Sunday, April 6, 2003

Alive and well

Iraq vets might get fewer services

I'm a longtime lover of folk songs and traditional ballads, and one of the earliest in my mental repertoire is one most will recognize:

When Johnny comes marching home again,

Hurrah! Hurrah!

We'll give him a hearty welcome then,

Hurrah! Hurrah!

The men will cheer, the boys will shout,

The ladies, they will dance about,

And we'll all be there,

When Johnny comes marching home!

The song is memorable to me because the first version I heard was not the American version, but the original Irish lament that exposed the consequences of war:

Where are your legs that used to run, hurroo, hurroo

Where are your legs that used to run, hurroo, hurroo

Where are your legs that used to run

When you went for to carry a gun

Indeed your dancing days are done

Oh Johnny, I hardly knew ye.

I remember shuddering a bit when I first heard those Irish verses - becoming more graphic and gruesome as they unfold, from a "Where are your eyes that were so mild," to "Ye're an armless, boneless, chickenless egg" - not only because they conjure such inescapably clear images, but also, I suspect, because I knew that the wounded Johnny was, in disability, related to me.

Whatever your view on the war in Iraq, the reality is that men and women will return with serious injuries and disabilities.

We have done well in the past several decades to build veterans' programs for returning disabled soldiers, honoring their commitment to country by caring for them and returning them to life.

Rehabilitation programs instituted for war veterans have led to some of our ongoing practices, with two of the most obvious examples being methods in teaching paralyzed individuals to continue life by using a wheelchair properly, and helping blinded veterans to travel independently with a white cane.

Many rehabilitated war veterans are some of our most productive citizens - doctors, lawyers, engineers, mechanics, teachers. But that might not be the case for soldiers who become disabled in Iraq.

In addition to cuts to Medicare, Social Security and other programs for the disabled, women and the elderly, the budget being hammered out by Congress this week proposes a $14 billion cut to veterans' services. Where programs and services initiated to serve and rehabilitate our war veterans after World War II and later have grown to be standard training for all Americans with disabilities, loved ones of soldiers in this war might well wonder if their returning heroes will have the opportunity to be rehabilitated at all.

The image stamped in my young mind of the "armless, legless" Johnny, the Johnny whose love inquired "Where are your eyes that were so mild/ When my heart you so beguiled" would soon be replaced with gratitude to the disabled veterans programs that standardized methods for my friends to travel the streets in wheelchairs, and to walk safely with white canes.

The world is watching us for many reasons. Will one of them be that the once honorable approach to bringing war veterans into the mainstream has been replaced with a shameless lack of services?

Contact Deborah Kendrick by phone: 673-4474; fax: 321-6430; e-mail:

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