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US Military

Veterans Affairs

Project: US Military
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1960-1973: Agent Orange Used in Vietnam

In Vietnam, the US military uses about 21 million gallons of Agent Orange to defoliate the jungle in order to deny enemy fighters cover. The defoliant—manufactured primarily by Monsanto and Dow Chemical—gets its name from the 55-gallon drums it is shipped in that are marked with an orange stripe. At least 3,181 villages are sprayed with the highly toxic herbicide, which is comprised of a 50:50 mixture of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T and contaminated with dangerous levels of dioxins. Much of the dioxin is TCDD, which is linked to liver and other cancers, diabetes, spina bifida, immune-deficiency diseases, severe diarrhea, persistent malaria, miscarriages, premature births, and severe birth defects. Between 2.1 and 4.8 million Vietnamese are exposed, as are about 20,000 US soldiers. According to Vietnamese estimates, Agent Orange is responsible for the deaths of 400,000 people. Because there is a continued presence of high dioxin levels in the food chain of several sprayed areas, the health effects of Agent Orange persist to the present day. According to studies by Arnold Schecter of the University of Texas School of Public Health in Dallas, some Vietnamese have dioxin levels 135 times higher than people living in unsprayed areas. Schecter has called Vietnam “the largest contamination of dioxin in the world.” The Vietnamese believe the herbicide has contributed to birth defects in 500,000 children, many of them second and third generation. Though the US government has accepted responsibility for the health complications in US soldiers that resulted from exposure to Agent Orange (providing up to $1,989 per month for affected vets and more than $5,000 per month for those severely disabled and homebound), the US has refused to compensate Vietnamese victims. To date, no US agency, including the US Agency for International Development, has conducted any program in Vietnam to address the issue of Agent Orange. When asked by Mother Jones magazine in 1999 if the Vietnam government has raised the issue in private talks with the United States, a State Department official responds: “Ohhhh, yes. They have. But for us there is real concern that if we start down the road of research, what does that portend for liability-type issues further on?” [BBC, 11/19/1999; Mother Jones, 1/2000; BBC, 11/15/2000; BBC, 12/30/2001; Associated Press, 4/17/2003]

Entity Tags: Dow Chemical, Monsanto

Timeline Tags: US-Vietnam (1947-2001)

Category Tags: Chemical Weapons, Key Events, Veterans Affairs

Major Clifford E. Day at the Air Command and Staff College in Alabama concludes in a paper that the US military’s reliance on soft-skinned Humvees during the operation in Mogadishu, Somalia “needlessly put… troops in harms way without the proper equipment to successfully complete the mission.” [Day, 3/1997 pdf file; MSNBC, 4/15/2003]

Entity Tags: Clifford E. Day

Timeline Tags: Treatment of US troops

Category Tags: Equipment, Veterans Affairs

Thomas Ricks.Thomas Ricks. [Source: Alex Wong / Getty Images]Author and military expert Thomas Ricks writes a detailed examination of what he calls the widening gap between members of the US military and the rest of American society. Ricks portrays a platoon of Marine recruits who, after returning home from boot camp, were largely alienated from their old lives. “They were repulsed by the physical unfitness of civilians, by the uncouth behavior they witnessed, and by what they saw as pervasive selfishness and consumerism,” he writes. “Many found themselves avoiding old friends, and some experienced difficulty even in communicating with their families.” Many recruits were offended by the overt racism and class segregation they experienced in their old neighborhoods, in sharp contrast to what Ricks calls “the relative racial harmony of Parris Island.” Several commented on how aimless and nihilistic their former friends seemed. Ricks writes that the Marines “were experiencing in a very personal way the widening gap between today’s military and civilian America.” Retired Sergeant Major James Moore tells Ricks: “It is difficult to go back into a society of ‘What’s in it for me?’ when a Marine has been taught the opposite for so long. When I look at society today, I see a group of young people without direction because of the lack of teaching of moral values at home and in school. We see that when we get them in recruit training. The recruits are smarter today—they run rings around what we were able to do, on average. Their problems are moral problems: lying, cheating, and stealing, and the very fact of being committed. We find that to get young people to dedicate themselves to a cause is difficult sometimes.” Retired Admiral Stanley Arthur adds: “Today, the armed forces are no longer representative of the people they serve. More and more, enlisted [men and women] as well as officers are beginning to feel that they are special, better than the society they serve. This is not healthy in an armed force serving a democracy.”
Voluntary Segregation - Ricks notes that after over twenty years without a draft, the US military has become a more professional and disparate societal group. Many military personnel live their lives in and among the military, taking their children to military doctors and sending them to military or base schools, living on or around military bases, socializing with other military families. Former Air Force historian Richard Kohn says, “I sense an ethos that is different. They talk about themselves as ‘we,’ separate from society. They see themselves as different, morally and culturally. It isn’t the military of the fifties and sixties, which was a large, semi-mobilized citizen military establishment, with a lot of younger officers who were there temporarily, and a base of draftees.” The closing of many military bases has contributed to what Ricks calls “the geographical and political isolation of the military…,” as has the privatization of many of the military’s logistical and supply functions. “[M]ilitary personnel today are less likely to be serving in occupations that have civilian equivalents, and are more likely to specialize in military skills that are neither transferable to the civilian sector nor well understood by civilians,” he writes.
Deepening Politicization of the Military - Ricks writes that many military personnel, especially officers, are becoming more politicized, and particularly more conservative. “Of course, military culture has always had a conservative streak,” he writes. “I suspect, however, that today’s officers are both more conservative and more politically active than their predecessors.” He continues, “The military appears to be becoming politically less representative of society, with a long-term downward trend in the number of officers willing to identify themselves as liberals. Open identification with the Republican Party is becoming the norm. And the few remaining liberals in uniform tend to be colonels and generals, perhaps because they began their careers in the draft-era military. The junior officer corps, apart from its female and minority members, appears to be overwhelmingly hard-right Republican and largely comfortable with the views of Rush Limbaugh.” He quotes Air Force Colonel Charles Dunlap as writing, “Many officers privately expressed delight that” as a result of the controversy over gays in the military, the Reserve Officers Training Corps program is producing “fewer officers from the more liberal campuses to challenge [the Air Force officers’] increasingly right-wing philosophy.” Surveys conducted of midshipmen at Annapolis and cadets at West Point support this conclusion. Retired Army Major Dana Isaacoff, a former West Point instructor, says that West Point cadets generally believe that being a Republican is becoming part of the definition of being a military officer. “Students overwhelmingly identified themselves as conservatives,” she says. And, she notes, the cadets tend to favor more radical conservatism as opposed to what Ricks calls “the compromising, solution-oriented politics of, say, Bob Dole.” Isaacoff says, “There is a tendency among the cadets to adopt the mainstream conservative attitudes and push them to extremes. The Democratic-controlled Congress was Public Enemy Number One. Number Two was the liberal media.” Studies of Marine officers at Quantico, Virginia produced similar results.
Changes in Society - American society has become more fragmented, Ricks writes, and steadily less emphasis is being put on what he calls “the classic military values of sacrifice, unity, self-discipline, and considering the interests of the group before those of the individual.” Ricks writes that while the military has largely come to grips with two of the most intractable problems American society faces—drug abuse and racism—society as a whole has not. And young military personnel display a competence and level of education that many non-military youth do not, Ricks asserts. And military personnel are increasingly better educated than their civilian counterparts: some military recruiters say that they have more trouble than ever before in finding recruits who can pass the military entrance exams.
Lack of a Focused Threat - The end of the Cold War and the loss of the Soviet Union as a hard-and-fast enemy has made many Americans wonder why the nation needs such a large standing army any longer. “For the first time in its history (with the possible exception of the two decades preceding the Spanish-American War) the US Army must justify its existence to the American people,” Ricks writes. Military budgets are continually under attack in Congress and from the White House, and many predict huge, potentially crippling funding cuts in the near future. Low-intensity, localized problems such as the fighting in Somalia, Bosnia, and Haiti do not capture the public imagination—or create fear among the citizenry—in the same way that the daily threat of nuclear annihilation and Soviet hegemony kept the support for the military high among American priorities.
Enemies Within - Ricks is troubled by the increasing use of military forces against US citizens. It wasn’t long ago that Marines descended into the streets of Los Angeles to impose order among rioters, and the Marines used similar strategies to contain the fractious populace as they used in Somalia. One Marine, Captain Guy Miner, wrote in 1992 of the initial concerns among Marine intelligence units over orders to collect intelligence on US citizens, but their concerns over legality and morality quickly evaporated once, Miner wrote, “intelligence personnel sought any way possible to support the operation with which the regiment had been tasked.” Many military officers are calling for the military to be granted wide-ranging powers to be used against civilians, including the right to detain, search, and arrest civilians, and to seize property. In 1994, influential military analyst William Lind blamed what he called “cultural radicals [and] people who hate our Judeo-Christian culture” for what he saw as the accelerating breakdown of society, and went on to discuss the predominant “agenda of moral relativism, militant secularism, and sexual and social ‘liberation.’” Ricks notes that Lind’s words are fairly standard complaints which are often echoed daily on conservative talk radio and television broadcasts. However, he writes, Lind’s words take on a new significance in light of his conclusion: “The next real war we fight is likely to be on American soil.”
Military's Impact on Civilian Society Likely to Increase - Ricks does not believe a military coup is likely at any point in the foreseeable future. While the equilibrium between civilians and the military is shifting, he writes, it is unlikely to shift that far. What is likely is a new awareness among members of the military culture of their impact and influence on civilian society, and their willingness to use that influence to shape the social and political fabric of their country. [Atlantic Monthly, 7/1997]

Entity Tags: Dana Isaacoff, Guy Miner, James Moore, US Department of the Army, Charles Dunlap, Stanley Arthur, Thomas Ricks, US Department of the Marines, William Lind, Richard Kohn

Category Tags: Other, Veterans Affairs

The Illinois-Iowa National Guard is deployed to Iraq. The unit is sent with 14 of its Chinook helicopters. However only two of them are outfitted with aircraft survivability equipment. The remaining helicopters will operate in Iraq unprotected. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 12/27/2003]

Entity Tags: Illinois-Iowa National Guard

Timeline Tags: Treatment of US troops

Category Tags: Equipment, Veterans Affairs

Roughly 44,000 US troops deployed to Iraq are provided with Vietnam-era Flak jackets instead of the modern Interceptor vests developed during the late 90s and in use since 2001. Flak Jackets do not protect troops from most of the ammunition types being used in Iraq. By contrast, the Interceptor vest—made of layered sheets of Kevlar with pockets in front and back for boron carbide ceramic plates—can stop high-velocity machine-gun bullets, shrapnel and other ordnance. They are also significantly lighter, giving troops more maneuverability when they need to respond quickly to threatening circumstances. Even in cases where troops are provided with the modern vests, they often lack the essential ceramic plates. [New York Daily News, 9/30/2003; Los Angeles Times, 10/2/2003; Associated Press, 10/13/2003; Washington Post, 12/4/2003] Worried for the safety of their sons and daughters in Iraq, parents begin purchasing Interceptor vests and ceramic plates from body armor companies in the US and shipping them directly to their children’s units. Sometimes only the plates are available so soldiers improvise by taping the plates they have received from home to their Flak Jackets with duct tape—a practice that plate manufacturers say is unsafe. [Los Angeles Times, 10/2/2003]

Timeline Tags: Treatment of US troops, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Equipment, Veterans Affairs, Combat Actions and Events

Pentagon officials indicate that they will not ask Congress to renew a temporary increase in monthly Imminent-Danger Pay (IDP) (from $150 to $225) and Family-Separation Allowance (FSA) (from $100 to $250) to US soldiers stationed in combat zones. The temporary IDP and FSA increases, which were put into effect retroactively in April, are set to expire on September 30. In August, when a journalist asks the White House about its views on the plan not to renew the pay increases, a spokesperson refers the reporter to a June Pentagon budget report which warned that the Defense Department budget can’t sustain the higher payments. [Army Times, 6/30/2003; San Francisco Chronicle, 8/14/2003] But after the planned rollback of the benefits becomes a public controversy, the Pentagon issues a statement on August 14 saying that it intends to ensure that those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan “continue to receive this compensation at least at the current levels.” The statement says nothing about troops deployed on dangerous missions in other regions. [US Department of Defense, 8/14/2003]

Entity Tags: US Congress, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Treatment of US troops, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Pay and Benefits, Veterans Affairs

The White House complains that certain pay-and-benefits incentives for US soldiers that Congress added to the 2004 defense budget are wasteful and unnecessary—including a proposal to double the $6,000 gratuity paid to the families of soldiers who are killed in action. [Army Times, 6/30/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), US Congress

Timeline Tags: Treatment of US troops, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Pay and Benefits, Veterans Affairs

Department of Defense officials ask Congress not to renew a temporary increase in the Family Separation Allowance (FSA) and Imminent Danger Pay (IDP) for deployed forces that had been enacted in April. Instead, Defense suggests raising the Hardship Duty Pay for troops deployed only in Iraq and Afghanistan. David Chu, the department’s top personnel official, says that the April raises were like “using a sledgehammer to hit a small nail.” The Pentagon’s intent to rollback the FSA and IDP reignites a controversy that had sprung up during the summer (see Summer 2003) when it was first revealed that the White House supported the Defense Department’s plan to save money by cutting back on the two programs. [Stars and Stripes, 10/4/2003] The final National Defense Authorization bill, which is passed by Congress in November, rejects the Pentagon’s recommendations and renews the pay increases. [Sun Herald (Biloxi), 11/8/2003]

Entity Tags: David Chu, US Congress, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Treatment of US troops, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Pay and Benefits, Veterans Affairs

Approximately 600 sick or injured members of the US Army Reserves and National Guard are in “medical hold” at Fort Stewart where they are kept “in rows of spare, steamy and dark cement barracks in a sandy field” while doctors review their cases to determine how sick or disabled they are and whether or not they are eligible to receive benefits. Many of the soldiers in medical hold complain that they have been languishing there for “months” and that the conditions are “substandard.” Some soldiers also claim that the Army is trying to refuse them benefits on grounds that their injuries and illnesses are due to a pre-existing condition. Willie Buckels, a truck master with the 296th Transportation Company, explains to a reporter how he feels about the Army’s treatment of the soldiers: “Now my whole idea about the US Army has changed. I am treated like a third-class citizen.” [United Press International, 10/17/2003; CNN, 10/19/2003; United Press International, 10/20/2003; Coastal Courier, 10/22/2003]

Entity Tags: Willie Buckels

Timeline Tags: Treatment of US troops, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Other, Veterans Affairs

The Department of Veterans Affairs announces that it is immediately cutting health care benefits to Category 8 veterans. The agency says that the decision to cut the benefits, which will affect an estimated 164,000 US veterans, is made because there is a growing backlog of veterans still waiting to receive their first treatment from a VA health care facility. Veterans classified as Category 8 are veterans who do not suffer from military service-related disabilities or health problems and who make $30,000 to $35,000 or more per year. [Washington Post, 1/17/2003]

Entity Tags: Department of Veterans Affairs

Timeline Tags: Treatment of US troops, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Pay and Benefits, Veterans Affairs

The US Army announces the extension of its “stop-loss” program which means that thousands of soldiers scheduled to retire or otherwise leave the military will be required to stay in Iraq for the remainder of their unit’s deployment. [Associated Press, 6/2/2004] Critics call the policy a “backdoor draft.” [CBS News, 10/7/2004; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 10/18/2004]

Timeline Tags: Treatment of US troops, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Pay and Benefits, Veterans Affairs, Stop-Loss Program

Oregon National Guardsman Sean Davis tells CBS’s 60 Minutes that his unit was not provided with enough ammunition when they were deployed to Iraq and that the guardsmen lacked night vision goggles and two-way radios. He explains they used walkie-talkies that they or their families purchased on their own. “And anybody can pick up those signals, you know,” he notes. [CBS News, 10/31/2004]

Entity Tags: Sean Davis

Timeline Tags: Treatment of US troops, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Equipment, Veterans Affairs

A roadside bomb detonates on an Iraqi highway.A roadside bomb detonates on an Iraqi highway. [Source: Representational Pictures]Upon being released from Fort Hood, Texas, 27-year-old Spc. Robert Loria is presented with a $1,768.81 bill from the US Army. [Times Herald-Record (Middletown, NY), 12/10/2004] Loria was seriously injured on February 9, when the Humvee in which he was riding was hit by a roadside bomb. [Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/21/2004] The explosion “tore Loria’s left hand and forearm off, split his femur in two and shot shrapnel through the left side of his body.” [Times Herald-Record (Middletown, NY), 12/10/2004] After four months of rehabilitation at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., he was sent to Fort Hood where he stayed several more months. When he is finally ready to leave, instead of receiving a check for the $4,486 he thought was owed to him, he receives a huge bill. The Army says he owes $2,408.33 for 10 months of family separation pay that the Army mistakenly paid him, $2,204.25 in travel expenses from Fort Hood back to Walter Reed for a follow-up visit, and $310 for unreturned equipment that Loria says was damaged or destroyed when his Humvee was attacked. Including taxes, the total amount Lori owes the Army is $6,255.50, almost $2,000 more than the amount he thought was owed to him. After a local newspaper runs a story on his situation and causes a public uproar, the Army waives most of Loria’s debts. [Seattle Times, 10/11/2004; Times Herald-Record (Middletown, NY), 12/10/2004; Associated Press, 12/11/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Army, Robert Loria

Timeline Tags: Treatment of US troops, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Pay and Benefits, Veterans Affairs, Combat Actions and Events

In a 233-page ruling, District Judge Jack B. Weinstein dismisses a lawsuit against US chemical companies that supplied the military with Agent Orange during the ‘60s and ‘70s. The lawsuit was filed by a group of lawyers on behalf of a million or so Vietnamese, seeking compensation for the effects of the toxic defoliant, which was sprayed on at least 3,181 villages during the Vietnam War (see 1960-1973). Agent Orange has been linked to cancer, diabetes and birth defects among Vietnamese soldiers, civilians and American veterans. Lawyers for Monsanto Co., Dow Chemical Co., Hercules Inc., and more than a dozen other companies argued that they were just following the legal orders of the commander-in-chief. “We’ve said all along that any issues regarding wartime activities should be resolved by the US and Vietnamese governments,” Scot Wheeler, a spokesman for Dow Chemical, claimed. “We believe that defoliants saved lives by protecting allied forces from enemy ambush and did not create adverse health effects.” Coming to the defense of the chemical companies, the Justice Department filed a brief asserting that a ruling against the firms could cripple the president’s powers to direct US armed forces in wartime. In his ruling Judge Weinstein concludes that the plaintiffs did not prove that Agent Orange had caused their illnesses. “The fact that diseases were experienced by some people after spraying does not suffice to provide general or specific causation,” Weinstein writes. “There is no basis for any of the claims of plaintiffs under the domestic law of any nation or state or under any form of international law. The case is dismissed.” [BBC, 3/10/2005; Associated Press, 3/10/2005]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Hercules, Inc., Jack B. Weinstein, Dow Chemical

Category Tags: Chemical Weapons, Veterans Affairs

Emiliano Santiago.Emiliano Santiago. [Source: Elliot Margolies]Oregon National Guardsman Emiliano Santiago’s lawsuit against his forcible redeployment back to Iraq begins in a Seattle, Washington, appeals court. Santiago spent eight years in the Guard, and his term of duty expired in June 2004. But four months later, the Army ordered him to ship out to Afghanistan. It also reset his military termination date to December 24, 2031. (The 26-year extension was explained by Army lawyers as being made for “administrative convenience.”) Santiago refused to go, and filed a lawsuit naming Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as the defendant. The lawsuit, Santiago v. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, is the highest court review of the Army’s controversial “stop-loss” policy (see November 2002, November 13, 2003, Early January, 2004, and June 2, 2004) to date. Army lawyers say that under the November 2002 “stop-loss” policy, President Bush can “suspend any provision of the law relating to promotion, retirement or separation” of any soldier who is deemed essential to national security in times of crisis. Santiago’s lawyers say in a written statement: “Conscription for decades or life is the work of despots.… It has no place in a free and democratic society.… If the government can break its promises to young men and women like Santiago, then the bedrock of our all-volunteer army—trust in the government’s promises—will crumble.” Many legal observers believe that if Santiago loses in the appeals court, he and his lawyers will push the case all the way to the Supreme Court. Ironically, Santiago is slated to be redeployed to Afghanistan within a week, and may not be on hand to hear whether he wins or loses his case. [Seattle Times, 4/6/2005] Santiago says it is not a matter of politics for him, but of fairness. “If I still had two years or one year left of my contract, I would say, ‘I signed up for it, I’m in,’” he says. “This is not right. [The Army is] not doing what they told me they were going to do.… It’s crazy.” Santiago recalls being told by his recruiter in 1997 that there was virtually no chance of his being sent overseas for active duty. According to Santiago, the recruiter told him, “The only reason the National Guard would get deployed is if there was, like, a World War III.” [Seattle Weekly, 3/30/2005] Santiago will lose the lawsuit, and will redeploy to Afghanistan (see April 15, 2005). [Oakland Tribune, 1/14/2006]

Entity Tags: Oregon National Guard, US Department of the Army, Emiliano Santiago, Donald Rumsfeld, US Department of Defense, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Pay and Benefits, Stop-Loss Program, Veterans Affairs

An appeals court rules unanimously that Sergeant Emiliano Santiago must redeploy to Iraq under the military’s “stop-loss” program. Santiago filed a lawsuit to prevent his forcible redeployment, saying that he had already fulfilled his eight-year enlistment (see April 6, 2005). He unwillingly returns to Afghanistan today. [Oakland Tribune, 1/14/2006] Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor rejected Santiago’s request for his case to be reviewed by the Court. In defense of Santiago, Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA) told the House: “His case—his plight—should be known, and feared, by every high-school junior and senior across the country. The ugly little secret in the Pentagon is that Emiliano Santiago’s voluntary service is now involuntary.” [Seattle Times, 4/15/2005]

Entity Tags: Jim McDermott, US Department of the Army, Sandra Day O’Connor, Emiliano Santiago

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Pay and Benefits, Stop-Loss Program, Veterans Affairs

Mid-2006: ’Army Is Broken,’ Says General

A retired Army general tells authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein: “The Army is broken. It will take decades to fix.” A Pentagon veteran of the Gulf War who declines to allow his name to be used, he says of that period: “It was different then. The staffs were apolitical. And the military was taken care of. If we made a mistake, we did no irreparable harm. [Vice President] Cheney now seems oblivious to what the military needs. That’s because he trusts [Defense Secretary] Rumsfeld.… So we have an army that is broken. The DOD [Defense Department] is broken. And the process is broken. Rumsfeld has left us with the smallest army since before 1941. First time in the history of the country that we haven’t surged up the Army in time of war. We have never not surged up the Army in time of war. So we redeploy, and redeploy, and redeploy, and break down the Army.… They’re not surging up, and they’re burning through equipment in Iraq. [Cheney and Rumsfeld have done] irreparable harm” to the Army. Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, agrees: “They have gone through so much equipment in Iraq,” he tells Dubose and Bernstein. He says the true test the military will face will not be on the battlefield, but in Washington. “The first challenge is going to be the reconstruction bill that will confront the next president. I mean bringing the ground forces, and to a certain extent the Air Force, back to levels pre-Iraq. They have burned up Abrams tanks, Chinook helicopters, all very expensive hardware, at a rate which is astronomical.” Wilkerson believes the Army will also find it very difficult to find large numbers of new recruits to replenish the ranks. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 221-222]

Entity Tags: Lou Dubose, Donald Rumsfeld, Jake Bernstein, Lawrence Wilkerson, US Department of the Army, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Defense

Category Tags: Equipment, Veterans Affairs

Soldiers salute their fallen comrades at a Fort Lewis memorial service.Soldiers salute their fallen comrades at a Fort Lewis memorial service. [Source: New York Times]Families of slain US soldiers based at Fort Lewis, Washington, are pleading with base commanders to reconsider their recent decision to only honor the base’s war dead once a month instead of individually. The decision comes after twenty soldiers deployed from the base were reported killed in action; base officials then announced that Fort Lewis would only hold memorial services for once a month to collectively honor its fallen soldiers. Since then, veterans and the families of the slain have protested the change as, in reporter William Yardley’s words, “cold and logistics-driven.” Web-based critics have charged that the military is trying to minimize the bad news from Iraq. In June, the base will place the decision on hold; base commander Lieutenant General Charles Jacoby will decide whether or not to carry out the policy. “If I lost my husband at the beginning of the month, what do you do, wait until the end of the month?” demands Toni Shanyfelt, whose husband is serving one of multiple tours in Iraq. “I don’t know if it’s more convenient for them, or what, but that’s insane.” Military historians note that during the Vietnam and Korean Wars, base memorial services were rare, but since the advent of the all-volunteer military, the base is a center for the community, and memorial services for the fallen are among the most important base functions. Former interim base commander Brigadier General William Troy, who originally announced the policy, wrote in explanation, “As much as we would like to think otherwise, I am afraid that with the number of soldiers we now have in harm’s way, our losses will preclude us from continuing to do individual memorial ceremonies.” Some other Army bases already hold monthly services; some hold them even less frequently. Major Cheryl Phillips, an Army spokeswoman, notes that the decision on memorial services is up to the base commanders, saying, “Several installations have conducted services for each individual soldier and now have begun to roll them into a quarterly service because, alas, the casualty numbers are rising.” [New York Times, 7/25/2007]

Entity Tags: William Troy, US Department of the Army, Fort Lewis, Alan Archambault, Sue Rothwell, Charles H. Jacoby Jr., Cheryl Phillips

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Pay and Benefits, Veterans Affairs

President Bush tells a gathering of US soldiers and their families, “It is time to rise above partisanship, stand behind our troops in the field, and give them everything they need to succeed. In February I submitted to Congress a Defense Department spending bill for the upcoming fiscal year that will provide funds to upgrade our equipment for our troops in Iraq and provides a pay raise for our military—a comprehensive spending request—that Congress has failed to act on.” [Speaker of the House, 7/20/2007] But on May 16, 2007, Bush came out strongly against an addition to his proposed pay raise (see May 16, 2007), opposing a proposed 0.5% pay raise in addition to the 3% raise he proposed for the February 2008 budget as “unnecessary.” [Army Times, 5/17/2007]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Pay and Benefits, Veterans Affairs

General Eric Shinseki looks on as President-elect Obama announces his choice to head the Department of Veterans Affairs.General Eric Shinseki looks on as President-elect Obama announces his choice to head the Department of Veterans Affairs. [Source: Los Angeles Times]President-elect Barack Obama selects retired General Eric Shinseki to be the new head of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Shinseki, a decorated Vietnam veteran, was the Army Chief of Staff when, months before the launch of the Iraq invasion, the US would need to send far more troops into Iraq than were allocated (see February 25, 2003). He also warned of the possibility of ethnic rivalries erupting into violent confrontations, and of the difficulties faced by a US-led reconstruction. Shinseki was ridiculed by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his then-deputy, Paul Wolfowitz (see February 27, 2003). Obama now says of Shinseki, “He was right.” Obama adds, “We owe it to all our veterans to honor them as we honored our Greatest Generation,” referring to World War II-era veterans. “Not just with words, but with deeds.” The announcement is made on the 67th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor; Shinseki is of Japanese ancestry. Shinseki says, “Even as we stand here today, there are veterans who have worried about keeping their health care or even their homes, paying their bills or finding a good job when they leave the service.” He promises to run a “21st century VA.” [Chicago Sun-Times, 12/8/2008; Democratic National Committee, 12/8/2008]
'Straight Shooter,' 'Stinging Rebuke' of Bush Policies - Responses to Shinseki’s impending appointment focus on Shinseki’s competence and the implied repudiation of Bush-era policies towards the military. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) calls Shinseki “a straight shooter and truth talker,” and says that his is the kind of leadership the VA needs after what he calls years of neglect of the agency by the Bush administration. [Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, 12/7/2008] The Boston Globe echoes Leahy’s characterization, calling Shinseki a “truth teller,” and writes: “The choice is a stinging rebuke not just of Rumsfeld and President Bush for failing to take Shinseki’s advice on the Iraq war, but also of the administration’s weak effort to solve the medical, educational, emotional, and employment problems that veterans are having in returning to civilian life. Just as the Bush administration thought it could oust Saddam Hussein and create a peaceful, democratic Iraq with a bare-bones force, it has tried to skimp on veterans services.” [Boston Globe, 12/9/2008] And the Washington Post’s E. J. Dionne adds, “In naming Shinseki to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, Obama implicitly set a high standard for himself by declaring that truth-tellers and dissenters would be welcome in his administration.” [Washington Post, 12/9/2008] The chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Bob Filner (D-CA), says that Shinseki faces a daunting task: “The stakes are high at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Our veterans need to know that their service to our country is respected and honored. A new basis of stable funding must be developed. The claims backlog must be attacked in a new and dynamic way. And the mental health of our veterans—from every conflict and each generation—must remain a high priority.” John Rowan of the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) believes Shinseki is up for the challenge: “We have no doubt that General Shinseki has the integrity and personal fortitude to usher in the real changes needed to make the VA a true steward of our nation’s veterans and their families. His selection certainly lives up to Mr. Obama’s promise to bring change and hope to Washington. VA bureaucrats, for whom ‘change’ is a dirty word, will learn that there really is a new game in town. Veterans of all political persuasions should take heart and applaud this choice.” [Washington Times, 12/8/2008]
'Lionized by Wounded Warriors' - Thomas DeFrank of the New York Daily News writes: “By restoring to grace a retired four-star general whose career was vaporized by… Rumsfeld for daring to tell the truth, Obama has delivered a powerful symbolic statement that his government will indeed be different from the last. Shinseki’s treatment at the hands of Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz is a classic of petty, meanspirited retribution.… By rehabilitating him… Obama has signaled he’s not interested in surrounding himself with toadies and yes-men. A president-elect determined to withdraw from Iraq has also helped himself with veterans. [Shinseki] is lionized by wounded warriors for his grit in persuading Army brass to let him stay on active duty after losing part of a foot in Vietnam.” [New York Daily News, 12/7/2008] And the New York Times writes, “It is heartening to know that [Shinseki] has been chosen to lead the agency charged with caring for America’s veterans, who deserve far better treatment than the country has given them.” [New York Times, 12/9/2008]
Anonymous Criticism - One of the few sour notes is sounded by the conservative Washington Times, which quotes an anonymous “high-ranking retired officer” as saying: “How much time has he spent visiting the PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] wards, the multiple-amputee wards, the burn wards? The major question I have is: Just what has he done for the past five years to show any concern for our veterans? I do not see any evidence of Shinseki being an agent for change.” [Washington Times, 12/8/2008]

Entity Tags: Boston Globe, Vietnam Veterans of America, Washington Times, Barack Obama, Robert Earl (“Bob”) Filner, US Department of the Army, Thomas DeFrank, US Department of Veterans Affairs, Patrick J. Leahy, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Eric Shinseki, E. J. Dionne, John Rowan, New York Times, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Veterans Affairs

Tammy Duckworth narrates the ‘Salute to Fallen Asian Pacific Islander Heroes’ tribute at the Defense Department. Duckworth was born in Thailand and lived in Hawaii.Tammy Duckworth narrates the ‘Salute to Fallen Asian Pacific Islander Heroes’ tribute at the Defense Department. Duckworth was born in Thailand and lived in Hawaii. [Source: US Department of Defense]President Obama names Tammy Duckworth to be assistant secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Duckworth, a former Democratic candidate for Congress, heads the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. She will work under recently named VA Secretary Eric Shinseki (see December 7, 2008). “Effective communications with veterans and VA’s stakeholders is key to improving our services and ensuring veterans receive the benefits they deserve,” Shinseki says. “Tammy Duckworth brings significant talent, leadership and personal experience to this important work.” As assistant secretary, Duckworth will direct VA’s public affairs, internal communications, and intergovernmental relations, as well as oversee programs for homeless veterans. Duckworth, who lost both legs while flying a combat mission in Iraq, has previously testified on the need for dramatic change at the VA. [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2/3/2009] Duckworth’s appointment will be held up for 11 weeks because of a hold placed on her by Senator Richard Burr (R-NC). She is sworn in as assistant secretary on April 24; Burr, who never explains the reason for his hold, will vote to approve her nomination. [MSNBC, 4/24/2009]

Entity Tags: Tammy Duckworth, US Department of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, Barack Obama, Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, Richard Burr

Category Tags: Veterans Affairs

Coffins of US war dead are shipped through Dover Air Force Base.Coffins of US war dead are shipped through Dover Air Force Base. [Source: Los Angeles Times]The Obama administration announces that the media can now photograph the flag-draped coffins of US soldiers killed in combat as they return through Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Under a ban begun by the first Bush administration in 1991, news photographers were prohibited from taking pictures, journalists were prevented from interviewing families of the war dead, and, as the Los Angeles Times notes, “no public record was made about the personal toll exacted by Washington’s policies on individual soldiers and their families.” President George W. Bush claimed the policy was to protect the privacy of military families; critics said that the policy was a public relations ploy to avoid bad publicity by personalizing the cost of war. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that if military families object, the coffins of their loved ones will not be photographed. [Los Angeles Times, 2/26/2009; Associated Press, 2/26/2009]

Entity Tags: Obama administration, Robert M. Gates, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Other, Veterans Affairs

Defense Secretary Robert Gates announces that as part of the military’s new policy of allowing the media to cover the return of fallen soldiers to Dover Air Force Base (see February 26, 2009), the Pentagon will now pay for families of those fallen troops to travel to Dover to be present for the return of their family members. Critics of the media policy had noted that some families who were financially unable to be present for the return ceremony might be upset to see the footage of their slain family member on news broadcasts (see February 26, 2009). In a press conference announcing the policy, Gates becomes emotional as he describes his own trip to Dover earlier in the week. “I went to the back of the plane by myself and spent time with each of the transfer cases,” he says, choking up. “I think I’ll stop there.” [CNN, 3/18/2009]

Entity Tags: Robert M. Gates, US Department of Defense

Category Tags: Other, Veterans Affairs

Representative Steve Buyer (R-IN), the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, issues a press release claiming that the proposed health care reform legislation would hurt veterans’ health care. In his statement, Buyer says, “The current Democrat bill harms veterans.” He claims that under the legislation some veterans would be subjected to “penalty” taxes for failing to have “acceptable” health coverage. The White House Director of Veterans and Wounded Warrior Policy, Matt Flavin, himself a veteran of Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, quickly counters with a statement contradicting Buyer’s claims: “I’m here to tell you quite simply that if you are eligible for VA [Veterans Adminstration] health care, you will remain eligible. There is no impact on VA health care. So veterans, please be comforted in the fact that your health care will not change under health reform efforts. There is no effect.” Representative Joe Sestak (D-PA), a former Navy rear admiral, confirms Flavin’s rebuttal, and goes further, noting that the Obama administration’s budget restores VA care for some 500,000 veterans kicked out of the system during the Bush administration. “President Obama’s budget is going to also restore what we call the Priority 8 veterans to the VA system,” he says. “Back in 2003, the Bush administration kicked out over 265,000 veterans out of the Veterans Administration who happened to earn a bit over $34,000 for a family of two. Now, it’s 500,000 that are denied. And President Obama’s budget in the next four years brings them all back in. Not only does it preserve the system for our veterans, it enhances the system for our veterans.” Sestak adds: “I can absolutely confirm and the exact words are that the VA healthcare plan meets the minimal, acceptable requirements, which means it’s exempt from that 2.5 percent tax that they’re talking about. It states it just like that.” [US House of Representatives, 8/14/2009; MSNBC, 8/17/2009]

Entity Tags: Obama administration, Bush administration (43), House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Steve Buyer, Joe Sestak, Veterans Adminstration, Matt Flavin

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Veterans Affairs

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