We have arrived at that uniquely American celebration, Independence Day.
We hope for good weather and fireworks, sparklers, hot dogs and family picnics. We revel in the day, celebrating 235 years of freedom from the dastardly King George and his British minions and the succession of other miscreants and despots weve vanquished since.
Another tradition this time of year is an e-mail that gets widely circulated. The basic premise is that none of the freedoms we enjoy would be possible without the men and women who serve and served in our armed forces.
Those now serving in Iraq and Afghanistan continue the long tradition of Americans fighting on foreign soil in the name of ideals established back home. They are paying a staggering price. More than 6,000 have died, and nearly 36,000 have sustained wounds or injuries sufficient to require hospitalization. Many of those are catastrophic injuries, including brain trauma requiring months or years of rehabilitation.
Depending on whose numbers you trust, another 200,000 to 300,000 are suffering the very real and disabling effects of post traumatic stress disorder.
To their credit, President Obama and Congress have increased funding for the Veterans Administration specifically to try and deal with the medical and rehabilitation needs of our returning vets. Unfortunately, it isnt enough. Nor have we even begun to address other issues afflicting returning vets.
It is an ongoing puzzlement and shame that our veterans, especially those returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters, who did so well on our behalf on foreign soil are doing so poorly once they return home.
They have significantly higher divorce rates than non-vets in the same demographic groups and returning women vets are three times more likely to get divorced than their male counterparts. They have higher rates of drug abuse and addiction, including alcoholism, than the general public. They are more likely to encounter the criminal justice system and not in a good way.
Most tragically, according to the Veterans Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate among returning vets in the 18-29 age group has reached a stunning 44.7 per 100,000, nearly four times the national average.
Despite the commercials showing bright young men and women learning valuable skills and obtaining a practical education to help them in the civilian work force, chronic unemployment might be the most daunting reality facing returning vets. It turns out risking life and limb in a combat zone does not provide the skill set necessary for gainful employment in todays economy.
According to the Department of Labor, unemployment among vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is 14.7% compared to about 9% for the rest of us. For young vets, 18-24, its even worse, a stultifying 21.1%.
It is a lot of sacrificing being done by a small segment of our population. They deserve far better on their return home.
While we celebrate our independence, and brave men and women try to protect that independence by putting their lives at risk thousands of miles from home, our politicians here have embarked on a different path.
Congress recently extended the Patriot Act. So while we claim were bringing freedom to the poor, bedraggled Iraqis and Afghanis, we continue to see our own freedoms eroded.
The Patriot Act and its satellite legislation give us warrantless wire taps, traps on our cell phone and internet activity, suspension of habeas corpus, military tribunals in which normal protections we take for granted have been summarily suspended or eliminated altogether (some defendants will not even be allowed access to the evidence being used against them), detention without the right or ability to contact a lawyer or family member, and torture we euphemistically call enhanced interrogation techniques. It gives us airport security excesses that include pat-downs of three-year-olds and searches of a 95-year-old womans adult diaper.
Were told its all essential in our war against terror, that some people dont deserve rights even if theyve never been convicted of anything, that these intrusions into the Bill of Rights protects us from the terrorists, that torturing prisoners is somehow acceptable if weve sufficiently demonized them and some useful information might be obtained in the process. And, hey, you just never know when someones great-great grandmother might have explosives tucked away in her Depends or when someones infant might have anthrax in her pacifier.
The problem is those laws being used against our worst enemies can also be used against our best citizens.
These assaults on the Bill of Rights simply are not, and cannot be, any part of what our military is defending. It would be a cruel betrayal of the sacrifices they make. Yet, the politicians continue to send them off on missions defending freedom while chipping away at ours here at home.
The Fourth of July is a time we celebrate our history and we still have much to celebrate. Once the picnics are over and the fireworks a pleasant memory perhaps we should spend a minute or two thinking about the 5th of July and beyond.
We can hope for a future Fourth of July when our politicians finally start taking care of those theyve sent to war in the name of protecting us. And we elect politicians serious about preserving our freedoms here at home.