(Photo by Dustin Snipes/The Olympian. Do take a little time and view the entire slide show at the link — some beautiful shots. I especially like the silhouette ones, very well done, and very poignant.)
Dan Froomkin asked yesterday "where's the accountability?" in terms of the Bush Administration's failure to live up to its publicly stated benchmarks for Iraq. Not only were the goals not met, but there was a wholesale yawn in response from the media in terms of following up on this failure — very little coverage, very little information for the vast majority of the public that hasn't been glued to C-Span in recent days to know that even Republican Senators are exasperated and disgusted with the decided lack of progress in Iraq.
This is bad enough for the folks in uniform in Iraq and elsewhere across the globe, either on their way into yet another rotation in Iraq or waiting to hear about one. It's appalling that they had to step up to fill this huge Pentagon hole – and yet, somehow, heartening, that a military family started an organization to get our troops basic materials like toilet paper and sunscreen so that they could serve in comfort.
Please, check out the AnySoldier website if you are interested in helping out in any way. My local Democratic Women's group has sent several boxes to soldiers through this group, and we've gotten some incredibly heartfelt thank you notes from the troops who have gotten our care packages of shampoo, baby wipes, toilet tissue, chapstick, sunscreen and the like. It's a wonderful thing to let the folks in uniform know that they are not forgotten by the folks back home, even though apparently providing an adequate toilet paper supply while doling out millions to Halliburton in overpayments isn't exactly on the Pentagon's radar screen. Supporting the folks in uniform by actually doing something above and beyond buying a car magnet. What a great idea!
But what about the families of our military here at home as well?
We've all heard stories about military families having trouble getting by while their loved ones were serving overseas: having to apply for food stamps, insufficient or dilapidated base housing, little to no access to medical care because of long waits to get an appointment, and on and on and on. The WaPo has a poignant story today regarding grandparents whose daughter was killed in action in Iraq, who are now raising their granddaughter and having financial difficulties due to the intricate requirements of the death benefits insurance program established by Congress. From the WaPo:
At the funeral, Kayla stood solemn next to her mother's flag-draped casket, the folded flag laid into her small arms.
Then came the dawning of the family's new reality — the emotional, the practical, the financial.
There was a lawyer to hire to get legal guardianship. There were survivors' benefits to apply for. There was a trust to set up. There was health insurance to obtain for Kayla. Inexplicably, there was no official will left behind.
For the Jaenkes, the trouble was not that raising Kayla is so expensive but that their entire financial picture shifted with Jaime's death. Jaime's checks immediately stopped. Larry Jaenke was out of work for a time. The family paid $2,800 for a handsome headstone. The stable was still losing money.
Last fall, Susan Jaenke watched as Jaime's pickup truck, and then her car, were repossessed.
The family scraped by, thanks to acts of kindness, Susan Jaenke said. When the Jaenkes' dryer broke, nearby Seabee units stepped up to replace it. The Seabees have come three times to do finishing work on the stable, which Susan Jaenke says she will not give up. Kayla is there all the time, she said, and giving it up would be like losing what is left of Jaime.
The local Veterans of Foreign Wars gave the family a $1,000 Target gift card, which she said made the family's Christmas.
Since October, the Jaenke family has been collecting monthly government benefits for Kayla's care — $1,700 in all — but not enough to replace Jaime's contributions. From Iraq, she had been sending home $3,200 a month, her mother said. The child's father, long estranged, does not pay child support, Susan Jaenke said.
The Jaenkes can request money from Kayla's trust for certain expenses related to the girl's "health, education, maintenance and welfare," but the process involves lawyers and court appearances. The court recently agreed to a $200 monthly stipend for the family.
"The court is just very conservative here in Iowa," said Mona Bowden, an attorney for the Jaenkes.
This is heartbreaking stuff — go and read the entire article. What most infuriates me is that there are letters that their daughter left behind that clearly map out her intent as to the insurance that she signed up for — how she wanted her daughter to be cared for, how she wanted the funds distributed — but that the red tape, fine print writing on the insurance documents is being held up as more valid than the desires of the now-deceased soldier who signed up for them. What a mess. One that all the lawyers and judges will have to sort out over time — but what are the Jaenkes to do in the meantime? Lose their home, their farm? THIS is the way we treat the children of our fallen soldiers?
"Sorry you lost your child in Iraq, but she should have read the fine print before she shipped off to battle. Even though she left behind a clear indication of her wishes and intent, we're going with the insurance company's limiting language which your now-deceased child may not have even fully understood and, by the way, we don't really supply anyone to help our soldiers fully understand the document either before they sign it."
Lovely. Just lovely.
If you are an attorney in a town wherein a military based is situated, or in which military families reside, the ABA is calling for the provision of legal assistance for civil matters for military families, and more specifically, for the children of our military personnel. If you are an ABA member, or even if you are not but would like to help, I'm sure they'd be thrilled to take you up on whatever time you could offer for pro bono services. Please, think about putting your skills to a very desperately needed good use.
If you or someone you know is a military family that is grieving the loss of a loved one — in combat, in a suicide after service, going through a difficult time navigating the benefits questions that come after the loss — there is an organization that has been established to help — TAPS. It was founded by other military families who have been through this difficult loss already, and they have some wonderful resources on their website. (And don't miss the article on the grief camp that they run for the children of fallen soldiers.)
Newsday had an article earlier in the month regarding the difficult grieving process that military families go through after a loss. It's a tough read, but it's a good discussion about the pain and anger and loss and everything else that the families face. And for more on the personal costs, take a peek at this article.
Most communities, especially the ones with military bases and national guard and reserve units, have some support groups set up to help military families in need. Often, you can find out about them through your local VFW or American Legion, or at the local base itself, or through local library or kids intervention services like Big Brother, Big Sister. If you want to help out, there are a lot of ways to do so, so try checking with any of these groups.
As much as we all want this mess in Iraq to get sorted out — and soon — it is time that everyone realized just how much immediate need the families of our soldiers, and our soldiers themselves, have right now. We may not be able to do much more than lobbying our members of Congress on the policies that keep this poorly planned mess in Iraq going, or demanding accountability for the lack of armor or equipment, or demanding equal oversight for the mess that is war profiteering — there are tangible things that can be done to make the lives of our soldiers and their families better in the meantime.
There is a lot of need at the moment. And maybe, just maybe, some gift that you have can help out someone else who needs it badly. Please think about checking out the resources in your community and offering a helping hand. Supporting our troops is more than socking a magnet on your car — and it is well past time that all of America understands the full cost of George Bush's failures.