American activists will have to modify their relationship with soldiers if they hope to advance a progressive agenda, four panelists at the Supporting Troops from a Progressive Perspective panel said Saturday. This contentious relationship between peace advocates and the military is just one of several issues the group addressed, which also included the injustices of veterans’ medical care, the need for reform at the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), and the complicated motives involved in joining the Armed Forces.
Headed by reporter for the Nation Joshua Kors, the group included Ra’ed Jarrar, a political analyst; Arielle Fleisher, an events associate at Campus Progress in D.C.; and Elvin Lim, Assistant Professor of Government and author of “The Anti-Intellectual Presidency.” The event was moderated by President of Wesleyan Campus Progress Alex Furnas ’11 and ended with a question-and-answer session with the audience.
According to Lim, certain slogans in our political discourse make it difficult for activists to show their compassion for soldiers.
“The phrase ’support the troops’ is a false locution,” he said. “We only remember the troops when they’re on the battlefield. If, rather, we said that we ’honor the veterans,’ we could demonstrate our support for the soldiers after they come home.”
Fleisher agreed with Lim that progressives need a new slogan. She stressed the power of memorable phrases as a tool to incite reform.
“It’s important to have a good rallying point,” she said.
Kors began the panel with a clip from ABC News. Based on his reporting in the Nation, the clip explores the lives of a group of veterans, all wounded, who tried and failed to get the VA to cover their health care costs. Each soldier offered proof that they sustained their wounds in battle, which the VA requires in order to give compensation. Despite the copious amounts of evidence they produced, however, the VA diagnosed all of them with a pre-existing “personality disorder,” a vague label which barred them from ever receiving coverage. Andrew Pogany, an investigator for the Veterans of America interviewed by Kors, called the disorder as a bogus condition.
“The discharge is a loophole,” he said. “It allows the VA to dismiss wounded soldiers without providing them benefits.”
According to Kors, this policy has saved the VA over $12.5 billion in medical costs over the years. It has also caused the VA to deny over 22,000 soldiers, most of them severely wounded, access to adequate treatment. Kors said the need to revise this policy was a necessary part of any progressive platform.
“Right now, the mainstream debate is inaccurately split between right and left,” he said. “Conservatives focus on supporting troops in the war. To show their own support, progressives need to make sure they are well-funded and well-cared for.”
During his time in the Senate, President-elect Barack Obama co-wrote a revision of this policy, bill S-1817, with Republican Senator Kit Bond of Missouri. Kors described the bill as an example of bipartisan unity.
“Everyone on the left and right is united in supporting veterans,” he said.
Jarrar then talked about income inequality in America, which drives many to join the Army simply to gain scholarships.
“People are pushed to join the military just to pay for their education,” he said. “We need to make sure that our Army is made up of volunteers.”
In response to a question by Mike Sandwick ’11, Jarrar also told his own stories of befriending soldiers. A citizen of Iraq, he said that he was initially hesitant to be friendly to Americans.
“They were the people who killed my neighbor and robbed my house,” he said. “Then I got to know some of them. I realized that the problem is not them, it’s the politicians who send them to war.”
Kors ended the panel with a criticism of our political language, which he said has been softened over the years.
“In World War I, we said that soldiers suffering were trauma were shell-shocked,” he said. “By the time we got around to World War II, we said they had battle-fatigue. Now we call it post-traumatic stress disorder.”