We are still sending young people to war, and when they come back the care provided to veterans is not enough, said Bruce Weigl.
“I think we owe our veterans everything and we have to do everything we can to care for them and their families,” he told the hundreds who gathered in downtown Amherst to observe Veterans Day.
Weigl, an Oberlin College graduate who served in the U.S. Army during Vietnam and received the Bronze Star, today is a distinguished visiting professor at Lorain County Community College.
A descendant of steelworkers, he said he grew up “on the wrong side of Lorain” and became a poet along the way.
Weigl was chosen as the keynote speaker in Amherst’s annual ceremony at the foot of three Park Avenue murals honoring veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.
“When we need inspiration, and these are the times we need it the most, it seems, we should look to our veterans because of the sacrifices that they’ve made and because of what they understand about what it means to be in a tough situation, how to survive,” he said.
Yet when the vote comes up in our Congress to fund veterans’ care, the first to vote against it were all too often the first in favor of sending troops to war, he contended.
“It’s a lesson that somehow we still haven’t learned,” he said, “that when you send people into harm’s way as you do in defense of those things that are most precious to us, freedom and justice, we somehow allow ourselves to forget about them when they come home, as though their lives somehow stopped and haven’t been dramatically changed by their experiences.”
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has a roughly $182 billion budget, stretched to the breaking point since servicemen and women began returning home from deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Aging veterans have increased needs for nursing home beds. Injured veterans have asked for more help with rehabilitation. Those suffering from post-traumatic stress and other ailments have met difficulty getting adequate mental health treatment.
Since the start of the War on Terror, the Veterans Administration has struggled to keep up with claims and have been working against a huge backlog.
At the same time, homelessness and a soaring suicide rate among veterans have plagued the ranks of those who served.
Fr. Timothy O’Connor of St. Joseph and Nativity Catholic churches delivered an invocation at Friday’s ceremony, asking for a blessing on veterans and their families as well as active military and first responders.
“Be their power and protector, leading them from darkness to light,” he prayed.
This year’s event was expanded to honor Amherst police, firefighters, and ambulance workers as well as Lorain County sheriff’s deputies.
Lou Maglio of Fox 8 News in Cleveland introduced a line of safety personnel, who were received by applause as two Titan aircraft flew over the city, leaving behind a trail of white vapor.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Photos by Jason Hawk | Amherst News-Times Bruce Weigl, a college professor and veteran who has authored 14 books of poetry, says veterans deserve better care from those who deploy them to protect American ideals abroad.