LETTER TO THE EDITOR: The commitment we owe our veterans

Today is the 10-year anniversary of my “Alive Day.” Ten years ago today, I was bleeding on a street corner in Fallujah, Iraq. I had been shot through the neck by an enemy sniper. The leader of my Marine platoon later recounted, “None of us thought you were going to make it.”

I did make it. Today, 10 years later, I am a candidate for Congress.

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Sean Barney

I am here today because of the heroic actions of those I served with. The Marines in my platoon drove a HMMWV [High-mobility, multipurpose wheeled vehicle, a/k/a “Humvee”] “like a bat out of hell” to get me to a surgical center in time to save my life. The Navy [Hospital] Corpsman who was with us used his fingers to pinch off the bleeding from my jugular. He refused to let go until surgeons on the operating table gave him the signal.

On the battlefield, warriors leave no one behind. Yet, the reality is that, here at home, we are letting too many of our brothers and sisters fall through the cracks. Since 9/11, we have lost nearly 7,000 Americans in combat overseas. Over the same time period, we have lost many more veterans — of our post-9/11 wars and our prior wars — to suicide at home.

We owe all our veterans the level of commitment the Marines and Navy Corpsman I was with in Fallujah ten years ago today gave to me and to the urgent battle to save my life. We need to bring that same urgency to the battle to ensure our veterans here at home receive the treatment they need for the visible and invisible wounds of war. We need to bring that same urgency to the battle to see to it that our veterans are empowered to continue contributing at home, as they did so exceptionally abroad.

I am one of the fortunate ones. I received the best of care for my physical wounds in Fallujah and back home at Bethesda and Walter Reed. Moreover, my post-traumatic stress was recognized and diagnosed at Bethesda. I received the care I needed when I needed it. I was not allowed to fall through the cracks.

Of the 22 veterans who commit suicide each day, 17 are not connected with the VA. They are not getting the care they need. Congress should require the VA to identify and reach out to veterans at high risk of post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries.

When veterans seek care from the VA, whether for visible or invisible wounds, they deserve timely access. Congress should provide veterans with online scheduling options to reduce VA wait times and should invest in the recruitment of medical personnel to serve veterans in rural and underserved communities.

The effort to stop veteran suicide is bound together with the moral obligation we have to welcome our veterans home with dignity. I am again one of the fortunate ones. After a year of surgeries and physical therapy, the VA helped me go to law school. That investment made it possible for me to continue contributing at home as policy director to the Governor of Delaware.

After World War II, Congress made one of the most successful public investments in the history of our country when it passed the GI Bill. It is estimated that GI Bill recipients returned $7 to the American economy for every $1 received in benefits. In 2008, Congress passed the post-9/11 GI bill to invest in the potential of those returning from our most recent wars, just as we did in the potential of the Greatest Generation.

As our post-9/11 wars have faded from the front pages, however, politicians have begun to calculate that the public’s concern for our veterans will fade, as well. Congress is currently considering cuts to the educational benefits provided under the post-9/11 GI Bill.

The message needs to be sent loud and clear that our concern for those who “have borne the battle” and for their families has not faded and will not fade. Keeping our obligations to our veterans front of mind is an obligation we all share, but particularly those of us who have been witness to the human cost of war. The wars are fading from memory, but the obligations endure. History will judge us based on the commitment and urgency we bring to meeting those obligations over the years and decades to come.

Sean Barney

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sean Barney is a retired Marine, an Iraq War combat veteran and a recipient of the Purple Heart. He is a Democratic candidate for Delaware’s lone congressional seat.

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