Monday, February 09, 2015

Battle Scars and Public Policy


You can judge a society by how it treats its veterans. 

By that measure to-day's societies are a vast improvement from days past.  In the not so very long ago crippled and wounded veterans had a place on the sidewalks of the nations they served. Post World War One Germany comes to mind as a place where the war-wounded were very much on their own - aside from any familial support they might have received. I don't know if the Nazis awarded war pensions to the disabled of the Great War, (I couldn't imagine not) but the Weimar Republic simply couldn't afford it.

In Britain and France there were 'homes' for the wounded, a pension in some cases,  and the 'dole' for many others. In Canada the 'permanently hospitalized' in the Great War were conveniently dying, to be replaced by the  'basket cases' produced by the Second. It was only in the 1980 that the Sunnybrook Military Hospital, in Toronto was 'converted' for civilian use, it still maintains a 'veterans' wing'. There were, and are, others.

There are, of course, places where veterans are still very much 'on their own'. I couldn't imagine there are many benefits for the native wounded in Nigeria, Somalia or any of Africa's wars. Aside from a reward for suicide bombers' families, I couldn't imagine much beyond community charity for those who merely fail to die in many Muslim countries. We know that Muslim 'charity' is often the first target of western 'anti-terrorist sanctions'.

But how is it in the First World?

 The first thing we need remember is that Military and 'casualties' are essentially mutually exclusive. The casualty is a net loss to the military effort in a large number of ways. Studies have been written in an effort to minimize the effect of  'the casualty'.  By that, of course, we mean 'the wounded', the dead are a very simple matter to be resolved.  Most armies strive to inflict the greatest number of wounded on an enemy. Killing may be a short term solution, but generally isn't as effective as sending lots of the enemy home in an ambulance.

First off,  all  wounded men require at least some degree of assistance and protection. The 'walking wounded' my help each other, but they still require provision and a safe place to be. They require first aid and medical attention. They also require a period of time out of service, or on light duty, to recover - all that time they still need to be clothed and fed.

The more heavily wounded need to be transported away from the fighting. Aiding the wounded was often perceived as disguised 'shirking' as the 'help' was often able to 'lose' itself, on the way back to the front. At times 'aid'  was against orders.  The wounded sometimes died where they fell,  often days after they were wounded. It was a risk to life to retrieve them, and if that was done - or if they managed to make it back into lines - then some fighters had to be told-off to tend to and protect them. Moving an immobile soldier required at least two of his fellows and often, under 'rough' conditions, a considerably greater number.

Once safe,  a more protracted hospital stay is then followed by recuperative therapy and possibly retraining for less arduous service. Some cases were irretrievably lost to future military service and became a client of a non-military body.

Militaries by and large are casualty-averse for a number of reasons. One of the first is psychological - the wounded sap morale. While the burial of a fallen comrade may be a depressing event, it is transitory once the immediacy passes and, in time,it may be a boost to morale or unit cohesion. The presence of a wounded comrade has an opposite, and on-going, effect that becomes more pronounced with exposure. The sights and sounds of the wounded are more affecting than the presence of the dead - the necessity of attending to them, in addition to other, perhaps more important duties, are after the first curiosity, deleterious to those as yet unhurt.  Evident suffering does most fighters no good. The adage that 'there is nothing sadder than a sick soldier' is more than a truism.

Modern armies seek to evacuate the wounded, as much for the fighting spirit of their pals, as for their own good. In practice this is shown to be the first step in the depersonalization and disconnection that later affects these men.


                                          The Golden Hour


On return to the home front the wounded veteran faces a range of new challenges. The military may provide some aid and assistance, but the essential duty there is to get the wounded man off the roster, and the pay roll, as quickly as possible and hopefully into the tender care of a different organization.

Such organizations have been set up, in times past, by ex-soldiers themselves - to look after the needs of wounded comrades and the widows and children of the fallen. Such 'benevolent societies' still exist. Other ex-service organizations take a primary role in advocating for the veteran and for veterans' benefits, with government bodies and organizations set up by government,  to 'look after' them.

Veterans' affairs are often at the whim of political forces because they are most often funded by the taxpayer.  In times past, the qualification for veterans' benefits has been dependent on the number of veterans in the electorate and on the number of potential qualifiers for such benefits. For instance, veterans of World War Two rarely qualified for service pension benefits unless they could prove they were wounded or injured in the course of their military duties. The onus of this proof was often laid on them. As the large number of such veterans began to dwindle in the late twentieth century, the qualifications - and the actual benefits - were opened and increased for all aging ex-servicemen - dependent on their financial status. The 'wise' veteran often divested himself of any accrued wealth by setting it 'in trust' to  family members, before applying as a 'pauper' for government benefits. A whole 'planning  industry' grew up around this.

These benefits were made available to a larger number of current war veterans than was the case to their grandfathers - again because there were far fewer of them. A service pension comes after a lesser period of service and, for the wounded, can begin after they are militarily discharged. After numerous court cases, veterans' benefits have been extended to those who in times past might not have qualified for them. Girlfriends and illegitimate children qualify for survivor benefits due the families of deceased soldiers.  Divorce is creating a whole new set of problems in looking after the possibly multiple  families of the dead. That did not exist in times past, as only one beneficiary was permitted. No doubt gay rights' will have the same effect.

Indeed the term 'veteran' has been extended from those who actually served in a combat or 'war zone',  to those who served in any capacity, and of late to police and firemen as well. With that blurring goes the possible extension of veterans benefits. This is getting to the point where the actual war wounded are disappearing in a sea of 'PTSD'-affected servicemen, who - in some cases - never left the country to serve overseas, let alone in combat. The costs are encouraging some governments to curtail such spending - 'in fairness' - across the board. This latter eventuates in a number of ex-service personnel, including combat veterans - particularly those with mental, emotional or social problems 'falling through the cracks' to find themselves unwanted, and unhelped, living on the streets.  Many veterans organizations are quick to divorce themselves from such 'sick soldiers'  in order to look to their own economic interests in politically-oriented milieux.

Wounded Warriors Scam



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