Next Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, a war many have since referred to as the "Forgotten War," possibly because it was sandwiched in history between the much heralded World War II and the highly controversial Vietnam War.
Others believe the "Forgotten War" moniker points to the fact that an American hero, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, had to be removed from command of troops in the three-year war resulting in the United States becoming divided on the merits of the war itself an unsettling time better forgotten.
For whatever reason, the war was forgotten for many years, but not by those Americans who lost 54,000 loved ones in the war, nor by nearly twice that number who were wounded in Korea. Several hundred thousand Chinese also were killed in the war and 2.5 million South Koreans were left homeless.
As tradition dictates, the United States spent billions of dollars on rebuilding South Korea after the war, much the same as it did for Europe and Japan after World War II.
More recently, the country has pledged billions for rebuilding countries after war in the Mideast, although a Bush administration oversight recently pointed out in an opinion piece by Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page stated the White House forgot to include funds to aid and rebuild Afghanistan in a budget request this year.
Fortunately for Afghanistan members of Congress remembered and inserted an allocation for that country that we made look like a million-hole golf course in our bomber pursuit of Osama bin Laden.
And earlier this year, $8 billion was set aside for international aid and relief in President Bush's $75 billion budget for the war in Iraq.
In all these instances, after the United States dropped untold numbers of bombs, fired still more artillery rounds and sent thousands of soldiers into combat, America has felt a responsibility to rebuild those countries.
But what about our own troops? Has the war budget, that always seems to include funds to rebuild devastated nations, ever included funds to rehabilitate our own returning veterans?
As pointed out recently by Ronald Conley, national commander of the American Legion America's largest veterans' organization "Since the time of the Greek city-state ... civilizations (provided) benefits for men and women who serve to protect their way of life.
"Any young man or woman who raises his or her right hand and takes the soldier's oath to defend their country, no matter the place or branch of service the government has an unwritten contract to care for them, a moral obligation. These people performed the ultimate act of citizenship," Conley said.
During his recent trial, Jeff Webster, who threw water on peace demonstrators, passed around a George Washington quote stating, "The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional as to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation."
Washington made the remark during debates as to whether the United States should conscript troops into service or depend upon an all-volunteer force. Webster's son Shane is a U.S. Marine who served in Iraq.
Conley believes the country has a veterans' health-care crisis throughout the United States right now and predicts a worsening of the situation as we are creating more veterans every day and money is not being directed toward the Veterans Administration's health care system.
Here on the Kenai Peninsula alone, 2,000 veterans are registered with the Vet Center in Soldotna and its director, Dave Caswell, said Alaska's sole VA medical center in Anchorage serves a patient base of between 6,500 and 7,000.
Caswell said it is not unusual for a new veteran to go six months before getting his or her first appointment at the medical center. Nonetheless, he said the Anchorage facility does "the best they can."
Contributing to the problem is the fact that VA health care is so good today that everyone wants in. In addition to being leaders in treating combat-related injuries, VA research scientists have been credited with such developments as the artificial heart pacemaker.
Unfortunately, as veterans from past wars such as World War II and Korea age, they need more medical care care that was to be provided by the veterans' health-care system. VA health-care workers also want to give that promised care, but funding for veterans' health care is not constant. It changes with administrations.
As America was preparing to go to war in Iraq, many folks put signs in their yards saying, "Support the troops." A lot of the signs went away after Baghdad was sacked and troops started coming home.
The health-care needs of those troops will not go away as quickly though, and as sure as the troops appreciated the many letters and boxes of homemade cookies that were sent to them while they were off in Kuwait or Iraq, help in assuring that the country meets its obligation to them as veterans also will be appreciated.
If everyone who sported a sign saying "Support the troops" sends just one letter to Congress or to the White House insisting on a budgetary set-aside for veterans' health care, perhaps the health care will be there when needed by the veteran.
Perhaps the veteran won't have to wait an average of six or seven months just to get an appointment to see a VA doctor.
And perhaps the nation will not forget the veteran who served without hesitation when called.
As the American Legion's Conley said, "Veterans' health care is a delayed cost of war." And, it should be budgeted for accordingly.
Phil Hermanek is a Clarion reporter and a U.S. Army veteran who served from 1967 to 1971.
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