Disabled Veterans and Military Retiree Flights: Insulting!
By Gordon Duff, Senior Editor
Wounded warriors and their families are excluded from government Space A (space available) travel that retirees, including those who only served in peacetime or never saw a minute of combat, currently have. This “slap in the face” for disabled veterans is known to everyone in congress and the military community and has been recognized by everyone in government at every level as unfair and insulting to those who have fought and sacrificed for their country.
What is the controversy here? How are “whole” retirees treated so differently as those who have been wounded and receive VA benefits, even though they both may have the same time in service? It seems back in 1989, the government decided to exclude disabled vets from free government travel at the behest of certain very influential groups tied to one of our political parties. I won’t even name the party because, in truth, officials of neither party really care at all. We will get into this a bit later.
“Space A” travel allows military retirees (sometimes called “lifers”) to use military planes free of charge or with only a minor payment of a few dollars and lets them travel anywhere in the world. Trips are most often to Europe and Asia. I can remind you that these are not just empty transport planes. The government actually runs special flights for “Space A” and has built huge terminals at Ramstein AFB and Aviano AFB in Europe, among others. These passenger terminals cost millions and are unbelievably deluxe considering they are supposedly built for people riding in the bottom of C130’s in empty space on transport planes.
Instead, the military has ended up running a “Club Med” vacation service with dozens of golf courses and several 4 star hotels for their preferred sons and daughters while the most deserving group gets the privilege of using the hotels and golf courses if they can afford the thousands for travel out of their retirement disability payments or social security.
These hotels, like the Edelweiss AFRC facility in Garmisch Partenkirchen, Germany are among the finest hotels in the world and were meant as R&R facilities for troops in combat. Now they are used by retirees, defense contractors and as weekend retreats for troops in the European Command. To meet a disabled vet or Iraq War participant with their families using these multi-million dollar facilities with their many restaurants, golf courses and poolside service, you have to wait up pretty late at night.
First, I would add, that the facilities are wonderful and the European Command does an excellent job managing these along with the Navy Lodge’s, Air Force Inn’s and Army housing facilities across Europe. Disabled vets who manage to get to Europe on their own nickel can use these and the overpriced BX/Commissary facilities (our troops overseas get nothing free from the military when it comes to things purchased on base, unlike troops who served in the past). US bases are located in some wonderful areas, from the German Alps to the Eifel Highland or Mosel Valley of Germany, the Cotswolds of England and all across Italy from the Dolomites to Venice and Naples.
The issue is travel. Not every disabled veteran can travel but any vet who can learn to overcome disability enough to be a part of his family and community, deserves every privilege we can give. Making them second class citizens while retirees use these incredible facilities paid for by American taxpayers is simply wrong and everyone knows it and always has.
Why are disabled vets excluded? Every year, one or more congressmen draft legislation to change this insulting practice. Every year it goes nowhere. No president has ever supported disabled vets, not Bush, not Clinton, none of them. Politicians bend over and stick it to disabled veterans to please a powerful lobby, retired military officers, reserve officers and military retirees in general. The reasons these organizations give for opposing letting disabled vets travel with them is that “disabled vets are not safe”.
YOU HAVE TO SEE ONE OF THESE PLANES EMPTY OUT OR SHOP A BX OR COMMISARY TO UNDERSTAND THE JOKE, UNFUNNY AS IT IS. PICTURE RETIREE’S GETTING OFF THESE PLANES CARRYING THEIR OXYGEN BOTTLES OR HOBBLING THRU COMMISSARIES WHILE OUR YOUNG DISABLED VETS ARE OUT RUNNING MARATHONS ON ALUMINUM LEGS.
The real story is, as usual, lies, greed and political power. Few disabled vets or vets in general are aware that the powerful retiree organizations spent huges sums each year opposing benefits and privileges for veterans.
Something out of my own past comes to mind. I was serving with a Marine rifle squad in Vietnam in 1969. (A Co, 2nd Plt, 2nd Sqd, 1st Bn. 26th Marines for people who care about such things) We operating out of a small and even grim by Vietnam War standards, firebase called 6 Shooter, outside DaNang. After a long range patrol of many days, we were allowed to hitchhike into DaNang to the Freedom Hill PX. There were 6 of us in my squad. Our camo uniforms were “hand me downs” when we got them, bleached white by the sun, dirty and torn. Our boots were worn thru and scuffed. We were tan, thin as rails ( I weighed in at around 120 at 6 feet) from lack of food and had the real “thousand yard stare” any combat vet, then or now, would know in a minute.
I remember jumping off the back of a 6 By (6 wheel drive military truck) after coming thru Dai La pass into “civilization”. Then the stares began. I could guess how a slave would have felt coming up to the plantation house asking to share a mint julep with Miss Scarlet.
All I could see around me was white fat faces, fat bodies, new uniforms, filled shopping bags with liquor, cigarettes and candy. There were hundreds of them, white as fish and fat as whales with little to do but drive aimlessly around Da Nang in shiny new jeeps while a few hundred Army and Marines kept them alive and safe in their fat little beds. This is the Vietnam War we knew then. I suspect there may be a version of the current conflict not entirely unlike this. War has always been like this from Ike and his “driver” at their country house to Patton and the finest homes in France.
Those same fat little faces are behind the insult to our fighting men. Good enough to fight but not good enough to ride on a plane or share a golf course with is the story here. This is not a new story. It has gone on for many years and will continue to go on until someone finally says something “impolite”. Let me be the one.
Write and call your congressman and tell them you want wounded warriors to have the same rights other retirees have. Tell them you know the game has been going on year after year and you are sick of the bull.
There may be a dozen more important things we could do for our wounded heroes than send them to Japan or Italy on a free vacation, like we do with thousand and thousands of others. It may not even be a start but we can finally put an end to this, just another in an endless line of insults.