Helping vets where it counts

The photo is in the frame that’s held it for decades, and I never have figured out whether it always had a sepia tone, or whether it just turned that way over time.

My own recollections of the man in the U.S. Army Air Corps uniform are sparse. I was 5 years old when Angelo John DeSantis, my father, died in 1961.

As I grew up it was my mom who taught me about the importance of what my dad and her brothers – Vito, Leo, Joseph and Jerry Tarulli – had done during WWII, in the Pacific and Atlantic theaters, somehow miraculously returning home, every one of them.

I have come to learn, while covering home-front aspects of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and re-telling the stories of some who served in those places, how remarkably much we ask of those who wear the uniforms of our armed forces, while providing them so little in return.

And so it was with great sadness that I learned of a local Vietnam era veteran, Dr. Phillip McAllister, and his unfortunate experience at a local convenience store.

I wasn’t there. So I can’t tell you if the clerk actually made a blanket, tasteless comment about veterans or, if he did, whether he actually knew what he was saying. A lot of local veterans were pretty fired up about the whole thing, and understandably so.

It was interesting to see how elements of the story struck such strong emotional chords, among veterans and non-veterans alike.

But it also made me think about how our veterans are otherwise dishonored, not by private citizens acting out of anger or pique, but by a government that has never been good at keeping its promises to them.

We don’t show up at street corners to protest how difficult it is for those affected by Agent Orange to make their cases. More recently the stories that have run in the New York Times relate how claims of exposure to old chemical weapons stockpiled in Iraq were kept quiet by the Pentagon, at the expense of those soldiers who suffered.

Some media outlets were quick to pick up the story, contextualizing it as proof that President George W. Bush’s intelligence about stockpiled “weapons of mass destruction” was correct all along.

I’m not pointing fingers. But there was very little national outcry about this. Nor is there a lot of attention paid nationally to the failure of the military to effectively offer early intervention to soldiers at risk of suicide either during their times of service or afterward.

It would appear that when it comes to veterans some national media outlets will lay it on thick if it can be shown as an embarrassment to the current Administration.

And when it comes to veterans, this is not how it should be. We need to be just as willing to press on issues of concern to veterans whether or not it is politically expedient to do so, whether or not it helps push some agenda other than what is best for veterans and their families.

At the local convenience store demonstration – despite some boorish behavior on the part of a very few attendees – it was good to see that drivers of passing cars and trucks honked in support of veterans.

But it will be much better to see politicians and others come to their aid where it really counts, in matters of budgets for programs, effective medical care and other benefits to which they are entitled.

If we are to use bully pulpits in support of veterans, then let our efforts be toward change that in the long run will show that, as a nation, we are willing to do whatever it takes to see to it that they receive every single benefit, that the nation keeps its promises.

I don’t know how much my father’s service affected his quality of life overall once he came marching home. Don’t know if it hastened his untimely demise only 16 years after the war.

But I know that his picture is a reminder to me of why keeping those promises is so very important to us as well to them.