#veterans

Looking for a publisher

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I am getting back to a long-overdue project. If anyone has any ideas of where best to publish a book based on the letters of my grandfather’s experiences in WWII I would be most grateful. Here is an extract of the introduction plus three of the 120 letters he wrote.

BEYOND THE NORM

Introduction

Hidden amongst a stack of boxes accumulated over many decades in an attic lay a treasure trove of over 100 letters from World War II written by Lt. Norman Martin Peterson. This decorated ANZAC served from 1939-1945 in the 2/1 & 2/2 Australian Field Ambulance.

Lt. Peterson was a Rat of Tobruk. He served in the hell hole of Crete and saw hand-to-hand combat in the jungles of the Pacific Islands. Reading his letters and viewing the many photographs gave me an insight into a man, my grandfather, who I never really knew.

As a child, I only saw him as a larrikin given his wit and humour. He never discussed his experiences, but after reading his letters I developed a new found respect for him and wondered how he managed to maintain his sanity during, let alone after the war.

It is important his despatches be preserved as a reminder of how we must never take for granted the bravery of those who fought and died for our freedom.

Despite the often graphic details contained within his eloquent prose, he left some invaluable lessons about honour, courage and sacrifice. To read these letters in chronological order provides a powerful insight into what it’s like to serve in a theatre of war. Over time, the initial excitement of being in different surroundings and serving one’s country turns to fear, and eventually relief in the dying years of the war. His personal courage and bravery are never discussed. But anger and depression, in and after battle, make their presence felt.

Norman painted a very clear picture of the stresses and trauma faced by soldiers in the field. Whether the bitterness of losing a respected commanding officer, the courage shown when facing direct fire from a Messerschmitt Me-109 or moving wounded troops under mortar fire as a mate falls victim to shell shock, his letters bring to life what few Australians have ever experienced.

It wasn’t only Norman Peterson who bore the weight of war. From his letters, it is clear that his wife, Mary ‘Molly’ Peterson was suffering on the home front too. She never knew if or when she would become a war widow or whether their daughters, Margaret and Valma, would ever see their father again.

Sometimes communications were brief. They said almost nothing, but then again, everything. The telegram which cryptically advised her, “LEFT GREECE. STILL ALIVE. LOVE PETERSON” provided momentary relief before the nagging fear of how long it would be before she received another telegram telling her that Norman’s luck had run out.

TOBRUK – 1941

We were wakened by the drone of Italian bombers which have a distinctive note and easily recognizable at night…we heard 1/2 dozen explosions & wondered what they would be bombing…about 30 minutes later we got a message to go immediately to the prisoner of war compound as they had been bombed…

…it was a most ghastly sight imaginable. The prisoners without blankets were huddled together for warmth and had lit fires and their own planes had dropped big 500lb bombs…

…there were bits of bodies everywhere, like a slaughterhouse – brains, livers, arms, trunks. I couldn’t describe it. The bombs landed right into the huddled mass of prisoners & blown them to pieces. The doctors and the boys worked like Trojans doing amputations in the field. Arms and legs were put in a stack like a wood heap and to make it worse some desert dogs were having a feast on the remains. One of our blokes was doing an Italian, who had his arm just hanging by a bit of tissue, hacked the arm off with a jackknife. When he returned a bloody dog had the arm in his mouth. And was streaking over the hill when an MP shot it with his revolver. We worked all that day and through the night & done around 300 operations on the spot. Near one bomb crater, we shovelled bits and pieces in the hole and covered it in…it is not so much the shrapnel but the concussion that does the damage”

CRETE -1941

“We were in an olive grove with wounded men under every tree before we got word to get going and they gave us hell here, the guns tipped toward the men under the trees and straked is with machine guns. I nearly took a soilly here. I heard a plane roaring down & looking up saw a Messerschmitt 109 diving straight for me. You should have seen me move. I dived for the nearest tree and just got there before he opened up with his machine guns (6 of them, 3 in each wing).  The chatter of them was deafening as he flew as low as 100ft from me, the b———-d…any man on Crete who never prayed was a bloody liar…

…anyway I had the job of getting 300 walking wounded to the beach which was 45 miles away (they told us 7)…what a march keeping our movement secret & taking cover by day and moving only at night…the hours of daylight would drive you crazy…a road was being done over by Junkers 87s and heard Jerries trench mortars landing very close so I said to Kev & Bill “let’s go” daylight or not I was moving. Bill told me he’d had enough and couldn’t stand it any longer then I noticed for the first time he was bomb happy (shell shock) his head was nodding nineteen to the dozen, eyes staring and hands shaking…

…water was scarce. My mouth like blotting paper and we were in rotten condition until we came across a bombed truck so we drank the radiator water (rust, oil and all). It was like nectar…I never thought hunger was so crook…I couldn’t keep my mind off food, even dreamt of it and of the crusts I’d wasted (Kev admitted the same)

NEW GUINEA – 1942

Meanwhile Private Jenkins was sent through by jeep to act as a guide…however about 50yds from the corner; a sustained burst of MG fire whistled around us which was tragically funny as I looked behind to see the boys moving up the track. After the burst I dived for cover in the tall Kumai grass and when I looked back there wasn’t a man to be seen because when I dived they all dived too. We stayed about 1/4 hour and I decided I couldn’t stay all day so I decided to risk it and make a dash for it…a man every two minutes…without mock heroics my knees were knocking as I got to my feet and darted 200 yards long and expected to get one in the guts at any moment…

…to my sorrow around the corner we came across poor George Jenkins who had been the guide- shot-our first casualty and we’d only been in the place 5 minutes and a sniper had got him. The bullet had plowed through his scalp from ear to eye and his face was a mess. Poor bugger. All he was worrying about was that he wasn’t able to tell us about the snipers and was we alright? I slipped a shell dressing on his skull and carried him back – lucky bugger he’ll go home now…

…this bloody war is a terrible mental strain. You can get shot anywhere with snipers (who never live more than two hours anyway after they’ve climbed the trees) because our boys comb the branches with Brens and they dangle like rabbits from their perch). I’ve lost about 2 stone since I’ve been in action here. It’s tough believe me.”

Liking Tulsi Gabbard more and more

Sensible head on her shoulders. The one thing that can be said of Rep Tulsi Gabbard is that she is no run of the mill, toe the line Democrat. Unfortunately the DNC seemingly want to stick to doubling down on what got the party repudiated last election. Heart attack Bernie, Sleepy/creepy/floppy/sloppy Joe Biden, Fauxcahontas, “take your guns” Beto, lacking substance Kamala Harris, Pete ‘I drive a Chevy’ Buttigieg, Andrew ‘stand for nothing’ Yang or Juan ‘give illegals free healthcare’ Castro. Are the Dems serious?

Gabbard’s has attacked the status quo within partisan politics. Her policy platform can be seen here. CM doesn’t agree with half of it but that’s a far cry from not agreeing with all of the other candidates’ policy positions. The greatest irony in the debates is that, with the exception of Gabbard, the other candidates all attack each other despite having almost identical policies.

Gabbard is articulate, intelligent, grounded and doesn’t sound like the rest of the virtue signaling tax to the death rabble she is debating against. Unfortunately Gabbard doesn’t have enough of the poison that is needed to succeed within the Dems. She should go independent.

If America is desperate for its first female (not that should ever be a reason) president surely one can realize that Gabbard, on merit alone, is a far superior choice to Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Fauxcahontas Warren? She ticks more diversity boxes without having to fill out forms claiming she is someone she is not.

That’s Tulsi Gabbard’s greatest strength – authenticity. She seems to be listening to the American people about not seeking to divide the country any further.

Completely despicable

Another reason to like Rep Tulsi Gabbard, although she is nowhere in the polls despite her straight talking. If there was a Democratic Party candidate that even marginal Republicans could lean toward she is it.

CNN moderator Anderson Cooper asked what Gabbard thought of Trump’s withdrawal from Syria. The answer he got was a little more pointed than he expected.

Gabbard said,

Well, first of all, we’ve got to understand the reality of the situation there, which is that the slaughter of the Kurds being done by Turkey is yet another negative consequence of the regime change war that we’ve been waging in Syria…

…Donald Trump has the blood of the Kurds on his hand, but so do many of the politicians in our country from both parties who have supported this ongoing regime change war in Syria that started in 2011 — along with many in the mainstream media who have been championing and cheerleading this regime change war…”

…now she gets really serious…

“…The New York Times and CNN have also smeared veterans like myself for calling for an end to this regime change war…Just two days ago, The New York Times put out an article saying that I’m a Russian asset and an Assad apologist, and all these different smears. This morning, a CNN commentator said on national television that I’m an asset of Russia. Completely despicable.”

Nazi scum?

Just a day before the 75th anniversary of D-Day, where 156,000 allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy to defeat the Nazis, unhinged protestors in London can scream at a person with different views as  “Nazi scum”. We can always count on the tolerant left to engage in thoughtful, respectful and open debate. Their generosity has now spread to offering unsolicited milkshakes to those they disagree with.

What is striking within all of this, is 1) the police did absolutely nothing (no surprise in Mayor Khan’s London and to be honest the constable looked riddled with fear);  2) every other grievance of the left seems present at the march from the Extinction Rebellion, Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism (ironically practiced by numerous members of the Labour Party which aligns with many of their protests), a call for a general election (which would likely see even bigger swings against this lot) etc; and 3) so many protesters hiding behind masks. What is it with these people who can’t own their protest?  Maybe the Univesity of Mons can hand her an honorary doctorate for standing up to Trump?

Welcome to 2019. To think of the 4,500 poor young allied soldiers who lost their lives on that fateful day 75 years ago trying to defend against the very tyranny these people wish to reintroduce. Those calling others Nazis should take a long stone cold look in the mirror to see what true fascism looks like.

She should be demoted with immediate effect

And so should her superiors. Our armed forces are being turned into a joke. Commanding Officer of HMAS Albatross, Captain Fiona Sneath, has deemed the 500m walk to the Anzac memorial on Anzac Day too dangerous citing occupational health and safety. These are our brave and proud military personnel who are trained to shoot back in anger if required. CM is sure they’ll cope.

In recent years our armed forces have pushed hard on gender balance (despite strong evidence from the ADF’s own internal audit to say it is dismally failing even more so when targets were lowered), discouraged the words ‘him’ and ‘her’, we’ve banned death symbols, painted finger nails pink for diversity and the Air Force is being asked to think of the roles of women when bombing enemy targets.

The Navy has just raised the white flag of stupidity again. Are our able seamen so poorly trained they can’t walk down a well lit trail?

What do these military chiefs think China must make of all this? To invade Australia, all they’ll need is a couple of terra-cotta warriors and we’ll surrender. Our military chiefs need a major clean out. They are disgracing the proud soldiers that served and continue to serve.

Thank you for your service?

Australian PM Scott Morrison gave a speech at the PM’s Veterans’ Employment Awards in Canberra tonight. He spoke about how we as a nation should be indebted to the bravery and dedication of our armed forces and emphatically thanked them for their service. If indeed he believed what he spoke about, surely he could honour their sacrifice and efforts by not disappearing 30 minutes into the gig. Deeds not words. Telling.

Tommy trouble

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It seems the UK Armed Forces are finding it difficult to recruit their own. So much so that they have lifted a 5-yr waiting period for Commonwealth citizens to join up. The National Audit Office states the armed forces are suffering the worst shortage of new recruits since 2010, being short 8,200 from desired levels. Therefore Aussies, Canadians, Indians and other Commonwealth citizens can sign up.

According to official Ministry of Defence (MOD) in the year leading to November 2017 1,759 of the 15,325 regular troops quit  because their time was up. Nearly half (7,439 ) quit early because of worsening conditions and falling morale. 3,325 were kicked out on disciplinary grounds and another 2,337 were medically discharged.

The MOD’s UK Regular Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey 2015 revealed,

-The number of personnel stating that they are dissatisfied with Service life has risen to 32%, up from 27% in 2014. Not a good start.

-There has been a fall in the number of personnel reporting that they are proud to be in their Service, from 81% in 2014 to 77% in 2015.

-25% “state that they plan to leave as soon as they can, or have put in notice to leave” (+9% on 2011).

-Satisfaction with pension benefits has dropped 18% since 2011

– Less than a third (27%) of Service personnel agree that the level of compensation is enough

-In 2015, job security was the top retention factor, followed by dental and healthcare provision, pension and opportunities for sport.

  • Individual morale 40% (-6% on 2011)
  • Unit morale 21% (-6% on 2011)
  • Service morale 14% (-4% on 2011)
  • Service life satisfaction 47% (-10% on 2011)
  • Job satisfaction 56% (-8% on 2011)

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Apart from the appalling trajectory of morale, it is clear that care once out of the military doesn’t fare much better.

While the MoD total budget will increase from GBP23bn to GBP50bn by 2020, data about how it is spent is highly opaque. More is learnt by some of the history surrounding the treatment of Tommies.

Support of  veterans has been so lacking that charities such as Help for Heroes has been active picking up the shortfall. It raises over GBP30 million per annum to support the 2,500 British veterans discharged for medical reasons every year to cope with civilian life.

Despite the American Psychiatric Association acknowledging PTSD in 1980, it took the UK another five years to officially recognize PTSD after the sharp increase in veterans suffering from mental health issues post the Falklands War of 1982. Of the 30,000 troops that were sent to fight, the UK armed forces allocated only one psychiatrist to the far away battlefield.

The problem was compounded in the 1990s with widespread closures of UK military hospitals as a cost cutting measure. Seven of the eight military hospitals had been shut or transferred to the NHS by 1999.

The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) wrote in its recent report on those deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan about how low suicide rates were. It stated, “While rates of mental disorder are lower in the military (3.1%) than the general population (4.5%), the MOD routinely carries out research into those who have served on large scale combat operations, in order to more accurately assess the effects of deployment.” Note there is no data on veteran suicide in the UK.

The UK MOD’s ‘Defence People Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy’ is supposedly in place to challenge the stigma surrounding mental health issues, to ensure that all who serve, and have served, can enjoy a state of positive physical and mental health. The MOD has committed £22 million a year on mental health with the establishment of two 24/7 helplines for serving personnel and veterans. How is it a charity funds 1.5x what the government does?

To put that in context, Australia spends 20x this amount every year just on veterans counseling services. America, albeit a larger veteran base, spends $9bn on mental health for its soldiers.

One wonders why the MOD doesn’t listen to the surveys and act. Then it wouldn’t have to go down the mercenary route.

Losing my Virgin-ity to the veteran community

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Virgin Australia has copped a lot of flack over its unsolicited offer to prioritize veterans when boarding and to announce gratitude for their service. Sadly the plan has been savaged in the media as virtue signaling and riding the political wave of the PM to back discounts for those who served. Many veterans have come forward saying they have not asked to be saluted in this manner. Many of them wish to be thought of like you and I.

We can sit back and criticize the airline for not doing more due diligence with the veteran community, yet we should not overlook that CEO John Borghetti would have made this decision with absolute rock solid sincerity, thinking of the vets, not how he could win free publicity which is often the norm these days. Had preferential boarding treatment been given to an oppressed minority community he would have probably been championed as a hero of social justice. All of the media that smashed the airline – The Guardian, Fairfax et al would have praised the progressive action. Let us not forget that Virgin’s move was above all made with “good intentions.”

My first recollection of John Borghetti happened almost 20 years ago after some utterly dreadful Qantas service, where he happened to be working at the time. Despite receiving a relatively textbook letter of apology from the Chairman, John personally called me to “connect” with this disgruntled customer. No excuses were given. No attempts were made to cover up the pitiful customer service. He listened because he wanted to learn. He was authentic. No training manual could have taught John what he did. You cannot learn sincerity from a textbook. You either are or you aren’t. The veteran community should know that they will undoubtedly get the exact same ‘ear’ from the CEO to best address needs going forward and I encourage them to speak frankly to him.

As a civilian who is now working alongside veterans I’ve learnt more this year about how wrong many of my preformed notions were with respect to former service men and women. I’ve met veterans suffering from PTSD. I’ve met a war widows who lost veteran husbands to suicide. I spent a week at the Invictus Games seeing how these amazing warriors were ‘unconquered.’ I’ve met veterans, young and old, who are struggling to reintegrate into the workforce at an event. The issues are real. I have seen the amazing work done by veterans trying to find unique ways to help their former mates reintegrate into society. I suggest we embrace Virgin and refocus their positivity.

I am honoured to be given the opportunity to work alongside veterans to make this journey and learn every day. In a sense my mission is in part to represent the civilian community to make them understand veteran needs. There are so many positive ways to affect change and move away from the growing negativity thrown at events like Anzac Day as a celebration of warmongers where our media can be as brazen to criticize brave diggers as rapists, murderers and thieves.

Put simply, we civilians absolutely owe a debt of gratitude to those who have served. How we do it is open to debate. This is at its very roots of the Virgin move. To see the board cower to public pressure and look to rescind the offer on the basis of the constant negativity so prevalent today is the wrong move. Better still, Borghetti’s sincerity should be front and centre here. There is no market collapsing “damage control” risk for Virgin at stake. It is doubtful that veterans will desert the boarding gates of Virgin to punish it.

It would be nice to see that corporate governance today teaches that holding firm on the courage of their convictions is paramount. If the board learns that it must do more due diligence, then so be it. Learn and move on. Don’t wave the white flag. I sincerely hope that the Virgin board doesn’t flake. The board represents shareholders, not the mainstream media.

If I know John Borghetti from my own personal experience, Virgin Australia can achieve what it set out to do. Helping vets.  Does Virgin divert its planes to alternative airports when bad weather arises or do they ditch the aircraft into the sea?  The board should approach this episode with the same attitude.

It costs HOW MUCH?

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The mind boggles. War is expensive to conduct. Once wars finish, the cost of looking after veterans is massive. In 2000, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) in America spent $43.6bn to look after returned servicemen and women. In 2020 it is expected to exceed $212bn (c. 5x), the equivalent of what the Chinese currently spends on its military.  Digging deeper into the data reveals that the cost of the aftermath of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation New Dawn (OND) on veteran treatment keeps growing in a straight line.

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Total obligations for OIF/OEF/OND patients has grown 19-fold in the last 14 years to over $7bn. Total veterans from those campaigns now totals 965,000 and is expected to hit 1.1mn by 2020. Cost per veteran patient over the 2006-2020 period will virtually treble.

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Expenditure on prosthetic devices (e.g. limbs, hearing aids) has near as makes no difference quadrupled in that period.

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Spending on pharmaceutical products is up 1.9x since 2006.

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Drugs such as Oxycontin which contain opioids have found their way to creating problems in the US armed forces. 15% of Army troops admitted to taking illicit drugs (cocaine, heroin, marijuana) and opioids back in 2008.

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Spending on programs to prevent substance abuse is up 1.8x since 2006.

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The VA notes key clinical metric trends from Quarter Four of 2012 to Quarter Four of 2017 show:

• 67% reduction in Veterans receiving opioid and benzodiazepine together;
• 44% reduction in Veterans on long-term opioid therapy (> to 90 days);
• 38% reduction in Veterans receiving opioids;• 56% reduction in Veterans receiving > 100 Morphine Equivalent Daily Dose;
• 51% increase in Veterans on long-term opioid therapy with a Urine Drug Screen
(UDS) completed within last year to help guide treatment decisions.

Spending on mental health programs is up almost 4x since 2006. The VA plans to promote the development of skills in VA providers to diagnose and assess PTSD
by developing a computer-based training using simulated virtual patient
technology that will allow clinicians to practice and receive customizable feedback
on giving CAPS-5 to a lifelike virtual patient.

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The 2019 VA Budget requests $8.6 billion for Veterans’ mental health services, an increase of 5.8% above the 2018 current estimate. It also includes $190 million for suicide
prevention outreach. VA recognizes that Veterans are at an increased risk for suicide and
implemented a national suicide prevention strategy to address this crisis. Veteran suicide in the US is at a 22/day clip.

The price of freedom. All said and told the US over the last 20 years will have spent the equivalent of $2.476 trillion with a “T” on veterans. That is the equivalent of one entire year of UK GDP.

Smart technologies are an absolute must for the VA. The cost of veteran health is the equivalent of 29% of what the US spends on defence, up from 14.8% two decades ago. Asking for yearly increases is a band aid solution.

How well do Americans know their Defense budget?

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The US spends more than the next 9 countries combined when it comes to defence. What is probably lost on many Americans is the spiraling cost of funding the veterans who served. The US is forecast in 2020 to spend almost as much on the Dept of Veterans Affairs (VA) as China does on military spending. The direct cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has driven the indirect costs of treating those who served almost 5-fold since the war began. US politicians have passed increase after increase.  Have these increases been thought of in context of the trend? Or do annual increases just get signed off as a reflex action?

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If we put the VA budget next to the defence budget, the former has grown from 14.8% of the latter to around 29% between 2000 and 2020. The number of veterans receiving disability compensation has grown 2 million in 2000 to 4.3 million in 2016. A total of 7.2 million veterans are actively seeking services or payments from the VA, up from 5.5 million in 2000.

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Spending per veteran by priority group also reveals sharply higher costs. This is not an exhaustive list of priorities, but the main 7.

Priority 1

• Veterans with VA-rated service-connected disabilities 50% or more disabling
• Veterans determined by VA to be unemployable due to service-connected conditions.

Priority 2

• Veterans with VA-rated service-connected disabilities 30% or 40% disabling

Priority 3

• Veterans who are Former Prisoners of War (POWs)
• Veterans awarded a Purple Heart medal
• Veterans whose discharge was for a disability that was incurred or aggravated in the line of duty
• Veterans with VA-rated service-connected disabilities 10% or 20% disabling
• Veterans awarded special eligibility classification under Title 38, U.S.C., § 1151, “benefits for individuals disabled by treatment or vocational rehabilitation
• Veterans awarded the Medal Of Honor (MOH)

Priority 4

• Veterans who are receiving aid and attendance or housebound benefits from VA
• Veterans who have been determined by VA to be catastrophically disabled

Priority 5

• Non service-connected Veterans and non-compensable service-connected Veterans rated 0% disabled by VA with annual income below the VA’s and geographically (based on your resident zip code) adjusted income limits
• Veterans receiving VA pension benefits
• Veterans eligible for Medicaid programs

Priority 6

• Compensable 0% service-connected Veterans.
• Veterans exposed to ionizing radiation during atmospheric testing or during the occupation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
• Project 112/SHAD participants.
• Veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975.
• Veterans of the Persian Gulf War who served between August 2, 1990, and November 11, 1998.
• Veterans who served on active duty at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987.
• Currently enrolled Veterans and new enrollees who served in a theater of combat operations after November 11, 1998 and those who were discharged from active duty on or after January 28, 2003, are eligible for the enhanced benefits for five years post discharge.

Priority 7

• Veterans with gross household income below the geographically-adjusted income limits for their resident location and who agree to pay copays.

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Countries have an obligation to look after the troops that sustain injury, physical, mental or otherwise. The question is whether politicians are cottoning on to the mounting relative increase in healing the veteran community to the spending on weapons of war?

There are 19.6 million veterans in the US. By 2045 this is expected to dip below 12 million. With 2.1 million serving active duty military personnel and reserves, the overall costs of healing may not come down anytime soon.

What it does say is that there is a massive need to work out how to reduce the costs to the VA without impeding improving healthcare and benefits for veterans.