Wednesday, September 11, 2013

9/11 Tribute: Marine On the Road

I don't know about you, but where I live there are people panhandling at nearly every intersection. Some are surely homeless, many purport to be raising money for this cause or that, and it is a daily, relentless assault. I remember living in New York when homeless people with squeegees would water down your windshield, wipe the water off with newspaper and then become belligerent if they weren't tipped. It's certainly nothing like that, but when I see these people hanging out at Starbucks or talking on their Iphone, you'll forgive me if I've become a bit cynical.

But there's one guy out there. I don't see him all the time. He's clearly a former Marine, he's in a wheelchair and is missing both his legs. He snaps a salute to those who are obviously fellow veterans, doesn't hold a sign asking for anything in particular and he rolls that chair up and down the hilly intersection where he occassionally appears. In the Texas heat.

This image - particularly on 9/11 - produces real mixed emotions for me. Unlike some other people who appear on this intersection and seem perfectly capable of finding work, I don't know that the same is true for this man. I cannot begin to understand what it might be like to be without both legs and I cannot really know how a prospective employer might respond to a man in his condition. Sure, I would like to imagine that if I were in a position to offer a job, I would feel more motivation to hire veterans, particularly those with some physical impairment. But that's easy for me to say or imagine.

Though I don't know much about this man, I have spoken to him on several occassions and I know he has a family and two young daughters. Again, it's dangerous to make broad assumptions based upon the situation of one man, but we can all acknowledge that it takes groups like the Wounded Warriors and Fisher House to supplement the inadequate care provided to the veteran community. In an age when 90 million adults are out of the workforce, but record numbers of presumably able-bodied people are receiving food stamps, welfare and subsidized cell phones, it outrages me that men and women who volunteered to serve this country are not provided whatever they reasonably need.

Our President says that the wealthiest don't pay their fair share in taxes these days. While I dismiss that notion on its face, I for one would be prepared to pay more in taxes; not for a larger federal government - not for additional entitlement spending - not for more than a dozen intelligence agencies - not for a national department of education - not for subsidies to congressional staffs to help them to pay for Obamacare. But to pay to provide adequate housing for handicapped veterans - to pay to provide a free college education for the children of veterans who sacrificed themselves in service.
I'm sure you get my drift.

Let's drop the theatrical outrage about the children affected by the chemical weapons attack in Syria. The attack is an abomination, of course, but if we're really worried about the impact of violence against children, we'll attack gang violence in Chicago, restrict all late term abortions and address the epidemic of pregnancy among single young women in this country. In the meantime, we've got a legitimate crisis on our hands: this country refuses to provide its veterans with the benefits they have earned and provides benefits to those who have other reasonable options. This cannot stand.

And neither can my poor friend who rolls his chair up and down the road in that unforegiving Texas heat.

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