I must confess that though I served, I was never in combat. I was Navy, and my second duty station, the USS Lassen, was under construction in Pascagoula, Miss., in the very same shipyard that built the USS Cole.
This was also at the very same time that the Cole came back to that very yard to repair a gaping hole in her side. It was a wake-up call, since the Lassen was the same class of destroyer, and the hole was just as easy to imagine on our hull as on hers.
Naturally, we redoubled our vigilance on watches, and in weapons training, but still, I’d never see combat. Hence, nowadays I come home, meet other veterans and quickly feel a sense of who the true heroes are: those who were on the ground, exchanging fire. It made me feel like support staff.
So when someone tells me “thank you for your service,” I sincerely appreciate the gesture, but it rings a bit hollow for me because I never risked as much as the boots on the ground did.
Dwelling on it, maybe that’s partly why I opted to use my veteran’s benefits to pursue degrees in neuroscience and psychology. I hope that someday, when better treatments are pioneered, some deserving hero suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or a traumatic brain injury will tell me “thank you for your service” for my part-to-be in doing so.
But there’s another reason that “thank you for your service” feels hollow of late: Congress.
When lawmakers write a jobs bill for veterans and then turn right around and shoot it down, it’s hard not to feel a little betrayed. Our own senator from Texas, John Cornyn, is guilty of this, having voted against H.R. 5683, the Veteran’s Job Corps Act.
The Civilian Conservation Corps was a fantastic idea in FDR’s time (some readers might remember it) and H.R. 5683 is similar, seeking to rebuild national infrastructure while putting vets to work, thereby addressing two problems at once.
That’s just one example of several, though. Here are more instances in which our “patriotic” Congress has said one thing and done another. It’s mostly been Republicans blocking these, but a handful of Democrats are also to blame.
- H.R. 466 – Wounded Veteran Job Security Act (became H.R. 2875.)
- H.R. 1168 – Veterans Retraining Act
- H.R. 1171 – Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program Reauthorization
- H.R. 1172 – Requiring List on VA Website of Organizations Providing Scholarships for Veterans
- H.R. 1293 – Disabled Veterans Home Improvement and Structural Alteration Grant Increase Act of 2009
- H.R. 1803 – Veterans Business Center Act
- H.R. 2352 – Job Creation Through Entrepreneurship Act
In light of this obstructionism, I have a request for everyone who, upon meeting a veteran, says “thank you for your service.”
Back it up.
Hire veterans. Write your congressmen and women, and put the pressure on them to follow words through with deeds. Check your legislator’s record on these bills, and if they voted against them, then vote the bums out.
Then, on behalf of everyone who served, when bills like these can pass again, I’ll sincerely thank you for your service to us.
Angelou del Angel
Dallas (formerly of Bridgeport)