see from this are these:
1) Permanent homes for those veterans at the greatest risk;
2) Transitional housing for other veterans to give them a 'decompression period' before returning to their "families";
3) A long-term solution to veterans' real problems by concentrating them in a single location easily reached by VA medical, therapeutic, and counselling staffs (perhaps a siting requirement might be to look for Village sites within, say, 30 minutes to 1 hour of a VAMC such that the VAMC doctors and staffs could make Village clinic visits to see their patients rather than having groups of veterans make the trip to the VAMC for routine care and checkups;
4) Having a community of highly trained, motivated, and skilled workers available for local businesses to draw from;
5) Having a community of highly trained, motivated, and skilled volunteers who would work to improve or build projects deemed unprofitable for local businesses to tackle, like parks and playgrounds, or which local government can't afford;
 6) Having a community of volunteers who could be used for civil emergencies like floods, fires, or storms, equipped by the appropriate local or regional agency.

I'm well aware how many veterans are currently serving and have served since the Gulf War. The intent of this program would not be to try to house every returning veteran in a Village. This program would be designed to reach out to those in greatest need - homeless veterans, those who wish to harm themselves, those who wish to harm others, or those whose substance abuse problems can't be rectified by a simple AA meeting. The Veterans' Village project might serve as a diversionary program in lieu of incarceration, either long- or short-term, and could include provisions such as checking in with Village police, wearing monitoring equipment, and/or public service as recompense, et cetera.

The whole point of the program is to help veterans of any age, conflict or peacetime, problem, issue, health concern, race, gender, or rank return to civilian life with the tools to lead a happy, productive life. Where that fails, to give them a HOME that they will never have to fear losing. Simply having that, a home, would assuage so much of the pain of loss that damaged veterans experience - loss of FAMILY, loss of "family", loss of "home", loss of HOME, loss of their best friends, many of whom they watched die before their eyes and which trauma is daily visited upon them by the demons who tell them that their friend's death is their fault.

If we want to FIX the problems that so many veterans have, it will take a national effort and a holistic approach. The VA can't do it alone, states aren't financially able to help, and the private sector hasn't fully recovered, but each can do what they can, and that will be enough to make this program work if our leaders have the same resolve that the veterans had which drove them through their service and through conflict, only to return home  to a 'Grateful Nation'.

This is a holistic approach to veterans' problems resulting in helping veterans rejoin their One. It's an approach which takes the burden of carrying so much of the financial cost of long-term veteran care off the backs off working Americans and puts it in the hands of veterans who want to pay their own way, as much as they can.

Alcoholics Anonymous has an apt saying that pertains to this: "Half measures availed us nothing".


Jim Chatman
Veteran - Georgia

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Response to post on NASA's Google+ page

You're absolutely right, (redacted) - it is a symptom of a far larger problem and no amount of head-in-the-sand ignorance is going to make it stop or go away.

A lot of climate-deniers claim that global warming is part of a natural cycle or that we can't do anything about it, but here's my take: If global warming was a car headed off a cliff and we were the passengers, rather than let the car go off the cliff while we sit around arguing about whether it's a cliff or whether the 1000' foot fall will kill us, we'd grab the wheel and try to steer the car back on the road. 

To those who say that it's too big a problem to fix, I say to you "ozone hole". In the 1970s, scientists began to warn us of the dangers that a depleted atmospheric ozone layer would pose to our environment. Over the ensuing years, governments worked to solve the problem of chlorofluorocarbon production and elimination culminating in 1987's Montreal Protocol. Since then, CFCs have been on the decline in the atmosphere and it is expected that the ozone layer will be repaired within 50 years.

So we can solve a global environmental problem if we all work together to do it. We have proof of that. Alternately, we can sit on our hands and let those who contribute most to the problem of greenhouse gases lead the debate rather than letting rational science lead us to a solution, and do so before it's too late.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Response to Bain Capital political ad

Response to article found at the link here.

If you feel alienated by this ad, then it's not President Obama who's doing it, it's your conscience. This ad can not be misconstrued to represent a simple layoff as bad. This was not a simple layoff. This was the intentional dismantlement of a company for quick profit. Bain Capital under Mitt Romney had a tried and proven system for the quick extraction of capital from the companies it chose to cannibalize. The system worked like this:  First, they would look for redundancies in labor, like any smart company would do, and then they would eliminate the redundant positions. All good, so far. But the next step was to sell securities - stocks and bonds - in order to gain quick capital. Then, they would pay themselves and their shareholders massive distributions leaving little for the necessary operation of the affected company.

At that point, the company would be unprofitable, deeply in debt because of the capital extracted by Romney, and facing bankruptcy. Since Bain would have made many times their initial investment back by that point, the company could fold, fly, flap, fart, or just fail. They didn't care, they had already sucked it dry. And that's when the real pain set in for the company's employees.

At that point, Bain would look to unload any non-revenue-producing stream from the company, or any that they could paint as such. Usually this was done in bankruptcy court and the debts would be discharged to the favor of Bain Capital. Employees were left with no employment, or with being underemployed. Bain had sucked the company's last producing teat dry, and now it just wants rid of the hulk.

That's not capitalism. That's cannibalism. And that's what Romney did at Bain Capital that earned him the wealth that he has beyond what he inherited from his wealthy father. He made his name as a scavenger, a corporate raider, a 'Barbarian At The Gate'.

Siding with Romney opposed to the thousands of workers who lost their livelihoods seems as calloused as he is. And that's the problem that I and others have with him. Not that he is wealthy, but that his wealth was milked from the lowest workers the companies that he raided employed. His wealth was made on human suffering and the total lack of compassion that his form of capitalist has.

A man who has no compassion in business will have no more than that in government. Add to that that he has allied himself with the ignoratti of the far right and you have a recipe for national bankruptcy, and I'll bet dollars to donuts that he would manage to profit from the downfall of our republic along the way.

Romney? I'd vote for no one before I'd vote for him.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Romney should do his own research

Response to Daily Beast article at the link here.

The fact is that Carter's necessary austerity measures brought the nation out of the deep recession brought about by 12 years of Republican rule - Nixon and Ford. Reagan capitalized on Carter's successes and unlike former presidents, refused to acknowledge that those successes belonged to his predecessor. While that happens to a varying degree in every presidency, it has never happened as much as it did with Reagan. Carter's programs were still in effect and working as far along as Reagan's second term. Carter also got more productive legislation passed in his 4 years than Reagan did in 8. That was not due to Reagan's reticence in growing the government, it was due to his personal inability to lead legislators despite the fact that so many defected from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. 

The Reagan myth lives on, just as do the lies that Reagan's PR team created about Carter. Also, Carter served as a line officer in the US Navy serving in both the Atlantic and Pacific fleets, whereas Reagan served in the US Army's First Motion Picture Unit and never left the States during his service. Carter lead the US nuclear disaster team after Canada's Chalk River Laboratory's accident. Carter, along with other members of his team, spent time inside the highly radioactive reactor disassembling it for shutdown. Reagan had no such leadership time nor service involving potential personal injury.

For Romney to attempt to disabuse President Carter is further proof of his 1%-er, bullying, elitist behavior.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Cell phone service everywhere, at least for 911

Response to the CNET article, "After nine dropped cell phone calls for help, couple dies" by  Chris Matyszczyk here.

Cell phone coverage should be coast-to-coast and Mexico-to-Canada, in the US (plus all of Alaska, Hawaii, and US Territories). In south Georgia, where my mother lives, it's pretty rural, yet Verizon has ONE tower which serves the area, and does it pretty well. It's a tall son-of-a-gun, too, the better to carry cellular's line-of-sight signal to those who live on the flat coastal plain, I suppose. I don't know what the range of the tower is, but it's got to be substantial since it covers her house with a decent signal and is located about 12 miles away; and yes, I asked a Verizon technician about it - he's the one who told me where the tower is located.

My point is that there must be some way of covering more places than we currently do. I own my own business, so I'm aware of how business works (just to preclude the fora trolls looking to make snide comments about cost analysis or rate-of-return). But there's a point where people must come before profitability, even if we must subsidize a portion of the cost of providing service. A buck could be added to the average cell phone bill, for example, in order to offset the cost of remote coverage. Since 4G LTE seems to be the coming universal system for cellular in the US, I'm certain that there's a way, if it doesn't exist already, of allowing any handset sold in the future to place, at minimum, emergency 911 calls, allowing various providers to share the signal of those remote towers for 911 calls only, say.

When you live in the city, as I have most of my life, you tend to forget how much of what you use comes from those remote and rural locations; raw materials, food, fiber, forest products, etc. People live in those places in order, often, to be closer to the work they do. Those who provide the food and materials for our shelter, clothing, and transportation shouldn't have to live as second-class citizens, nor fear that they might lose life or limb because they can't reach emergency services. I know there are people who will read this and carp about having to subsidize this or that, but they might consider the things rural citizens sometimes go without in order that city dwellers can have what they WANT, beyond basic needs. There's also the fact that some of us just like living in the country.

My friend Dwight, a fourth-generation farmer, would say, "Don't want to run cable to my house? OK. I can get satellite and do without cable. But when I and my fellow farmers start to demand higher and higher prices for the FOOD that YOU eat, don't talk with your mouth full". He might also add that while Walmart or Kroger can source cheaper meat from, say, Venezuela, don't be surprised when the farmers there raise their prices, too. Or when someone gets pissed with the US and dumps insecticide on it.

Sure, there will be a few places that are simply too remote for anything but satphone, but the people who go to those places generally know that, and have one. It's not too much to ask that everyone have access to basic emergency services communications equipment like cellular phones.

Double standard?

Here's what I can't figure out: The people who are opposed to gay marriage are largely evangelical Christians and the basis for their belief is their bible. Fair enough. But the same authors of their Bible also claim that sex outside marriage or not for the purpose of procreation is a sin. If the gay community is the reported 5% of the population, why aren't these people focused on the 95% who are straight and having sex outside marriage or without procreation in mind?

Extremist Dominionist Christians

Going back to the early-1980s at least, extremist Christians and now the Dominionist movement, have wanted to create "God's Army" within the framework of the US military. I served under an extremist Christian in my military intelligence unit in Augsburg, Germany, who was on a campaign to eliminate gays, atheists, Jews and Muslims from the US Army. Incidentally, he had the lowest reenlistment rate in the entire US military, so bad that it warranted a Congressional investigation. Not only was he discouraging good soldiers from reenlisting, he was robbing the military of valuable, experienced manpower - each linguist, for example, cost the military millions to investigate their backgrounds for the necessary security clearance, to train them in their target language, and for further training in the specifics of their jobs.

The 'War with Islam' this BBC article references isn't new, it's just more contemporary, and is just the tip of the iceberg of the larger extremist Christian movement.