Melissa Harris-Perry | May 27, 2012
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. We are honoring those who gave their life and their service to our military. Unfortunately, many of our men and women in uniform are dying not on the battle field, but at their own hands. The department of veteran affairs estimates that about 18 veterans kill themselves every day. The number of U.S. soldiers who have committed suicide is now estimated to be greater than the number who died in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq . Now, statistics like that make me think that we are not doing nearly enough for our veterans . And in fact, apparently our veterans think the same thing. About 52 percent of veterans are currently saying that they think that the help they are getting from government is not enough. Back with me, our Afghanistan war veteran Rebekah Havrilla , Iraq war veteran Matt Gallagher and political analyst Bill Schneider . So, talk to me about the challenges that you see our veterans facing when they come home and need help?
HAVRILLA: Yes. It's really hard when we come back and you look at the different systems that you are having to navigate. A lot of times veterans file claim with the V.A for benefits for post traumatic stress and a lot of women have face sexual trauma. They are trying to get benefits for PTSD due to sexual trauma and only 32 percent of those claims pass as opposed to 53 percent from combat trauma claims. So, there is a disparity there, and when you can't get benefits, you can't get care, you can't get mental health care, you can't get what you need , and it -- it turns into this downward spiral of mental health disability of substance abuse, of homelessness. We talked about unemployment and so you get to this point where you just kind of hit rock bottom and there is not enough people out there that understand these systems that understand the gender component that is brought to the table that a lot of these women and men face. And it is overwhelming for someone who has PTSD , sometimes even look at a form that needs to be filled out. They don't know what to do, and they don't -- nobody understands what they have been through. Nobody understands, you know, the fact that I don't want to walk in to a V.A. That is full of men when I've been sexually assaulted by those in the military with. There are just so many overwhelming challenges.
HARRIS-PERRY: And you know, we have talked here on the show about this issue of sexual abuse of women , rape, sexual violation , and then the way the chain of command operates, the current legislation before Congress to change this. Because this one, to me, it is not just sort of like being overly emotional about being a rape survivor. I mean, there are real issues about that chain of command and the possibility of ever getting any kind of justice. Add onto that wartime and try to get some sort of help on the other side . I just kind a feel like we don't quite get as Americans how difficult it is for our veterans to get even sort of basic health care coverage. Much less psychological care coverage and assistance in education job training, in education. I think it feels like, you know, surely we must take care of them on the other side of this.
HAVRILLA: Well, a lot of people assume, that just because you are a veteran, you can go to the V.A. , and you can get care. If you are an Iraq or Afghanistan veteran, yes you go to the V.A. for five years after a deployment to get care. But, if you are not service connected, you don't get disability claim approved after that, you are kind on your own. And because of that disparity, there is legislation we have looked at, you know, the disparity between military sexual violence and combat trauma, and that has to be remedies. When one out of three military sexual violence survivors aren't getting benefits, that's a huge problem.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I feel like there is -- a sense somehow that if we just -- you know, if we just sort of tie the yellow ribbon around the old oak tree, that is enough to demonstrate our support and I worry on one hand that even as we talk about the challenges that folks say, particularly the psychological challenges, that we actually made worse the economic concerns we were just talking about. Like, is there some way that we can say, all right, we need to fundamentally address the psychological, the physical challenges of someone coming home from war, without someone saying, yes, employers, you will be getting damaged goods. How do we strike the right balance there?
GALLAGHER: Well, I mean, the time is now . The opportunity for all of these returning veterans coming back now, when they are young, when they can directly apply the skills they picked up in the military in to new civilian job or education, is a tremendous opportunity for the country as a whole. Much in the same way world war II veterans came home in 1945 , and helped lead the greatest economic rival in American history . The long-term effects that veterans historically face such as homelessness, such as long-term mental health issues need to be nipped in the bud now, and then, you know, the potential that returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have can be fully, fully tapped into.
HARRIS-PERRY: And now, neither of them running for president of the United States . Neither our current president nor his challenger, Mitt Romney , have combat experience, been in the military so there might be sort of a gap of understanding. But, what is interesting to me that vice president Biden , at a survivor's seminar in Arlington , Virginia , actually talked about the issue of grief and suicide, in a way that certainly he is not himself a veteran, but it was an interesting kind of sense of empathy, I thought we would listen for a moment to that.
JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The black hole you feel in your chest, like are you being sucked back into it. Looking at your kids or most of have you kids here. It was the first time in my career, my life, and I realized that someone could go out -- I probably wouldn't say that with the press here. But I is more important. You are more important. For the first time in my life, I understand how someone could consciously decide to commit suicide.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Biden was talking there about the death of his wife and daughters, but that sense of empathy seems critically important to me.
SCHNEIDER: That's right . That when he first got elected to the senate. And it was a terrible experience for him. He hasn't, for a while, he to be convinced to take his Senate seat from Delaware . It was a personal tragedy and he is trying to relate what happened to him personally, to the experience of that lot veterans have. There is one condition that I think has to be noted. The war in Iraq was not a popular war. It wasn't like world war II or even operation desert storm . Americans don't celebrate a great victory in Iraq . Afghanistan started out as a popular war because it happened right after 9/11.
SCHNEIDER: But then, it sort of went off the charts for about five years and then it came back. A lot of people think that we're fighting a war to save a government that steals elections.
SCHNEIDER: How much sense does ha make? So, these are wars that Americans felt very good about.
SCHNEIDER: These are wars that have drawn a lot of protests.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, we will are going to come back right on this topic because I want to talk a bit about the vote. And how in an election year, the issue of veterans and veterans as voters will make a difference. Can President Obama undo a Republican tradition this November and actually manage to get the veterans ' vote. All of have that, when we come back.