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March 9th, 2009
Freethought San Marcos: How the city council really can help veterans

Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS

It was six years ago, March 24, 2003, that the San Marcos City Council, at the behest of a Republican majority led by Mayor Robert Habingreither and councilmember Susan Narvaiz, engineered a unanimous vote of the city council to support the War in Iraq. They used the subterfuge that this was a resolution in support of our troops, but the first clause of the resolution it adopted made clear that the council was voting to support President George W. Bush and his war, which was based on lies and deception. It was the first time in my memory that national party affiliation drove an action of the city council.

I had more than a little interest in that resolution because my son-in-law was in a Special Forces unit deployed to northern Iraq for the invasion. He is now one of over 300,000 veterans of that conflict that suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a recent RAND Corporation study. That study also reported that 320,000 of those who served in Iraq likely experienced a traumatic brain injury.

At that city council meeting in 2003, I pleaded with the council not to mix political support for George W. Bush with support for our troops. I asked them to identify members of the San Marcos community who had been deployed and whose families would suffer from their deployment, and offer substantive support to these families. Further, while they were weighing in on national issues, I urged the city council to put their full support behind the full funding of veterans’ health care and rehabilitation. The city council chose not to support these efforts.

Now, the city council has created a Veterans Affairs Committee to advise the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. The council says that it wants the group to give advice about

  • Ensuring that traditions honoring veterans are perpetuated
  • Advising the city about policies and legislation of interest to veterans on the local, state and national level
  • Serving as a network for the exchange of information on veterans activities
  • Discussing local issues affecting veterans
  • Making recommendations on improvements to the Hays County Veterans Memorial

Mayor Susan Narvaiz said that “Our goal is to enlist the help of military veterans or their spouses to keep us informed about issues and activities of importance to those who have served our nation and help us honor our veterans.”

So six years after officially supporting a war that is to date as disastrous in its own way as was the Vietnam War, the city council finally has indicated an interest in becoming “informed” about national policies and legislation. But there is little indication that the city council wants to actively support efforts that would actually improve the lives of veterans and their families who have been seriously damaged by the War in Iraq.

That the Veterans Affairs Committee will report to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, which has no focus on veterans services, suggests that the mayor and council have little interest in learning how to help veterans in substantive ways. A city council serious about the needs of veterans would directly commit itself to taking action on veterans issues, rather than just showing veterans “honor,” a perennial political activity that may feel good, but does nothing to improve their lives.

In the past year, thanks to congressional action, the VA has begun to improve services to veterans, but the funding is totally inadequate and unreliably provided to meet the needs of current veterans. Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield injuries and deaths now total over 81,000, according to government information obtained recently by Veterans for Common Sense. The number of veteran patients now exceeds 400,000. More than 105,000 VA patients have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. About 59% of those seeking disability benefits experience delays and denials, with most having to wait more than six months just to receive a response from the VA about their claim. More than 809,000 veterans currently are waiting for decisions on their claims. Some veterans are too discouraged to file claims, partly because the claim form is 23 pages long. They need assistance from trained counselors to avoid becoming victims of an inadequate system.

One proper way to thank veterans for their service is to honor our commitments to them for education, health care, and mental health services. If the new San Marcos Veterans Affairs Committee can work on solutions to these problems, it will be a worthwhile effort. However, it doesn’t appear that it was created for that purpose.

If the council wants to help veterans, perhaps it will be willing to use the services of those expensive lobbyists it hired in Washington to put as much effort into supporting veterans as it does into getting funding for the council’s wish list, but I’m not holding my breath. If San Marcos veterans could use the services of the city council’s Washington lobbyists, perhaps our two senators, the Texas congressional delegation, and other politicians who control veteran’s funding might get the message that meeting the real needs of veterans is morally essential.

If the city council put as much effort into supporting veterans as it put into supporting going to war in Iraq, there might be a greater chance to actually help veterans get their just due. If that war has taught us anything, it should be that our elected officials, both in Washington and at City Hall, possess no special wisdom. It is time to elect people to public office who understand the moral values of most Americans. Those values do not include engaging in grotesque violence that creates its own kind of terror for both those we kill and those we pay to do the killing. But those values do include living up to our obligations to those who have served, which requires more than feel-good words in a city council resolution creating a low-level subsidiary advisory committee.

© Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins

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5 thoughts on “Freethought San Marcos: How the city council really can help veterans

  1. Lamar, you seem to get it right every time. As an Army helicopter pilot in Vietnam, each night I came back to a secure base for a hot meal and a protected night. The guys in the field were not so fortunate & some of them were badly damaged during their months of service. And in the end, they were welcomed home only by their families – they were treated as if the war was their fault.
    The situation for our soldiers returning from Iraq & Afganistan is different – they are getting support as lip service but not enough of support-in-fact – as shown by the numbers you quoted. Many of our soldiers have had their lives & health ruined, and their families have been devastated. If we choose to honor and support these soldiers, let’s not do it with a statue in a park or by having a park named after a local soldier. These soldiers need more than lip service from politicians.

  2. “One proper way to thank veterans for their service is to honor our commitments to them for education, health care, and mental health services.”

    Well said. I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for the well thought-out article.

  3. I’m just pulling numbers out of the air and I’d love to see some real stats, but based on the number of soldiers in the country, I am guessing that we have no more than a few hundred in San Marcos. Perhaps a few more than other cities, because of the young population here and the university, but probably not that many.

    I’d imagine that the number who served in Iraq or Afghanistan is much lower.

    What would it cost to provide them with some counseling – psychological, career, financial and whatever other sorts they need? What would it cost for some general assistance to help them land firmly on their feet when they return to San Marcos?

    My guess is that turning down one of our recent tax abatements would probably have more than covered it.

    Plus, it might create a handful of reasonably well-paying jobs here in San Marcos for a few counselors to help these soldiers through the transition and to provide ongoing support.

  4. The 2000 census reports that there were over 8300 veterans in Hays County 9 years ago. San Marcos makes up about 35% of the Hays County population, which is about 2500 veterans in San Marcos in 2000. That number would probably be larger today. The VA might have better data, but that’s the best I can do for now.

  5. I was only thinking of those who are currently enlisted, especially since people seem to be discussing what we can do for those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Personally, I would have no problem extending assistance to any verterans in town. It would still be time, energy and money well spent.

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