I didn’t think anybody could treat a veteran worse than the penny pinching bastards in the Bush Veterans Administration, but the Brits have come up with a whole new level for the shabby treatment of heroes. Lee Fry served in the Royal Welch Fusilliers with the UN peacekeeping forces in Bosnia when he was 19 years old. He is now 34, but was discharged after only three years of service and received a diagnoses of PTSD -post traumatic stress disorder - after being subjected to daily shelling by Serb artillery. The condition destroyed his marriage and reduced him to poverty. He still suffers from the nightmares and panic attacks and survives on a $200 dollar a week allotment for food and clothing. He also lives in government subsidized housing, and that is the problem. When he was released from a residential care facility for veterans Lee asked for housing in a quiet rural location because of his PTSD. And the county council of Pembrokeshire Wales provided him with a lovely little country cottage about a 5 mile walk (Lee cannot afford a car) outside the village of Castlemartin. He likes the cottage and doesn’t mind the hike to the shops. But his cottage also stands just a couple of hundred yards down the road from the main gate of, “…the only UK Army facility normally available for armored units for direct fire live gunnery exercises…”. And a “Boom, Boom” to you too.
Castlemartin artillery and bombing range covers 5,900 acres, but the gut wrenching blast from a Challenger II Main Battle Tank’s 120mm riffled gun can reverberate 25 miles away. And in any weather and at any time of day or night, an RAF Tornado fighter bomber can suddenly blast across the Welsh countryside at just 100 feet above the trees, driven by its twin turbofan engines at 600 miles per hour and unleash a barrage of cannon fire or air-to-ground missiles or un-sling a 500 pound “smart” bomb, before roaring away again. And Lee Fry lives just yards outside the main gate of this base. He says the effect has been disastrous for his condition. “The nightmares have returned because of the noise of jets overhead and the tanks constantly firing near my home. It’s just like a sick joke”, he says. The Pembroke County Council says that Lee is on a “Gold Priority List” for a new cottage. But you have to wonder if anyone bothered to ask him before they assigned him to this hell, “Can you think of any reason you shouldn’t live on an artillery range?”
At least one U.S. state has discovered a new way to pamper those who serve in its’ National Guard. State Assembly bill 866 would give them priority service at the California Department of Motor Vehicles, including priority for counter assistance, in making appointments and “prioritization of every application or document filed”. Wow: sign me up, coach. This may not sound like much of an incentive join up for an extended tour in Iraq and it turns out it really isn’t, since there is little you can do at a DMV office that you can’t do at an Automobile Club of California office, where the lines are shorter, the staff nicer and the surroundings a lot more pleasant. Maybe this was behind the Cheney – Rumsfeld plan to “outsource” the US military.
In fact the day might soon be coming when competition might force the government to even provide fashion counseling, perhaps from the fetching Stacy London of “What Not To Wear” to any soldiers in need of a post traumatic make-over; such as that clearly needed for 21 year old Tan Wen Zhong, who sashayed onto a crowded base elevator one recent morning dressed only in a pink bikini. Oh, dear; a pink bathing suit after Labor Day? Not to mention, Private Tan was in an Army barracks at the time. How haute gauche of him.
Tan is a private in the Singapore National Forces and seems to have been having a little trouble adjusting to his mandatory military service. When they searched his apartment the MPs found 46 pieces of women’s underwear, as well as other assorted bikinis and four “obscene” films - which in Singapore could mean a movie in which somebody tosses a cigarette butt on the sidewalk. The boy has got problems, no doubt about that. Two years ago he shoplifted a pair of sunglasses. In Singapore this is what passes for a crime spree. But the stylish Private Zhong will no longer be spree-ing about. He has been convicted of outraging modesty and the “fraudulent possession of women’s underwear”. As punishment he has been sent to jail for a day and ordered to pay a $4,000 fine. Thak you, Stacy! Next!
If you think my call for basic fashion training is too extreme, consider the new recruitment ad now running on Dutch television. A typical family is gathered around the breakfast table munching away when the son (about military age) suddenly grabs a banana and, holding it like a pistol and making “blam, blam” noises, blasts a cap across the table on his sister, and then lets Mommy Dearest have a couple of rounds. The image freeze frames for a moment as two check boxes fade in at the bottom of the screen, labeled “Qualified” and “Not Qualified”. The second box gets checked off. This image dissolves into a group of serious looking Dutch military types behind the question, “Who can handle the Army?” It’s an interesting question and perhaps we should ask it of Shrub and Dick Cheney: Qualified or Not Qualified, or “Over Qualified? After all, they were too “smart” to go to war. And, why go when you can get some dumb schmuck to go for you?
I for one would love to see Shrub wearing a string bikini. Somehow I find the image of him as a “sexual deviant” comforting, especially when compared to the reality of a 60 year old adolescent playing with toy soldiers. According to the Veterans Administration there are almost 3 million American veterans under the age of 65 who have no health insurance, 300,000 more than when Shrub took office. They are, according to the VA, not poor enough to qualify for the Republican version of “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps”, but who also can’t afford the damn bootstraps. In some regions veterans who exist on as little as $24,000 a year are too wealthy to qualify for help.
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