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Veteran Suicides A Major Problem—Before We Kill You With Neglect, We Tell You How Much We Care

Opinion columnist Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times recently wrote about suicides of  American veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Here is some of what Mr. Kristof said—

“HERE’S a window into a tragedy within the American military: For every soldier killed on the battlefield this year, about 25 veterans are dying by their own hands. An American soldier dies every day and a half, on average, in Iraq or Afghanistan. Veterans kill themselves at a rate of one every 80 minutes. More than 6,500 veteran suicides are logged every year — more than the total number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined since those wars began. These unnoticed killing fields are places like New Middletown, Ohio, where Cheryl DeBow raised two sons, Michael and Ryan Yurchison, and saw them depart for Iraq. Michael, then 22, signed up soon after the 9/11 attacks. Then Michael was discharged, DeBow picked him up at the airport — and was staggered. “When he got off the plane and I picked him up, it was like he was an empty shell,” she told me. “His body was shaking.” Michael began drinking and abusing drugs, his mother says, and he terrified her by buying the same kind of gun he had carried in Iraq. “He said he slept with his gun over there, and he needed it here,” she recalls. Then Ryan returned home in 2007, and he too began to show signs of severe strain. He couldn’t sleep, abused drugs and alcohol, and suffered extreme jitters….Michael and Ryan, like so many other veterans, sought help from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Eric Shinseki, the secretary of veterans affairs, declined to speak to me, but the most common view among those I interviewed was that the V.A. has improved but still doesn’t do nearly enough about the suicide problem…Likewise, neither Michael nor Ryan received much help from V.A. hospitals. In early 2010, Ryan began to talk more about suicide, and DeBow rushed him to emergency rooms and pleaded with the V.A. for help. She says she was told that an inpatient treatment program had a six-month waiting list. (The V.A. says it has no record of a request for hospitalization for Ryan. While Ryan was waiting for a spot in the addiction program, in May 2010, he died of a drug overdose. It was listed as an accidental death, but family and friends are convinced it was suicide. The heartbreak of Ryan’s death added to his brother’s despair, but DeBow says Michael is now making slow progress. “He is able to get out of bed most mornings,” she told me. “That is a huge improvement…..”

Note that President Obama’s Veteran’s Secretary would not talk to Mr. Kristof.

It is no surprise that this is how we treat veterans in the United States.

The whole war in Iraq was based on a lie.

We did not give our troops the equipment they needed when fighting in Iraq.

We killed many thousands of Iraqi civilians to make clear our contempt for life.

We sent wounded veterans to Walter Reed where many of them got lousy care.

And now we let our soldiers kill themselves while Mr. Obama’s Secretary of Veterans Affairs won’t talk to the supposed liberal apologists at The New York Times.

Here is what my late father, Tony Aquino , a Korean War combat veteran, wrote about our wars and about the Cold War —

“One thing that I learned is that the young men who fought in our wars should never be forgotten…Another fact I learned…is that millions may serve but far fewer fight. So, in reality, for many who have served, war is a glory-and-gory myth that feeds on its own legends and publicity. …Another truth I learned is that civilians are combatants in war–embattled victims perpetually on a losing side….That brings us to the biggest deception: The need to be ready defend our freedom if we are to keep it. Those who say that freedom has a price are absolutely right, and wrong: International conflict today is beyond ideology. The only freedom American and Russian leaders offer their freedom today is the freedom to kill ourselves in the name of freedom.  This is not freedom, but allegiance to a suicidal death culture….Today, we are servile to our masters, mistaking economic well-being for true freedom, which is the freedom to live hopefully and not to die needlessly.”

I found out not long after Tony’s death last year, that after he got home from Korea he would wake up from nightmares and would break dishes around the house. Tony never got over fighting in that war.

And for what? For a war that is not officially over to this day? So red-baiters at home could score political points? To defend Jim Crow?

Of course our leaders are often killers. They kill time and time again, and they do so with the enthusiastic complicity of so many of our fellow citizens. Millions of Americans are sick and crazed with a love for violence.

The expression of great care for a group of people in our country is often a kiss of death.

No matter if it is children or our veterans, you can bet that we are in good part neglecting–or worse–those we say we value most.

Both at home and abroad, let this nation be most defined most of all by our love of violence and by our contempt for those who serve.

April 18, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 2 Comments

Occupy Wall Street: Houston Is Up And Running

Here is the latest newsletter from Occupy Wall Street: Houston. OWSH is an affort to restart Occupy Wall Street in Houston. All are welcome. There are details about getting involved in the newsletter. I’ll have more to say about this in the days ahead.

Upcoming Events

Thu Apr 19, 7PM, Downtown Library Plaza (500 McKinney):Planning meeting for May 1 General Strike. Hosted by Occupy Houston, CARE and Critical Mass.

Sun Apr 22, 1:30 PM, Bohemeo’s, 708 Telephone Rd (in Tlaquepaque Market):GA

Tues Apr 24, 5PM, U.S. 59 and Dunlavy:Freeway blog. Ongoing, every Tuesday.

Sun Apr 28, 8:30AM, 711 Sabine St: Permablitz withTransition Houston. The group is dedicated to promoting sustainable living practices and selects at random one backyard per month to transform into a permaculture paradise. Full descriptionhere. Wouldn’t this be a great group to ally with and the permablitz a great way to do it?

Tues May 1: Occupy general strike. Details to come.

Thu May 3, Fri May 4, and Sat May 5, 8PM, Good Jobs=Great Houston, 2955 Gulf Fwy: LookOut Arts Collective presents Theatre for the 99%: 6 short plays about living in America. All performances are PAY WHAT YOU WANT!!! Occupier Caleb Travis is producing.

Sat May 5: Cinco de Mayo in the East End. Details to come.

May 9: Bank divestment action coincident with Bank of America’s annual shareholder meeting in Charlotte, NC. Good Jobs=Great Houston will be joining us, but it’s OWSH’s action. Details to come.

Ongoing autonomous action: petition drive to require a referendum vote on the anti food-sharing ordinance. We need 28,000 valid signatures by the middle of July. Download the updated (as of 4/17) petition here.

Volunteers Needed

Thanks to Donnie Romaniello and Edwin Munoz for volunteering to represent OWSH at Theater for the 99%. We need one more person to to deliver a talk-back on May 3, 4, or 5, This is a unique opportunity to connect the arts and activist communities. If you’re willing to help, please emailowshou@gmail.com

Thanks also to Will Bermudez for working up a great looking logo design (see newsletter banner). We’ll vote on it at the next GA, and with a little luck, we’ll have a t-shirt design!

OWSH Kicks Off Freeway Blog

Occupiers Selene BallestasEdwin Munoz, their daughters Maya and Zoe, and Amy Price have staked out the bridge over U.S. 59 at Dunlavy and plan to hit it on Tuesday afternoons to deliver narratives of the 99% to Houstonians headed home from work. The current thread is “Divest from Bank of America.” The first message, delivered on tax day, read “Bank of America paid $0 taxes. How much did you pay?”

Houston, with its many bridges over freeways and heavy rush hour, is a great place to do banner hangs. All it takes is 1-2 willing spirits and a banner. If you can donate an hour or more of your time in the AM or PM, let us know and we’ll work with you to get your thread of the OWSH Freeway Blog spinning out into the city.

99% Spring Training in Non-Violent Direct Action

Donnie Romaniello

Last September, in response to the execution of Troy Davis, I attended a Day of Outrage Rally at Union Square in NYC. Surprised at the numbers in attendance I joined when they marched through the streets of Greenwich Village chanting, “We are all Troy Davis.” Not until later that night when at Zuccotti Park that I realized this was Occupy Wall Street. Over the next two months I came to Zuccotti on days I wasn’t working to stand with the Occupiers. Each time I went I was moved to the core of my being having waited forty years for something like this to come along.

This February I had been in Houston just ten days when I was in the Central Library. I heard drumbeats and chanting outside. I ran outside and asked the first person I could find, “Is this part of the Occupy Movement?” I was greeted by an affirmative answer. I had walked into the eviction of Occupy Houston’s four month encampment.

Last Sunday April 15, I took part in one of nearly one thousand trainings that took place last week across the nation as part of the 99% Spring Training designed to: 1. Tell the story of our economy, how we got here and what we can do about it; 2. Learn the history of non-violent direct action; and 3. Get into action on our own campaigns to win change.

From this three-hour training that lasted four, I left with an appreciation of two things. First, that we all have a story. Our stories are unique; they capture both the challenges and the possibilities in our lives. But they also reflect the times that we live in. Stories have been the centerpiece of the Occupy Movement since its inception. Since we are all leaders we need to tell our own stories and provide a space for others to tell theirs.

From the training I learned an overlooked fact regarding the Montgomery Bus Strike of 1955-6. Rosa Parks was not merely a tired woman who happened to refuse to move to the back of the bus. She was a trained activist from the Highlander Folk School who had been selected to initiate this act of civil disobedience. The Civil Rights Movement didn’t begin simply by chance. It began because its leaders possessed: A Vision that was big, transformative and inspiring – racial equality; A Goal – a boycott designed to last one day but lasted more than a year; A Strategy, an overall plan to organize and deploy their resources to achieve their goal; and Tactics, the actual activities to obtain a victory.

We in the Occupy Movement belong to an historical legacy of direct action that dates back to the 19th century Abolitionist Movement, the Suffragette Movement, the Worker’s Rights Movement of the 1930’s, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s and more. We live in a moment with great potential for historical significance. This is a time when each of our stories can weave into a great leap forward towards a more just and equitable world.

Port of Houston Authority Loses $100 Million Annually in Tax Revenues

Last Thursday, TOP (Texas Organizing Project), Air Alliance Houston, and Neighborhood Centers hosted a Town Hall so that port community residents could weigh in on concerns pertiment to the Sunset Review process.Sunset Review is the assessment by the State Legislature as to whether a state agency should continue to exist. It can also be an opportunity for the Legislature to look closely at an agency and make fundamental changes to an agency’s mission or operations if needed. The PoHA is slated for Sunset Review during the 2013 legislative session.

Terry O’Roarke from the Harris County Attorney’s office shared that the PoHA refuses to operate its tax-free zones according to best practices, resulting in $100 million in tax revenue lost annually. He also reiterated alongstanding criticism of the PoHA, that it is a governmental organization that calls itself “quasi-governmental”, meaning that they act as if they exist to service the companies around the Ship Channel rather than to manage the Port, a public asset. Although Senator Mario Gallegos, who attended the Town Hall, pledged his support for keeping the PoHA a governmental organization, he could not vouch for the behavior of the rest of the Legislature.

The Houston Ship Channel will quite possibly be dredged deeper to accommodate the New Panamax class ships that will be sailing through an enlarged Panama Canal. But, although some local residents did mention the need to train area residents for new jobs that would accompany a Port expansion, most community members who spoke at the town hall mentioned environmental concerns as being of paramount importance.

To offer opinions or documents pertinent to the Sunset Review of the PoHA, contact the Sunset Commissionhere.

Got an item–an announcement, a proposal, a report–for the next GA? Send it toowshou@gmail.com before Thurs Apr 19 at 10 PM, and Facilitation will do their best to get it onto the agenda! Know of an Occupy-friendly event coming up? Email it and we’ll put it in the next newsletter.

Make Your Ideas Heard Outside of the GA

We’ve started a google group, owshOps, to facilitate planning. So far, we’ve begun discussing messaging–how do we help others connect the dots? What language would be most effective? What points do we want to emphasize and repeat?–and the Apr 9 divestment action. Until we get larger, this will be OWSH’s ONLY group, and it will be devoted entirely to thinking through how to make our actions as successful as possible.

To join, click here.

Agenda Items For Our Next GA

  • discussion: t-shirts. Voting on a final design
  • proposal: adopting a statement of non-violence
  • Theater for the 99%: status of participation. What more we need to do to support it.
  • proposal: participation guidelines
  • report back: banner hang
  • proposal: bank account
  • report back: 99% Spring
  • discussion: May 1 action
  • discussion: May 9 divestment action. Links with GJGH. Next steps.
  • Campaign planning. a) East End. What has Jamin found out re May 5? Next steps. b) Pay it forward. c) Coalition building. d) Our internet presence. e) Messaging. f) Other long term planning, focused on the calendar.

GA Passes Mission and Values Statements, Begins Writing Bylaws

OWSH now has a Mission Statement to help us explain ourselves to others, based on demands for economic, social, and environmental justice. We have a Values Statement, against which we can measure the wisdom our own decisions.

Bylaws have been started which, when finished, will provide a basis for operating smoothly. Right now, our bylaws address proposals, requiring that proposals be posted prior to consideration and that information regarding proposals be made available to OWSH members promptly.

Full text of all three items here.

April 18, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 1 Comment