Today, on this Veterans Day, Jason Arment ponders, what do those who have sacrificed for this country think of the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot?
What is it like being a disabled veteran?
Well, you’re a veteran, and you’re also disabled. That’s the easy answer. But it’s not that easy, because disabled is an “other” for most people: able type. And also because there are degrees to how disabled a veteran will be rated by the federal government, which oftentimes doesn’t accurately reflect anything but what some bureaucrat wrote down on an insurance-esque paper. Because, as is often misunderstood, veteran payouts from the government aren’t welfare or some kind of handout, they are the manifestation of contractual obligation due to services rendered. And you don’t have to be Lieutenant Dan, from Forrest Gump, to be a disabled veteran.
This can be confusing for civilians to understand, so they’ll often ask disabled veterans “how” they are disabled. Civilians often have entitled attitudes, initially cultured in college when the brain is first pickled with booze, then affirmed by their peers later when vacuous arrogance is accepted as currency right alongside legal tender in bars and public places. Veterans are used to this. Once we get back, most of us realize relatively quickly that civilians actually believe they’re living inside some kind of sitcom. How else could they mutter racial epithets when they see a mother pay with food stamps while using her cellphone, or simply refuse to care that the drone program kills roughly a small bus of innocent people for every ostensibly guilty person targeted?
None of this is real to the average American.
So it’s not counterintuitive that people in the United States have no problem disbelieving a federally-assigned disability rating because a veteran can walk or run, operate machinery, or maybe even watch their kids at a ballgame. People need blood. They don’t want to hear about insomnia, night terrors, bulging discs, ringing ears, flashbacks, or discombobulated minds. People have selfies to take, have never had to question whether or not they’ve participated in genocide, and really love sports—a lot. And drinking.
Now, granted, this isn’t true for everyone, and there are a lot of veterans who are knuckleheads. Turns out, most don’t join the armed forces as a kid because they’re especially rich, smart, or good-looking. But the lessons learned by boys and girls in the military often help them reflect, as adults, on what it means to be a citizen—part of a nation. My nation.
A nation that didn’t always seem to understand what was going on when I was a Reservist in the United States Marine Corps, waiting to ship over to Iraq. One of the biggest problems a young Marine in the Reserves faced was getting a job. And if you haven’t been turned away from job after job by the very citizens you swore an oath to protect—even though it’s illegal, and even though no one is going to go to the bar that Friday and be like, “Hey, guess what guys, some fucking jerk-off Marine came into the shop today and asked for a job, but I turned him away because it would be hard for me to manage the time he’s training and overseas”—and still went over to Iraq for them, then maybe you don’t know what it’s like to be a patriot. Maybe being a patriot isn’t exactly something that is within your realm of understanding.
I don’t mean to sound mean, but let’s face it, veterans are a group of people that are at the same time: honored, revered, marginalized, disenfranchised, often vilified, VA home loan authorized, homeless, hated, and proud. So you’ll have to forgive me if sometimes I fall into Caligula’s thinking, pulling on my little soldier boots, and trade “Oderint, dum metuant” for any kind of livable solution.
Watching ISIS wipe what was formerly my life’s work off the globe has, admittedly, upset me. In fact, I was trying to come to terms with it the other day, and queried The New York Public Library a simple enough question—or so I thought at the time. I figured there might be a few hours of work involved, but the library had just solicited the public for questions. So I don’t feel too badly about my first question being severe and laborious. On the 20th of October, 2015, I asked, “What is the total number dead for the conflict in Iraq?”
They haven’t gotten back to me yet. Kind of like the VA crisis numbers, you never really know if people are going to get back to you. Peoples’ experiences vary, but mine leads me to wonder if maybe they don’t want me to quote numbers in the millions, possibly more than the 1.5 million everyone was throwing around this last 9/11. Maybe there are more than 1.5 million. Maybe it’s more like 3 million. What if we counted the decades of U.S.-inspired sanctions and conflict there and the number hits 5 million. Or 6 million. Or more. Those are holocaust numbers—enough bodies to defy human understanding. But you don’t think of the Middle East as a stage for the Arabian Holocaust.
I won’t pretend to know what you think of it. A big part of being a veteran is losing your ability to pretend.
On November 4th, 2015, I received a reply from The New York Public Library. Regarding the death toll in Iraq, they cited a U.S. report from 2010 with numbers so low one could construe the war in Iraq as a near bloodless coup, and then suggested I peruse Wikipedia in search of more information. I find this answer troubling considering The New York Public Library wants people to make queries for research, which I was doing—I just expected them to show more rigor than the corpses I queried about.