We are still in Iraq. The veterans, the deployed and the surviving Iraqi people. The war is raging inside the hearts and minds of an entire generation of military members, veterans and Iraqi civilians. The veterans are praised with, “Thank you for your service” and baited by “Excellence in Healthcare.” Mainstream society and media are scarred from previous forgotten wars such as Korea and Vietnam and cover their asses with slogans. However, compensation and reconciliation are elude most Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who arrive in their communities unable to transition and find peace.
After years of the US government failing veterans, military members and civilians of the occupied countries, “The right to Heal” campaign started on the tenth anniversary of the Iraq invasion to hold the USA accountable for the violations of the rights to life and health of war-torn peoples and veterans. Since then, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Organization of Women’s Freedom of Iraq and Federation of Workers Councils and Unions of Iraq have been working together to improve the state of affairs for veterans and the civilian populations in these occupied countries.
Yet, the US government continues to take what it wants by force and money by putting other people’s children in the path of destruction and dehumanization. “Depleted uranium used by the United States in Iraq exposed civilians and U.S. soldiers to an unparalleled risk of cancer, as well as having children with birth defects,” states the Right to Heal campaign.
As a result, a war is waged upon the veterans coming home attempting to get healthcare, and Iraqi civilians are searching for how to heal their children and cancers in a third world country. However, throughout the struggle, “The People’s Hearing” is the beginning of a bright spotlight opening up the truth in the darkness of lies and slogans. On March 26th, 2014, Iraqi civil society leaders and US military veterans will testify to the lasting impact of the war and make the case that the US government must be held accountable for the serious damage it has caused – such as the ongoing health crisis caused by toxic munitions and burn pits used during the occupation, to the destructive effects of multiple and concurrent deployments and stigma faced when attempting to access care and support from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
This is an opportunity to listen to the voices and recognize the fact that the government must accept responsibility for the lives it destroys. We live in a country that wages war on poor people, assuring the troops, “we are winning hearts and minds,” but the only legacy we left the Iraqis with is cancer and children with birth defects.
The truth from the people who were there – on both sides – gives us all a rare opportunity to be a part of understanding the scale and entirety of the war “over there.” In addition, my concept of “over there” became recently overcast with the realization that “over there” is the Iraqis’ home.
The Iraq war is over only for those people it did not affect physically, emotionally or economically.
However, for the family members of veterans, the battle begins when their loved one comes home and they attempt to support a military member whom they no longer understand or recognize. Then they must navigate a Veteran’s Administration and healthcare system that treats them as numbers taking “handouts” – not as an individuals who fought in a war. These “numbers” soon become statistics of our veterans’ unemployment, suicide, homelessness, addiction and prison.
While I was in Iraq in 2004, Jenna Bush was planning her wedding. If George W. Bush believed in his Iraq war, she should have been there with me. She could have been my “T.C.” and helped save the soldiers and marines in our green military ambulance to match our green flak vests.
I ask you, “What color is the desert?” Brown, beige, tan, white and dark. That darkness swallowed my faith in the Army’s values and stole my idealism.
We drove proudly into Iraq in green military ambulances called FLAs. These ambulances were from a generation that was not my own. The leaders of my country sent me, an Army medic (similar to a first responder EMT) to a war in vehicles without armor, bulletproof glass or camouflage! With our Red white crosses – targets blazing in the sun. We were a streak of 100 green ambulances entering Iraq from Kuwait. Driving past children without shoes. We drove fast. The children were blurry as we passed, but their hunger could be seen clearly. I entered a country with a green ambulance and it did not even occur to me to ask questions.
I left my soul in Iraq with the people of that country. My compassion and empathy still riding on the roads trying to “save people” who are only slipping through my fingers or blowing up all around me. Nothing is consistent and nothing has changed. The war may be over, but for “us” – the veterans and the people of Iraq – we are occupied by pain and scars instead of memories.
We are the pieces of a dream deconstructed by the greed of a government that didn’t care that my safety was in jeopardy from a green ambulance and depleted uranium and that entire generations of Iraqis would become sick from our munitions and pollution from our bases.
As the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq loomed over me on March 19th 2014, not a single paper or person mentioned it. In that moment, I realized that, “The People’s Hearing” provides a hope and light – bringing a solution into the equation of my survival and many others. By the simple concept of veterans and Iraqis meeting and organizing together. Healing these wounds from war as a community of people – not “enemies” – but as two populations wronged and used by the USA government and demanding retribution, compensation and accountability.