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Tom Donnelly Thinks Obama Should Give Troops Pep Talks Instead of Healthcare

You know what Tom Donnelly, an American Enterprise Institute defense analyst, didn’t like about President Obama’s Iraq speech? Well, the substance of withdrawal, sure. But he really didn’t like all the stuff Obama said about caring for Iraq veterans:

No doubt there is a genuine tenderness in the president’s feelings for soldiers. But there is little of the praise of warriors in his words. Gratitude or sympathy for suffering is quite different from honoring a sacrifice. I am sure Obama will honor his pledge to continue to ensure that people in uniform “form the backbone of our middle class.” But the pay, the benefits, the programs alone are never enough and never, ultimately, what make the call to service worth answering.

“Little of the praise of warriors?” I suppose all that stuff about “Thanks in great measure to your service, the situation in Iraq has improved” or how “in an age when so many people and institutions have acted irresponsibly, you did the opposite – you volunteered to bear the heaviest burden” doesn’t count.

Donnelly says that Obama’s promises on troops’ and veterans’ health care and economic well-being is “a very subtle form of the soldier-as-victim trope that is fast becoming an Iraq legacy.” That seems like an overwrought description of the national mood. There have been a handful of Hollywood flops that might have condescendingly treated soldiers as PTSD’d automatons, but beyond that, the treatment of Iraq veterans by the country has been, I think it’s fair to say, respectful verging on laudatory. Donnelly seems to be caught in something of a Vietnam Syndrome here.

More importantly, and to be a bit personal for a moment, I’ve heard some real horror stories from friends who’ve come home from Iraq and Afghanistan about how hard it is to get appointments with consistent and competent Veterans’ Affairs case workers, and VA health care is supposed to be the best in the nation. Is it treating my friends as “victims” to say that the country owes them a lot more than a pep talk about what a great job they did? Or to say that traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder are serious afflictions that require sustained and well-funded programs to treat? Just because people join the military to serve a cause greater than self isn’t an excuse not to provide veterans with the money they need to prosper when their wars end.

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