Washington D.C.-September 5, 2012
A number of veterans from across the board have been occupying Freedom Plaza for over a year now in anticipation of this day; today they will march on the Veterans Affairs office in Washington, D.C.
In order to speak with representatives about various key issues needing addressing in the veteran community, including suicide, homelessness rates among veterans, standard of living increases for veterans, and cutting the red tape on claims and answering V.A. claims in a timely fashion. The original plan was for a twenty-four hour occupation in front of the V.A. Office at 810 Vermont Avenue.
When we got to the V.A. Office, a short walk from Freedom Plaza to just across from McPherson Square (the site of another occupation), many of the veterans spoke about the issues near and dear to them.
Many of them are angry at the lies they were told when they joined, while in service and after they were discharged.
“Veterans are suckered into wars for greed and profit, then have to fumble through the maze of paperwork to file claims,” said Bill Perry, a Vietnam Veteran. “They've used us and abused us and these kids like an old condom, then threw us all away.”
“No one knew about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder back in my war, so they self medicated; the V.A. won't look at your claims if you've self medicated. This is unacceptable,” said Perry.
After Bill finished a mysterious masked young masked veteran of four combat tours came out to speak. “They are not taking care of our pain; more soldiers have killed themselves than died in the war.”
“Everyone who was involved with 9/11 is either dead or has been captured. We looked around and asked ourselves, 'So do we pack up? Is it time to do inventory? Yet a year later, there we still are.'”
The speeches continued for some time with veteran after veteran pouring out his soul, telling of the anguish over every veteran who has ever been murdered by his government with his own hand, for the profit of the few at the suffering of the many.
One of the signs read, “Don't send us if you can't afford us when we come home.”
“All these kids are coming home and killing themselves. At my V.A. in Wilkes-Barre there are just two suicide coordinators,” said Pat, a Navy Veteran from the Vietnam era.
“It took them thirty-seven years to get me my medical,” said Frosty a 58-year-old Army veteran. “We'd like to see congress hold an emergency session on the suicide rates of veterans. Congress just shot down a cost of living increase and a veterans jobs bill.”
“I look at it this way: if another country came here and set up shop we'd be pissed, so why do we go over to other countries, set up shop and not expect them to get pissed off at us?” said Frosty.
The men who spoke were not just speaking to themselves or the people who were watching on the various livestream channels, but to the V.A. employees and passersby walking in an out of the offices.
Still so few even bothered to look at the signs people carried to figure out why these heroes who risked their lives because they were told their country needed them to, courageously going into battle, despite the fact that all they wanted was to come home.
People passed looking at the ground, talking on their phones, or playing with their iPhones, anything but looking at these people who have sacrificed themselves for their liberty, while they sat at home and traded it for security.
“All of this 'Support our troops' bullshit is just sloganeering to get people behind their corporate wars for profit,” said John Pentley, the group's spokesman. “We need to replace the whole administration; they don't care about us they come in and out of here and won't even acknowledge us.”
Bill Perry tried to enter the building. He is authorized to enter the V.A. as a Claims Service Officer, yet he was pushed back on two separate occasions, barring his entry as he has a legal right to enter.
The reason he wanted to enter was to personally request an audience with the powers that be. The men that are out here representing themselves and those who couldn't be here just want to voice their concerns to those who are charged with being their advocates.
I kept think to myself “how all of these employees and civilians can come and go from the building without any problem while completely ignoring these proud men and women who served this country and are only asking for the help they had been promised.”
An individual claiming to be a photojournalist tried to provoke the Veterans and DHS personnel into a conflict. He was quickly called out by both sides for being a provocateur. He moved out to the outside of the protests not taking any photographs but trying to engage other protesters.
Eventually he moved on once he recognized that his tactics weren't going to be successful with this particular group.
The veterans from the Freedom Plaza vigil discussed when they were going to bring the tent, chairs and other creature comforts into the area they were now occupying, and whether they should bring it over now or wait until later in the evening.
“We should cause a bit more trouble. I don't think they've gotten the point yet,” said Pentley. “We'll show them we're serious when we bring things out here to sit on.”
Vendors from the Farmers' Market said that they would donate left-over food to the protesters at 2:45pm.
After eating, some one commented “we need to get the number of the V.A. guys that called Frosty and tweet it out, in order to have people call him.
V.A. and other Government employees continuously passed by unimpeded and undisturbed by the sight of their countries combat veterans suffering, and not being helped by those who are tasked with this simple duty, showing what Americans really care about.
The struggle these men face everyday and the way they are treated by the American public is almost exactly the same treatment they have been receiving in front of this office, ignored by people on all sides, looked down on as if they asked to be so deeply wounded then forgotten, as the American people seem to be want to do.
The only difference is they aren't currently being told to get a job, while the jobs they were promised have disappeared or never existed, because the very people who demand they get a job won't do anything to ensure that there is a job for them to come home to, much less offer the counseling and other services they need to help them transition into civilian life and deal with the horrors of war.
Veterans, occupiers, and members of the Anarchist Alliance sat talking amongst themselves, holding signs screaming out the issues and their demands, among them the simplest of requests for the people to send someone out to talk to them, to listen, to understand.
Ducky did what she did best harassing the police and DHS Special Agents with a million and one seemingly random thoughts and questions. Finally she gave them a reprieve, ending her attack on authority with “what is the legality of using sidewalk chalk on the sidewalks here in Washington?”
Their tired reply was “if it isn't permanent, it's washable than I don't see a problem with it,” then turned and walked away with their shoulders slumped in defeat.
While she skipped over to the bike lane and began drawing until she reached out into the street, leaving her political messages advocating Anarchism for all the world to see as they passed by. Perhaps she knows something that the rest of are ignoring: the only way to reach the Zombies is to put our messages on the ground in their path so that they have no choice but to see.
The DHS officers spent their downtime relaxing talking amongst themselves and to some of the journalists covering the protest.
Eventually, Frosty strolled over to our DHS overseers and handed them a miniature flier comparing the number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan to the number of soldiers who have come home only to commit suicide. The death totals from suicides to combat deaths are nearly two to one: a blazing reminder of the cost of war.
One of the many issues these veterans are demanding solutions for is the fact that of the nearly 300 million Americans, 9 percent of us are homeless, of that 9 percent, 25 percent of them are veterans. Too many of our veterans, both young and old, have come home to be told that they no longer have a home to come home to, because a bank has stolen it from them in their absence.
As if this wasn't a hard enough of a blow to endure, certainly a travesty in its own right, they have to come home to an economy that has been eaten away by the very profiteers, the same ones who took everything they have, have also taken the means for them to recover.
And where is the V.A. in all of this mess, where are the ones who are supposed to help these veterans navigate all of the bureaucratic hoopla and buffoonery associated with government aid that should be theirs but for the simple asking, having already earned every penny of it anyways?
As I went sleep during the early part of the afternoon, a list of the names of some veterans who have committed suicide were read aloud: it took nearly a half hour to get through the list.
The first time it was read to those passersby that wouldn't even give a moment of their time to mourn and honor these good men who made it back to the United States, but never really made it home.
The second time the list was read, it was not just for those present, but transmitted halfway around the world to the walls of the buildings around Tahrir Square in Egypt, the second reading was done at their request.
After we ate a bit of dinner, it was music and conversation into the night with members of Guitarmy.
Many of the veterans went to sleep between 10:30 and 11 P.M., preparing for the early and long day ahead of them, while supporters continued on with their conversations well into the morning without regard for the needs of the body, so long as the needs of the soul were being met.
I woke up at 5:30 to return a sleeping bag I had borrowed from a protester that had gone to work during the night. After McDonald’s for coffee and a bathroom break, I came back with some of the other veterans who had also gone out to get coffee for people when they woke up.
We made it back to begin rallying the troops at 6:30am to clean up the area of operation and prepare for the day ahead.
While people were cleaning, there was discussion of turning this into a permanent occupation, in the end it was decided that we would wait until later and see if the V. A. would send out their promised representative, they were the ones to make the offer after all, why wouldn't they send someone out.
At 7:30, a small contingent of seven protesters, most of them veterans moved around to the I Street entrance of the building where employees and civilians who have been granted entrance had been directed to go, in order to avoid having to face the consequences of their inaction and apathy.
Pat made the morning fun by heckling V.A. employees shouting “we have facial recognition technologies, too.”
“We're out here until some one comes out here and talk to these Veterans about the Veteran Suicide Crisis, ending these wars, benefits that matter, and real treatment for PTSD,” said Lacy MacAuley, 33.
One V.A. employee responded to her friend, “oh, they're just out here protesting to be protesting,” showing how little regard and interest the V.A. employees have for the veterans they are supposed to serve.
However, to be fair, another V.A. employee offered the protesters outside the door an untouched box of doughnuts from Krispy Cream.
At 9am, a group meeting was held at the Vermont entrance of the building where they reopened discussion on the issue of permanent occupation.
The consensus was that we would wait them out staying here on a five-day a week basis, twenty-four hours a day until they caved or removed them by force.
The veterans are asking for support from the local community, veterans, and other activists around the city and the country to come and help them occupy or give material or other support.