Iowa delegation tries again to address military suicides (updated)

UPDATE: The U.S. Senate passed the Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans Mental Health Act of 2021 by unanimous consent on June 24, and President Joe Biden signed it into law on June 30. Original post follows.

From the earliest Memorial Day observances organized by freed slaves following the Civil War, this holiday has focused on remembering military service members who died in wars. More than 26,700 Iowans have died in wartime service, with the Civil War accounting for nearly half of the fatalities.

Far too many Americans with military backgrounds die by their own hands. Hundreds of active-duty troops and more than 6,000 veterans take their own lives every year. That death toll exceeds the total U.S. military fatalities in Iraq from 2003 to 2020.

Iowa’s members of Congress have tried again this spring to improve mental health services for veterans. Unlike in previous years, legislation named after Sergeant Brandon Ketchum made it through the U.S. House and now awaits action in the Senate.

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Memorial Day weekend open thread: Guns, not butter edition

Since Memorial Day was established a few years after the Civil War, Americans have marked the holiday every year by remembering our war dead (ok, almost all our war dead). In his weekly address, President Barack Obama asked Americans to honor “not just those who’ve worn this country’s uniform, but the men and women who’ve died in its service; who’ve laid down their lives in defense of their fellow citizens; who’ve given their last full measure of devotion to protect the United States of America.”

Every so often I read the I Got The News Today profiles of Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to an old Jewish teaching, saving one life is equivalent to saving the whole world. The IGTNT diaries, like “Six More Lost to All Who Loved Them,” are a crushing reminder that the death of one person is like the death of the whole world to the people left behind.

The IGTNT series will likely continue for many more years. The number of Americans killed in Afghanistan recently passed 1,000, and we are preparing to send an additional 30,000 troops there. Although we have fewer troops in Iraq now than we did for most of the past seven years, we have more troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined now than we did when Obama became president.  

The price of these wars is also enormous in monetary terms. On May 30 the estimated cost of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq exceeded $1 trillion. We could have done lots of things with that kind of money. On May 27 the U.S. Senate passed yet another war supplemental funding bill, this time for $58.8 billion. On May 28 the House passed the $726 billion Defense Authorization Bill for 2011 (roll call here). Iowa’s House members split on party lines, with Democrats Bruce Braley (IA-01), Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Leonard Boswell (IA-03) supporting them and Republicans Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05) voting no.

Meanwhile, Congress adjourned for the Memorial Day weekend without extending unemployment benefits or passing another jobs bill. This economic relief bill had already been watered down because of “concerns” about deficit spending. You’ll notice few members of Congress are concerned about deficit spending to fund our endless war machine.

For many, Memorial Day is a time to remember lost loved ones, regardless of whether they served in the military. Cedar Rapids Gazette columnist Todd Dorman’s mother recently died, and he wrote this tribute to her.

For some people, Memorial Day is first and foremost the unofficial beginning of summer. Feel free to share any fun plans or picnic recipes in the comments. We’ve been invited to a potluck tomorrow, and I haven’t decided whether to make my favorite chick pea dish (from Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking), a North African potato salad with olive oil and spices, or a pasta salad with a Chinese-style peanut butter sauce. I like to bring vegan dishes to potlucks so I don’t worry if they sit outside for a few hours. Also, the party I’m attending tomorrow may include some vegetarians and people who keep kosher (they don’t mix meat with dairy in the same meal).

This thread is for anything on your mind this weekend.

UPDATE: Graphs showing number of days in Iraq and number of U.S. deaths in Iraq before and after President George W. Bush announced “Mission Accomplished.”

Sen. Dodd talks about Memorial Day & thanks the troops

Senator Dodd speaks about honoring the troops on Memorial Day and all other days.

My Transcription:

But before starting that, this is Memorial Day weekend and I have some very strong views on Iraq, as Mark very graciously referred to. But one thing that I think all of us need to say on a day like this – and we ought to do it every day – is these young men and women who are serving our country, regardless of our views on Iraq, these are remarkable young people doing a very, very difficult job. How about a little round of applause for the kids serving all over, they do a great job.

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