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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Caring for Our Combat Vets: A Political and Moral Imperative

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert has an op-ed, “Turning Our Backs on Heroes,” which Democratic leaders should read and take to heart. Herbert tells the story of an American vet who has lost both his legs in Afghanistan and expresses concern about “a strong tendency” to “give short shrift to the many thousands of Americans who are suffering grievously as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Herbert adds:

The wars have become like white noise in our culture. They hit the front pages from time to time, and there are evenings when some aspect of the wars are featured on the national news telecasts. But we have no real sense of the extraordinary sacrifices that have been made by the young men and women who are fighting these wars in our name.
The agony for many of the wounded has been all but unbearable — those who have lost limbs or been paralyzed or horribly burned, or who lost their hearing or eyesight…The suffering extends to the families and loved ones of the wounded, and in all too many cases will last throughout their lives. These are peculiar wars in that the impact on the warriors inevitably is profound, while the effect of the wars on most other Americans is minimal.
There is something shameful — dishonorable — about relegating these warriors to the background. We sent them into hell and we owe them, at the very least, our grateful acknowledgement of their tremendous efforts and boundless sacrifices. There is no way to do that without paying serious attention to them.

Herbert cites a mounting toll:

Nearly 1,000 service members have lost limbs as a result of the two wars, and nearly 200 have lost more than one limb. More than 17,000 G.I.’s serving in Iraq or Afghanistan have suffered wounds so serious that they could not be returned to duty.

Says Herbert, “These wounded service members, many of them quite young, deserve much more of our awareness and support than they are getting.” Herbert’s appeal is rightly anchored in moral grounds. But the lesson should not be lost on Dems that the party that gets credit for doing something substantive for our combat vets will likely gain an edge with vets at the polls.

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