Another Veterans' Day has come and gone. President Obama preformed the annual laying of the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and gave remarks along with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Retired Army General Eric Shinseki at Arlington National Cemetery. Parades across the nation, including here in Texas, were held commemorating the day.
Veterans' Day was originally called Armistice Day to recognize the end of hostilities in World War I on 11 November 1918 at 11 AM. The first time it was celebrated in the United States was in 1919 and continued to be so until a Congressional Act in May 1938 established the formal holiday. After World War II, a movement was gathering to recognize all veterans that served in all wars. In June 1954, Congress changed the name from Armistice Day to what we know today as Veterans' Day.
Normally days like these we refrain from talking politics, but I am breaking that rule.
This is the perfect day to talk politics.
This is not the usual left vs. right, Democrats vs. Republicans, winning-losing politics that we are familiar with. We forget that the word politics comes from the Greek word politikos, meaning "of, for, or relating to citizens."
Veterans' Day is the perfect day to talk politics because it relates to citizens, especially those who answered the call to defend our country.
As most of you know I am a veteran. I served in the United States Navy from 2002-08 as a nuclear propulsion mechanical operator aboard the carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70). The first two years were dedicated to highly specialized training followed by four years in the fleet where I did a deployment to the Persian Gulf in 2005 and assisted the ship with her complex reactor refueling operation and maintenance so that she can continue service to our nation for another quarter century. As a nation we made the decision to build and maintain nuclear powered ships in order to gain a military advantage. Those take investing money into technologies that improve energy output, better training methods that ensure newly graduated nuclear operators can operate the propulsion plant upon arriving to the fleet, and most importantly, safety. That money has to come from somewhere, specifically raising revenue through taxation. Even in the resolution establishing the Navy by the Continental Congress on 13 October 1775 recognizes that funding this service requires "an estimate of the expence."
Our nation decided to give returning veterans a chance for a college education with the GI Bill. It has since been expanded to include a housing and book stipend and the allowing the transfer of benefits to a designated dependent either a spouse or children. Texas has a similar program called the Hazelwood exemption. Currently I am taking advantage of these program as I decided to do something completely different than what I did while I was in the Navy.
Prior to the Republican-led government shutdown of October 2013, Congress unanimously passed a bill and President Obama signed into law to ensure that our active duty service members would receive their pay on time.
I played a VERY small role in overturning "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" because serendipity happened. When PBS aired the documentary Carrier in 2008, I happened to be on the day shift during when rotating shift work took place during the maintenance period. When I watched "The Daily Show" episode about the 2008 "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" hearing, I was at home packing up my things to prepare for my move back to Texas. In addition to knowing gay and lesbian family members, the last 5 years I have encountered several lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender veterans. They wore the uniform like I did, took the same oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, and served under the same flag.
I believe that the ending of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has played a role in the push for marriage equality. If we can allow gay and lesbian service members to if necessary give their life for this country, then surely we can allow them to marry the person they love.
We have some LGBTs in our ranks and they live in places where same-sex marriages won't be recognized like soldiers stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, sailors assigned to ships at Naval Base Norfolk and air wings at NAS Oceana in Virginia Beach, Marines assigned to train recruits at Parris Island, and airmen designated for duty at NORAD in Colorado. I was pleased to hear that Illinois and currently Hawaii are on the path to recognize equal marriage in those states. Illinois is the location of the Navy's Recruit Training Command and Hawaii has a large military presence. In addition, Hawaii is one of two states outside of the continental United States. Travel to an equal marriage state has gotten easier with California's Prop 8 being struck down and Washington approving equal marriage via ballot measure in 2012, but it is a costly endeavor. Officers and senior enlisted (pay grade E-7 and above) have the financial means to do so while enlisted in pay grades E-6 and below might not.
Despite the Supreme Court striking down the Defense of Marriage Act over the summer, six states including Texas will not have their state National Guard's comply with the order in part due to those states having laws on books that will only recognize marriage between one man and one woman. Those laws need to change or those National Guard units need to get with the program as Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel stated in a speech to the Anti-Defamation League earlier this month.
TransGriot's Monica Roberts correctly points out that the next discussion will be opening the service for transgender persons. I am ready to have that discussion and look at what policies need to be improved so that this proposed change can be as successful as the implementation of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal.
I served alongside women and we have many in our ranks. I think it is disgusting about the reports of sexual assault and sexual trauma that is taking place in the service. One report is too many and must be stopped. There are efforts in the Senate to try to reform the military justice system so that these types of crimes are handled appropriately.
Representative Tammy Duckworth (D, IL-8) is an Army combat helicopter pilot. Her family has served in the Revolutionary War, World War II, and Vietnam. In November 2004, she was shot down over Iraq losing both of her legs and damaging her right arm. Duckworth was awarded the Purple Heart and presented with an Air Medal and Army Commendation Medal. Two years after that injury, then-Major Duckworth was running for Congress. Her campaign was featured in the documentary "House Quake." She did not win in 2006, but she continued to serve with her work in the Illinois Veterans Administration and then was brought on by President Barack Obama to work at the federal Veterans Administration. She was a keynoter at the 2008 DNC and then again at the 2012 DNC. Her 2012 run for Congress was against Joe Walsh. What was disgusting about her opponent was not that he owed back child support, but during a campaign stop he stated that all his opponent (Duckworth) could talk about was her service.
Duckworth does not need to talk about her service. Just take a look at her.
I am pleased that she is in Congress and she still continues her reserve duty. One of the things she is advocating for is the ratification of the United Nation's disability treaty. During the lame duck session last year, it failed to pass because Republicans bought into the conspiracy theories. It failed to pass with World War II Veteran, former Senator, and 1996 Republican Presidential candidate Bob Dole witnessing on the Senate floor. The proposed United Nations treaty is based on the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act. It was passed with overwhelming support in the House and Senate and signed into law in July 1990 by World War II naval aviator and a Republican President, George H.W. Bush. Amendments were signed into law in 2008 by his son, George W. Bush.
House Republicans voted to cut food stamps. Of those that depend on this benefit are some 900,000 veterans. Senator Ted Cruz (R, TX) and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin were protesting the government shutdown led by Senator Cruz. I have yet to see them protest the food stamp cuts or advocate for better funding to our Veterans Administration or find ways to increase access to medical care for depression, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and traumatic brain injuries or fight for a veterans' jobs bill. Instead they choose to grandstand for their own interests.
Palin says that folks should be called out for using veterans as political pawns. She should take a look in the mirror sometime.
In closing when I hear people say that "We shouldn't talk politics today," I want to point out that this is the perfect day to so because there are a lot issues facing veterans today and those issues will still be there on 12 November long after the parade bands go silent and the ceremonies are recorded for posterity. Refusing to talk about these issues is a sign of blissful ignorance and not willing to them take on would be a disservice to people who are serving and people like me who have served.
I used this quote from a previous post. It sums up my feelings about Veterans' Day.
"The biggest political divide in this country is not between Democrats and Republicans, it's between people who care and people who don't care."
This is why Veterans' Day is a good day to talk politics.