By Keith Ervin, Seattle Times. July 29, 2007
Veterans of the Iraq war marched at the head of a protest on Beacon Hill Saturday calling for an end to the war and full funding of veterans' health-care needs.
Related news about healthcare crisis of returning veterans: Counterpunch's "Fund the Wounded, Not the War" (7/27/07). LA Time's "VA failing vets" (7/24/07) and "'Fundamental change' in military healthcare urged" (7/25/07).
About 200 protesters chanted, "Fund the wounded, not the war!" as they walked along South Columbian Way past the Department of Veterans Affairs medical center.
The demonstration, supported by the union that represents local VA workers, drew veterans from several earlier wars. The march placed stronger emphasis on veterans' issues than did previous local protests.
VA Secretary Jim Nicholson announced his resignation earlier this month amid complaints about his agency's treatment of veterans' health complaints. The agency also was under fire for failing to correctly estimate how many vets would seek care, a large backlog in disability payments, the theft of 26 million veterans' personal data, and bonuses paid to officials responsible for a $1.3 billion budget shortfall in 2005.
Iraq veterans sued the VA last Monday, saying the agency was providing care only for a small portion of the hundreds of thousands of returning vets at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder. Chanan Suarez Diaz, president of the Seattle chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War, said Saturday that soldiers suffering from PTSD are often told by the armed forces that they actually have personality disorders.
"Post-traumatic stress disorder is a big, very real danger, and the military is trying to curb the benefits servicemen get," said Suarez Diaz, whose tour of duty as a Navy medic in a Marine unit in Ramadi was shortened by wounds suffered from a rocket-propelled grenade attack in 2005.
"This war is for oil, at the cost of Americans' lives and innocent Iraqis' lives," Suarez Diaz said.
Evan Knappenberger, an Army intelligence analyst in Iraq, said he enlisted at the start of the war when he had "no idea what was going on." He became disillusioned when he clashed with superiors who weren't happy with his reports on civilian casualties and downplaying of armed clashes.
"I used to think it was good that we went in and deposed Saddam," Knappenberger said. "I've come to realize that nothing we've done there is good."
John Metcalf, a World War II Navy veteran, said he marched to end the war and help veterans.
The demonstration was organized by the Troops Home Now Coalition, which also held marches in January and March.