A Nation Dishonors Her Soldiers

Editor’s Note: This column by Sam Riddle, a veteran and longtime Detroit advocate and written in honor of Veterans Day observed annually on November 11, is about his family’s military roots and his own journey to military service. This column also highlights the poverty crisis Detroit veterans face. For submission inquiries email info@thepulseinstitute.org

By Sam Riddle, J.D.

My father was a World War II combat veteran whose brother was thrown off a troop train and killed by racist white soldiers. Other relatives served in prior conflicts including World War I. Ours is a family replete with serving America.

When I dropped out of high school in Flint, Michigan, I had narrowed my options to working for General Motors or enlisting in the military. I entered the military from Fort Wayne in Detroit. The year was 1965. I served a four-year enlistment earning an Honorable Discharge with an early release after acceptance at Michigan State University. The GI Bill educational benefits helped greatly at MSU where I received a B.A. degree in 1972.

I managed to earn a Juris Doctor degree in 1977 from the University of Michigan Law School due in part to some semblance of discipline honed in the military. Later I would use my status as a veteran to purchase a house in Denver with no money down. Ah the good life of being a veteran of the U.S. military.

Decades later with an avalanche of good and poor decision making I find myself almost totally dependent upon the VA for healthcare in Detroit. That has been good and bad depending on my health concerns.

Having a Boston Scientific pacemaker defibrillator implant at the University of Michigan Cardiology has heightened my concern for VA health care standards given that my battery life is less than two years after a ten year no issues run.

Getting the VA to cover billings from UM Cardiology is a hellacious experience as I have found Veterans Choice (Vet may choose a healthcare facility if treatment at VA facility is not available in a timely manner) to be a myth for me.

My medications are mailed to me and my service connected disability is addressed somewhat; all in all, I am still upright.

Not all veterans in Detroit are so fortunate.

In 2016, USA Today revealed that data withheld by the VA exposed the Detroit VA Hospital as one of the worse in the nation. Supposedly things have gotten somewhat better but then there is WalletHub.

A just released study by WalletHub https://wallethub.com/edu/best-and-worst-cities-for-veterans/8156/  exposes Detroit as absolutely the worst place in America for veterans. WalletHub conducted an in-depth analysis of 100 cities using benchmarks that included employment, affordability, livability and healthcare. That study was not good news for Detroit veterans or leadership.

Too many Detroit veterans are unemployed, homeless, have addictions, mental challenges or are mired in poverty. That ugly reality should surprise no one given that official census data reveals a Detroit where at least forty percent of Detroit lives below the poverty line. As many as 70 percent of her children wake up every damn day in Detroit poverty. The political and private sector Detroit leadership look away systemically oblivious to the pain of the ignored Detroit.

The hypocrisy of a nation and its leadership that dare inundate us with political commercials touting their commitment to those that served and bear the scars of military service during the political season is mind-boggling.

In Detroit, veterans are even dishonored in death. North Korea can return the remains of American soldiers killed in combat more than half a century ago.

But in Detroit, the remains of veterans have recently been recovered from Detroit funeral homes only after the macabre discovery of fetuses and infant remains covered in mold

tucked away for years. Only happenstance and police investigators focusing on fetuses resulted in proper military burials for those that served a nation in life but were dishonored by that nation in death. That is a shame that renders one speechless.

It is no wonder that 22 veterans a day kill themselves as America dishonors vets with hunger, homelessness and mental health shaming with inadequate healthcare.

Veterans may call the national suicide prevention hotline number, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and then “Press 1”. Staff trained in suicide prevention and crisis intervention will respond online.

I interviewed Tyrone Chatman, the executive director of the Michigan Veterans Foundation. Chatman, a Vietnam combat veteran, is on the battlefield of Detroit helping veterans combat the issues raised in this column.

“Yes, there is work to be done. We do what we can. We help veterans,” said Chatman. One veteran, dependent on the goodwill of others, cannot address the resource requirements of this most dishonorable American dilemma.

America, state and local units of government and the wealth hoarding barons of the private sector must commit real resources to eradicate our nation’s dishonorable service to those nearly twenty million veterans that have served us risking all for an ungrateful nation.

There is no clearer example of the Herculean task before us than the slaughter of 12 human beings in Thousand Oaks, California by 28-year-old Ian David Long, a troubled Marine Corps combat veteran who also killed himself.

Celebrate Veterans Day knowing that we have work to do for our veterans.

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