Tag Archives: veterans

Mission Accomplished

Mission-Accomplished-Obama_in-AtlantaATLANTA — Today, President Obama announced to the National Convention of Disabled Veterans of America that he is keeping one of his campaign promises – America’s longest war will be unofficially* over on August 31, 2010. Twenty years and eight months since our Middle East invasion. More than 4,000 American lives have been lost and 30,000+ wounded or disabled. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians lost or maimed and millions more have been displaced or are refugees. An estimated five million orphaned children. Two failed Bush presidencies. Well more than a trillion dollars of treasury spent so far. No WMDs found. Thousands tortured. Untold damage to American foreign policy. One American-installed dictator hung. Oil prices back to record highs. Halliburton stock price has more than doubled. Pentagon, CIA and NSA spending above cold war highs. Record combat deaths this month in Afghanistan. Osama still has not been hunted down. The world much more dangerous than when it started. It is finally over.

Speaking for all Americans not currently running for office as a Republican**, I am relieved that our heroes can finally come home. Thank you for your service and sacrifice. We will never forget what you have done for us and your families have endured. We will try to keep our politicians from forgetting you.


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*50,000 American soldiers and, perhaps, twice that number of American private contractors will remain in one of the top two most dangerous places on the planet in “non-combat” roles until the end of 2011. The war won’t ever be officially  be over because Congress never officially declared it. They can only stop paying for it or promising for us to pay for it.

**Georgia Democratic goobernatorial candidate I-want-an-immigration-law-like-Arizona Roy Barnes, was MIA during the Obama’s visit, claiming, according the the AJC’s Jim Gallaway, “I told him that I already had a date planned.”

Camping Out

Homelessness AtlantaThe Monday after New Year’s, a new urban camper arrived in Piedmont Park. At least, I think he was. He had all the telltale signs:

  • More stuff than he could easily carry. To survive in the urban wilderness, you have to have your hands free. Be able to eat, zip your zipper or defend yourself without putting your stuff down. He’d have to lighten his load and stash it somewhere or he’d lose it. Likely he had already made some choices on what was truly valuable and necessary in his life. He’ll need to make more.
  • Some of his stuff was in paper bags and overflowing. Paper bags don’t wear well in the weather. Once they start to tear, all in the bag will be lost. Paper bags also don’t provide much security. The extra coat he had was clearly visible. Somebody would want that. Garbage bags are the preferred choice.
  • He was carrying a heavy blanket. Logical for his 7AM and 18 degree arrival, but unworkable for long. Marked him too clearly. If you’re going to sit in a public place, you have to look like you don’t live there. Plus, once it gets wet, he’ll tire of carrying it and it will be of little use.
  • He was alone and seemed nervous about his stuff. He’ll make friends soon enough. Learn the ropes. Find out you have to have the discipline of the wild and be able to stare straight ahead for hours as if you want to be there. He had carefully set all his stuff down when he arrived and left room for others on the bench. Only a few minutes later, he’d pick it all up and walk to the street. Look back and forth and return to the bench. This repeated for hours. During the time, the blanket found a permanent home in a tree branch. One of his paper bags had been emptied by more experienced campers who apparently appealed to his generosity.

From my desk, I have seen quite a few people join the ranks of the homeless and displaced. Mostly men. Disproportionately black. Those who I have met and spoken with shared pretty similar stories of how they arrived there. Oddly, most don’t blame their fate on others. “I was just drunk and shouldn’t have swung at him.” “My wife got tired of me hanging out and threw me out.” “I did something really stupid and (fill in the blank) someone.”

In just a moment, their lives were changed. When they made a bad decision they couldn’t or wouldn’t undo. Moments we all face, and had they turned out differently, we could easily be among them. Too much to drink. Loud talk. An argument. A desperate act. A decision to break the law. Drugs. Hanging out with the wrong crowd. Wrong place at the wrong time. Booze, an argument, a fight or all three and they were separated from their families and their jobs. Once they get arrested, and most eventually will be (public drinking, urination, panhandling, loud talk, a fight, etc. get them in the system), their job opportunities are narrowed.

Others shared stories even sadder – “My little girl died and my wife and I just couldn’t handle it.”

Sure, there’s a significant percentage where mental illness is involved – bipolar and PTSD (yes, way too many of our homeless are vets) are mentioned often. Those fortunate (if that is the right word) enough to be on disability, will get a monthly chance to get off the street. But the crazy check isn’t much. Often they will share it or it will be stolen. And I dare you to try and get approved to rent a place after living on the street.

There is also way too high a percentage of our homeless who are teenagers and young adults. Beautiful young people who have their health, energy, a quick smile and all the potential America offers in front of them, but they have run away and dropped out. Frequently they’ll sell a little weed or themselves for sex to get by. The youngest among them seem to want to hang out, hear and share the stories, but more likely they are just trying to be safe from those who prey on them. Weed turns to crack or crank or heroin. And all leads to jail and narrowed chances for release.

Most are just people who did something stupid and got caught that led them to the bench outside my window. Most are good people, at least when they are sober. Most want to work, but few employers hire those with a record. Many could find help, but most of those who help the most also require drug testing and have lots of rules. Except for food stamps, most homeless people can’t get on the dole. Welfare as we knew it doesn’t exist anymore. So they just hustle and sit. Some will get to go to shelters during bad weather. During better weather, everyone has their secret place behind a house or office building.

Then there are those who just hit bad times. Couldn’t pay their house payment or rent and didn’t have any place to go. Most of those are just passing through. They’ll seek assistance. Many will get on their feet again or, at least, stay out of the system.

That same day as the new camper arrived, someone was evicted from Post Apartments on Piedmont and 10th. A Marshall supervised the dismantling of someone’s life. All of their stuff – furniture, clothing, books, family photos – everything was tossed in a pile in the parking lot. A crowd gathered to look through the new curb picks. It seemed sacred to me. I couldn’t watch for fear of getting sick and even the memory of it brings on nausea.

Post’s policy is to evict if rent for the current month is not paid by the first. I heard said of those evicted, that they had not paid December rent or responded to the letters demanding payment with the threat of eviction. I heard it said, that Post had no choice. Surely, they did. What could possibly have happened to those people that they couldn’t pay? Illness? Laid off or lost their job? Someone not pay them? A divorce? Family emergency? A death? Something seems terribly wrong.

And then, there’s the new guy in the park. I don’t know his story  yet. Hope I don’t learn it. Maybe after thinking about it, he’ll go home and say he’s sorry. Or find his mom or a sib and beg them for another chance. Get sober. Or seek out someone at a shelter to point him in a better direction.

Resources (mostly Atlanta, links – please comment and add more):

From the Government That Gave Us Tang

Tang


One of the key aspects of President Obama’s plan to make universal heath care affordable in the eyes of CNN, is through the enormous potential savings, some $80 billion, from computerizing medical records. All that needs to be worked out is the technology, security, privacy concerns, cost and getting healthcare providers to actually use it.

Yesterday, President Obama announced that the Department of Defense (DOD) will begin cooperating with the Veterans Administration (VA) to develop and launch a unified computerized healthcare record for members of the military services.

As hard as it may be to believe that such a system doesn’t now exist for the military, currently, the only records that veterans can access are outpatient pharmacy and allergy data. The paperwork needed from the DOD to get VA care has created an enormous backlog – more than 400,000 eligible veterans are currently awaiting help. The President said that this cooperation is a “first step towards creating one, unified, lifetime electronic health record for members of our armed services that will contain their administrative and medical information from the day they first enlist to the day that they are laid to rest.”

The plan is to develop and perfect the computer process before a civilian rollout – just like we did in the 60’s when Tang was developed for the space program and later rolled out for consumer consumption; military satellites being being used for consumer purposes including weather, communications, Google maps and finding your way home. The internets. And, of course, the Hummer. Yes, a far better plan to use the military than the US Public Health Service (PHS). Surely, we have learned the lesson of Tuskegee, Alabama.

Seems like a perfect plan. Congress has never denied our military money, so the development budget shouldn’t be an issue. Service members can be required to participate, so privacy issues can be silenced. Plus, the DOD has a great track record of developing highly secure, state-of-the-art systems, quickly, cheaply, efficiently and without lobbyist influence, haven’t they? And, as a political bonus, the initial five-year development target should placate critics on both sides of the aisle while allowing the promise of civilian universal healthcare to go through two more election cycles without actually needing to pass it.

When asked at a press conference in Turkey last week as to whether he was really different that George Herbert Walker Bush, President Obama described leading our government as if it were a large oil tanker that turns very slowly, but once it does, it goes straight in that direction. The realities of piloting healthcare reform must also be like the tanker. Ditto turning the economy around. Ditto regulating Wall Street. Ditto alternative energy and global warming. Ditto getting out of the wars. When one considers it, it is reasonable that it would take five-years to create and implement a unified computerized healthcare program for the military and even longer to do it for us. It is such a shame we didn’t begin early. Our hopes and need may not align with the timetable, but all of these things will take while to turn around.