This Veterans Day, Don’t Just Thank Us,
Fight Alongside Us for Change
By Brittany Ramos DeBarros BNC 2022, Candidate for Congress, NY-11
When I returned from a year-long Army combat deployment in Afghanistan, I landed in Staten Island and it has been my chosen home ever since. Tad, my then boyfriend, now husband, had already moved to New York for an accounting job and after months of his faithful letters, care packages and support, I agreed to join him here when I redeployed. We chose our first apartment together here in Staten, fell in love with this island, and eventually bought our first home down the street thanks to help from a Veterans Affairs (VA) loan.
I’ve been home for almost a decade now and Veterans Day still brings a flood of painful memories and complex emotions. Every year there are parades, festivities and politicians posing for photos. And every year, as we’re trotted out like props by both political parties, I wonder how many more Veterans have been created by endless, expensive wars, and how many more of us have died at home lacking adequate care and support that some claim is “too expensive.”
Please don’t misunderstand me, the acknowledgement is important and I’m incredibly grateful for the services and resources I do have access to as a Veteran that many others don’t have.
When I was getting on my feet post-deployment, I was able to enjoy a free steak dinner at Charlie Brown’s with my husband every Veterans Day and it was a blessing to us. My point is that recent surveys estimate that at least 90,000 active duty military families face hunger on any given day. An estimated additional 20,000 military families rely on SNAP benefits to eat and make ends meet. Hunger Action Network of New York State estimates that almost 3 million Veterans and their families face hunger. This is before we talk about unemployment, poverty, housing and more.
Year after year, Members of Congress from both parties have voted for the military budget knowing that nearly half of it goes to corporations while active troops, especially lower-enlisted, are paid such a pittance that they struggle to feed their families. In turn, those Defense corporations pour millions into lobbying and campaign contributions to ensure our tax dollars keep making them richer. We should call that what it is: corruption.
How many of the politicians who will tweet about us, pose with us, and claim they support us on Veterans Day will turn around and vote against public healthcare, housing assistance, SNAP benefits, paid family leave, cannabis decriminalization, and more that would be life-changing for us? We should call that what it is: hypocrisy.
Right here in Staten Island we have over 10 percent of the NYC veteran population, despite making up only about five percent of the population of the city, but most of us have to travel to Brooklyn or Manhattan to access VA appointments because our facility here is so underfunded. I’m so grateful I received mental health care here in Staten Island through a non-profit because there’s no way I could have kept up with appointments all over the city while struggling to adjust back to civilian life and hold down a job. We have one of the highest Vietnam Veteran populations in the country here and many of them live on fixed incomes but pay NYC’s highest bridge toll multiple times a week to go to their appointments in Brooklyn. To add insult to injury, Veterans in Staten Island receive far less in Basic Housing Assistance than their counterparts in other boroughs despite these additional expenses and access barriers.
It took me a while to realize it, but when I came home from war I was traumatized and in shock. I didn’t need pats on the back, I needed care and investment. In the years to follow, as the war continued, my wounds would be ripped open again and again.
I didn’t need pats on the back, I needed care and investment. In the years to follow, as the war continued, my wounds would be ripped open again and again. Standing in a bar, ears ringing, seeing breaking news we had bombed the hospital in Kunduz where so many Afghans and volunteers I met there had worked. The utter devastation I felt reading the Afghanistan Papers in the Washington Post, proof that military and elected officials had been knowingly lying to us about the war. Listening to new, teenage troops assigned to my Detachment saying they “couldn’t wait to deploy,” knowing they didn’t fully grasp what they would be a part of. Watching whistleblowers go to prison for proving 9 out of 10 people killed by our drones were unintended targets, like the family we killed on the heels of our withdrawal, while none of the leaders responsible faced any repercussions.
In order to heal, many of us don’t need accolades, we need accountability for the lies that led to our moral injury and the corrupt profiteering that continues to flourish at our expense. We need investment in jobs, care and infrastructure that help our families and our communities thrive. And we need real change. No more reckless, destabilizing wars that increase national security threats and decrease military readiness. And no more members of Congress who lack the courage and conviction to address waste, fraud, and abuse.
There are incredible individuals and organizations working hard to meet needs every day, but still, military members, families and Veterans are needlessly suffering. If enough of us come together, we can change that. Please, this Veterans Day, don’t just thank us and move on. Commit to fight alongside us to ensure no one goes hungry, and everyone has access to a good home, a good job, and the care they need. Fight alongside us for change.
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