Veteran’s Matters - with Congressman Duncan Hunter
When asked his views on the three most important veterans issues, U. S. Marine Corps veteran and Congressman Duncan Hunter (R–CA 5Oth District), quickly identified the first of the three—quality of care and access to care for our nation’s veterans. Hunter is uniquely qualified to comment upon veteran and military matters, having served three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine Corps artillery officer. Additionally, he was the first Marine combat veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan elected to Congress.
In Hunter’s view, “quality of care and access to care for veterans” starts with “breaking and rebuilding the Veterans Administration.” He said this means the VA must be dismantled and rebuilt to specialize on today’s war, today’s warriors, and their unique needs. One example, in recent wars, it means treatment for missing limbs, including provision of state-of-the-art prosthetics. Specializing on today’s war does not, he said, mean the nation ignores veterans from other wars. For the WWII, Korean, and Vietnam veterans, he wants to change the system to encourage and enable those veterans to seek and receive care “anywhere, from any doctor,” observing that this approach could be done at tremendous cost savings.
The second veteran issue of which Hunter spoke is more pointed. At first comparing this generation of warriors to the Vietnam generation and their combat service, he posed the question, “Upon looking back, was it in vain?” Were the sacrifices and service, the loss of friends, the injured, the performance of duty in vain? Referring to the recent New York Times story and associated Editorial about soldiers being told to ignored child rape by Afghan military and police leaders, supposed American allies, Hunter asked, “How would you feel when you came home” after such an experience? How would a Marine or soldier feel about his/her combat tour, if exposed to or aware of the rape of children taking place, sometimes on American combat bases, and being told to ignore it? Hunter specifically highlighted the fates of two U. S. Army Special Forces soldiers caught up in this issue, Capt. Quinn and Sergeant First Class Martland. After a physical altercation with an Afghan militia commander who was reportedly keeping a young boy as a sex slave, both were relieved of their duties and shipped back to the states. Quinn subsequently left the Army and Martland’s career is about to end, as the Army moves forward with plans to discharge him Nov. 1. Hunter is working to save Martland’s career likely in part because of the implicit question, “Were his service and sacrifice in vain?” Standing up for America’s values, taking charge, doing what was right–these are not actions taken in vain. However, these actions have resulted in negative professional repercussions from the Army for these two soldiers. How could these negative repercussions favorably answer the question, “Were your service and sacrifice in vain?” As a veteran combat leader, Hunter fully understands the question.
On Sept. 22, Hunter’s office shared with the media an Army memo to Martland informing him that the appeal of his discharge was denied. Hunter previously wrote to Senator John McCain [Chair, Senate Armed Services Committee], urging the nomination of the new Secretary of the Army be put on hold until the situations with Martland and one other are resolved. As reported on Sept. 22 by the Washington Post, “Before learning about the latest Martland memo, Hunter wrote another letter to [Secretary of Defense] Carter on Monday seeking information on DOD guidance regarding the reporting of child abuse. He said he was “gravely concerned” over reports that soldiers were advised to “look the other way. This is not only unconscionable – frankly, it’s un-American,” he wrote.”
Hunter then spoke of the need for consistent policy, so when young men and women are asked to go in harm’s way by their nation, we can win the wars. Consistent policy that provides senior military leaders who stand for American values and who support subordinates, not (as reported) tell them to ignore child rape and sexual abuse by supposed allies, let alone punish them.
For the third veteran issue, Hunter spoke of the need for reintegrating our veterans into society and the workplace, after their service to our nation. In his view, particularly from about 2007 onwards, our warriors have found reintegrating back into society truly challenging. Such sentiment has been heard from others, but he has a unique and specific take.
“Get rid of the victim mentality,” he said. “People saddle us” with the view that “you’re a victim and we need to help you.”
This victim mentality comes from the VA and other elements of the government bureaucracy that possess a particular “ideological slant on the military.” Rather than this victim mentality, Hunter supports helping the veterans find good jobs than can replace the exhilaration experienced while on active duty. Help the veterans once more be in positions that enable them to take pride in a job well done, so they can be productive members of society. In this approach, our veterans will better reintegrate into society, something that is lagging today.
Adjusting to a related issue, he referred to the recent New York Times piece by Dave Phillips that told of the suicides by Marines from 2nd Battalion 7th Marine Regiment. Hunter spoke of a small company, not one of the “big defense contractors,” which has developed a system that can reasonably predict which people might take their own lives, by looking at Facebook posts and the like. Combining this potential with his views on a broken and rebuilt VA that specializes in today’s war, it was striking when he repeated the data point that “22 veterans take their lives everyday.” Imagining Hunter’s rebuilt, nimble, and specialized VA employing a system that can reasonably predict which veterans might take their own lives, we can envision proactive outreach that saves lives and contributes to the reintegration of our veterans.
Combat veteran to Congressman, Hunter’s three most important veterans issues are born of experience on the ground, service to the nation, and an earnest desire to make the veteran’s lot a better one. Like his few fellow Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in Congress, Hunter is uniquely qualified to comment on these matters.