Opinion

Still Shooting the Veterans

Every once in a while I like to update my satire about our government’s indifference to the plight of its soldiers and veterans. New material keeps flooding in. You just can’t make this stuff up. Well, I guess you can, but the trick, in satire, is knowing how to separate the sad truth from the (hopefully) comic fiction. As anyone who has suffered through a course on the history of English Literature may recall, there once was a British satirist named Jonathan Swift. His most famous satire, A Modest Proposal, was written over Swift’s outrage at the indifference of the British people to the Irish potato famine. Swift’s “modest proposal” was that the British people should eat the Irish babies that would otherwise have starved to death in the famine. It is true that the potato crop failed, but the Irish farmers still produced more than four times the food necessary to feed the entire Irish population.

The real cause of the Irish famine was the greed of the absentee landlords in London who continued to export all the food out of Ireland, leaving their tenants to starve to death. The population of Ireland shrank from eight million to five million in one generation. In honor of Swift’s satirical solution, I have a modest proposal of my own: On Memorial Day, we should simply round up all the American veterans and just shoot them. It would be kinder than what we are doing to them now, and it would certainly help our fiscal crisis. Think of it as a form of permanent sequester. The Audacity of the Veterans The veterans were once a highly skilled military population, but most of them are now too old to be of further use. Indeed, some cannot defend themselves anymore, let alone the country. These elderly veterans, especially the disabled ones, consume a significant amount of health services and pensions provided by the government.

The veterans seem to feel they are somehow entitled to these tax expenditures without providing a sufficient source of tax revenue for the state. To make matters worse, the veterans continue to sue the hand that feeds them, alleging that the government mistreats them with substandard medical care. They will not get away with such effrontery. In the case of Feres v. United States, one impudent veteran whined that he was the victim of malpractice by Army doctors during WWII. His lawyer had the cheek to wave in front of the jury a ten-inch surgical towel with the words “Army Medical Corps” imprinted on it, which through some minor oversight on the part of the surgeon, was left to rot inside the soldier’s abdomen during an operation. It did not seem to matter one whit to the jury that the beneficent US government provided a second operation, free of charge, to the veteran, to remove the rotted towel. Fortunately, the Supreme Court took the side of the taxpayers in the Feres case.

 
They ruled that soldiers could never sue their Army doctors for medical malpractice, no matter how abysmal. Doctors by drafted into the Army, you see, are automatically given military rank. As officers, most of the wounded soldiers they operate on are enlisted men (who usually do the actual fighting in a war). The Supreme Court ruled that it might undercut military discipline to allow inferiors to sue a superior because of some messy little medical mistake. And so, Mr. Feres was taught his place: that neither soldiers nor veterans have any rights whatsoever to sue because of medical malpractice suffered while on active duty. So there. I am not making this part up. Feres is still good law today, but I beg you to consider that the court’s decision does not go far enough to protect us modern taxpayers. Aging veterans continue to demand competent medical care from the Veterans Administration. I know, I know; their cheekiness is laughable. Next, I suppose that the disabled veterans will demand pensions they can actually live on.

It astounds me that any of them would not be satisfied with $700 a month in exchange for losing 50 percent of their physical ability to earn a living. After all, most of them were enlisted men anyway. Alternative Measures For those of you opposed to shooting veterans on sentimental grounds, I suggest that you at least consider extending the Feres doctrine to follow the soldier after he leaves active duty and hobbles back to civilian life as a veteran. It seems only fair that the doctors and bureaucrats of the VA be afforded the right to commit malpractice with equal impunity as their military medical peers. If medical malpractice is good discipline for soldiers on active duty, so should it be for veterans. It should be a matter of equal rights for all doctors, regardless of competence. To be sure, VA medical malpractice will eventually solve the veteran problem for us, by attrition.

 
But some of these fellows are rather spunky and simply refuse to die, or at least die quickly enough to offset the present fiscal crisis. Perhaps we could speed up the process by issuing the VA honor guard real bullets, to volley fire at any surviving veterans who come to a funeral service. Just think of the money we would save with the grave already dug. Unfortunately, almost all honor guards are provided by the veterans themselves. Darn volunteers. Realistically, grave site culling would leave too many witnesses. Someone has to hold the gun. Most VA employees never served in the military, so they would not know how to shoot. A simpler solution would be to invite all surviving veterans to a special Memorial Day service, where they could be cremated all at once, perhaps by using our leftover stocks of Napalm or other incendiary weapons. Simultaneous cremation of all living veterans would be a great cost saving measure: We could close down the entire Veterans Administration in one day. Moreover the veterans’ ashes could be included for the paving of a true Veterans Highway, or some other memorial that is also useful to the taxpayer.
 
Threat to Big Pharma At present, we remain in the worst of all possible worlds. Our pharmaceutical industry itself is now at risk for criticism by unruly veterans. For example, in order to clear the camera sight lines from vegetation in Fort Benning, Georgia, for John Wayne’s epic film The Green Berets, the Army used Agent Orange in order to provide a true Vietnam-type experience. The chemical wiped out the fields of kudzu vine and made the Ft. Benning movie set look more like barren, battle-scarred dirt-pile villages surrounded by jungle. In return, a grateful Hollywood allowed Fort Benning to keep its movie sets with their mock Vietnam villages. Instead of using the pretend villages as a tourist attraction, the silly Army used them to train soldiers heading off to fight for their country in Vietnam. What if the millions of veterans who trained on these thatched hut movie sets at Fort Benning ever discover that they were actually crawling through a toxic chemical dump? Hey, good enough for the Duke, good enough for them, I say. Unfortunately, litigious veterans are now suing our precious Big Pharma, for not warning them about the known side effects of things like Agent Orange. Whiners. So their kids catch a little cancer or something; they were only the children of enlisted men. Their kids were not going to grow up and be lawyers or doctors or anything important anyway. Look at all the pesticides and dry cleaning fluids we dumped at Paris Island. You don’t see the Marines griping that way, or didn’t used to anyway.
 
Now we have their wives living in trailer parks yelling that the water their kids drank was poisoned. When dealing with veterans we have to keep these things in perspective. These occasional chemical boo boos just cost too much for the taxpayers to fix. Better to let sleeping dogs lie to the veterans. Big Pharma makes selective donations to campaign funds, to keep the right people appointed to the VA. They have been effective at delaying investigations into things like Agent Orange and Paris Island, but the cover-ups have only lasted for a few decades. Lately, things are getting out of hand. On April 7, 2013, one Richard A. Friedman wrote an op-ed article for The New York Times alleging that Big Pharma is experimenting on our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan with off-brand medications. Big whoop. Now that Big Pharma is barred from testing its drugs on prisoners without their consent, whom do we have left to test them on except our ignorant and uncomplaining soldiers? Military discipline, you know, should permit giving untested dangerous drugs to young soldiers.
 
They volunteered for the military; they knew something dangerous could happen, right? It serves them right. This chap Friedman also alleges that he is a “professor of clinical psychiatry and the director of the psycho-pharmacology clinic at the Weill Cornell Medical College.” What kind of credentials are those anyway? He probably never worked a day for Big Pharma, so how does he know what they did to veterans without them knowing? Well Dr. Friedman alleges that Big Pharma encouraged the military to decrease the number of tried-and-true old-fashioned medicines for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, in favor of wild experimentation with antipsychotic drugs. He alleges that the Defense Department gave him data showing a 600 percent increase in antipsychotic drug prescriptions given to soldiers between 2005 and 2011. He alleges that this 600 percent recent increase in “offbrand” dangerous drugs was behind the recent 600 percent increase in suicides by soldiers. Well that could just be a coincidence, couldn’t it? The fact that for the first time in American history we have more soldiers dying from suicide than being killed in combat could be explained by any number of things. Perhaps today’s enemies are just poorer shots, or they use weaker explosives. So much for your theories, Dr. Smarty Pants.
 
Gulf War Syndrome I went to my source for Big Pharma; let’s call him Bill, a former medic for Special Forces who had actually fought in Iraq. I regaled him with stories of how the CIA used to test LSD on imprisoned soldiers back in the 1970s, to see if it was more fun than ordinary torture. We didn’t have waterboarding back in those days. LSD wasn’t terribly useful for interrogation, but there was a bit of an unexpected side effect: Some of the soldiers killed themselves after acid flashbacks, under the impression that they were about to be eaten by giant insects or something. Boy, the joke was on us when the test subjects started killing themselves. But we don’t do that stuff anymore, right Bill? I mean we really don’t give dangerous untested drugs to soldiers without their knowledge and let them kill themselves; do we…? Well, not anymore, right? “Uh, actually we do,” Bill replied. “In Iraq I was given these white unlabeled boxes of pills to hand out to the soldiers in my battalion as ‘special supplements’—no names, no ingredient list, no manufacturer’s label, nothing. All very weird.” “So what did you do with them?” I asked. To my horror, he replied that he threw all unlabeled boxes of pills in the trash. It was a shocking waste of pharmaceutical resources. Bill said that he got called in by his Army medical superiors, asking him why he was throwing away these valuable unlabeled pills. “Because I don’t give anything to the soldiers in my clinic without knowing what’s in them,” was Bill’s response. Shockingly picky fellow, Bill;
 
knows too much for his own good. After he was sternly ordered to hand out special supplements to every soldier in his battalion, Bill bought boxes of Skittles and M&Ms, and handed the candy out, telling each soldier in his clinic that they had to swallow the Special Supplement pills in his presence. Bill said he pulled this gag for months, swapping candy placebos for the unlabeled mystery medicine. Finally, his superiors called him in and said that they could find no trace of the medicine in his soldiers’ blood work. “Well, tell me what you are looking for and maybe I can help find it,” Bill offered cheerfully. They refused to tell him what they were testing for or what was in the pills. Once again, his superiors ordered him to hand out the mystery medicine to his troops. Bill, who is big, put his big foot in his mouth and told his superiors, “I will never, ever, give any soldier of mine any medicine when I don’t know what’s in it. Never.” Bill was openly daring his bosses to court-martial him, a risky procedure since it would require testimony under oath about the mystery pills in the white boxes. So what happened? “Nothing,” Bill said. “Nothing to me…But there was one unusual thing that happened.” “What was that?” I asked. “Mine was the only battalion in Iraq without a single case of Gulf War Syndrome. Not one.” I recall a judge in Florida who quietly confessed to me that he had acquired Gulf War Syndrome after serving in Iraq. He had a bizarre set of aches and pains and worried that his wife or children might suffer from whatever he had.
 
He was a serious fellow, the judge, and he knew that I had some serious connections in the intelligence community. He asked me a serious question: What was Gulf War Syndrome really all about? I could only tell him what I had heard through the grapevine: that Big Pharma was giving out an untested antianthrax pill to troops in Iraq without their knowledge. Apparently the pill works fine for most people, but has an unexpected result only when exposed to certain nerve gases from chemical weapons. There were a lot of Saddam’s chemical weapons warheads captured in the first war in Iraq and the Army was constantly blowing them up to destroy them. Apparently, a large number of soldiers were “stung” by very light traces of Sarin nerve gas mixed in with the clouds of smoke from Saddam’s burning oil wells. While not lethal in and of themselves, toxic chemical plumes apparently did not mix well with whatever was in the anti-anthrax pills.

The Future Veterans Big Pharma successfully lobbied the first Bush administration to keep a lid on it. The VA dutifully denied that there was any such thing as Gulf War Syndrome. To this day, soldiers are still given the anti-anthrax pill and are court-martialed if they protest. As our kids come home from Afghanistan, they too are killing themselves in record numbers. As with soldiers on active duty, the rate of veterans committing suicide is increasing at an astronomical rate. One should not be surprised. What do they really have to look forward to anyway? The VA system is so overcrowded as to constitute malpractice per se. We have one doctor for 7,500 patients in the sleep apnea clinic at the Bay Pines Hospital. The VA is supposed to be exempt from sequestering, but the bureaucrats are such yes-men. They put a freeze on hiring mental health workers just as the suicide rate went soaring. VA headquarters actually sent out a memo complaining that the VA hospitals were finding “too many” cases of traumatic brain injury to fit the budget. How sad for our brain-injured soldiers coming home. They have done their job as guinea pigs. Really, wouldn’t it be kinder just to shoot them?

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