personnel are very
busy these days telling those gathered in Washington just
what is on their
collective minds. They are sending messages scrawled
fragments of brown paper bags to every member of
Congress. In various forms
the letters are saying "This is how you treated us.
We were used and then tossed out, just like a worn out
brown paper bag."
But, there is also a
very serious demand trumpeted by these tattered pieces
of brown paper. They are a reminder that Congress has
failed career service
personnel. They tell members of Congress that military
men and women have
not forgotten the United States has broken another
promise to them, the
promise of earned health care for life after more than 20
years of faithful
service to the country. The brown bag messages also urge
each member of
Congress to pass a bill that reinstates that long
promised health care.
Brown Paper Bag
Project was launched on November 24, 2004. It was
suggested by Air Force retiree Thomas Gould and supported
by Medal of Honor
recipient Colonel George "Bud" Day, the former POW and
attorney who heads
the Class Act Group which filed a lawsuit against the U.S.
challenging the 1995 policy of kicking military retirees,
their spouses and
widows over 65 years of age out of military medical
The lawsuit ended in
2003 at the United States Supreme Court, which refused
to hear the case. Earlier, however, the Federal Appeals
clearly indicated the U.S. government has a moral
obligation to do what it
said it would do, provide government funded lifetime
medical care to retirees
and their dependents.
Organizers feel that the
new Brown Paper Bag campaign will bring military
retirees concerns to the attention of Congress. A piece
of brown paper torn
from the side of an old bag, with its hand printed or
written message is
assured of standing out in the flood of daily
congressional mail. To date
the military community has sent nearly 13,000 of these
messages and has a
target amount of 20,000 they hope will reach Congress by
the end of January.
Why is this "corny
sounding" campaign important? These soldiers, sailors,
airmen and Marines have tried everything else to get that
to honor the nation's promise.
Many of the concerned
retirees are people such as Jose Martinez of Texas,
who were refused their promised medical care.
Jose retired after
twenty years of service in the Army as a Master Sergeant. His first bout with failing health involved a long battle
to get the
government to accept the fact he had been severely
poisoned by Agent Orange
while serving in Vietnam. Next he developed diabetes.
because of its low payment schedule, refused the Tricare
medical plan. Not
yet 65 years of age, Jose did not qualify for Medicare.
He was forced to
wait on available space at a veteran's hospital 265
miles away. Blind and
with both legs amputated, Master Sergeant Jose Martinez
died two months ago.
He never did receive that promised care.
Perhaps better medical
care would have prevented this death. If our nation
had kept its promise, perhaps Jose would not have been
kept waiting for
medical treatment so desperately needed. There are many
stories similar to
this that can be recounted by retired military
personnel. What the Brown
Bag effort hopes to achieve is a continued education
process of Congress
through a unique communication method.
The final objective is
to cause every member of Congress to take a fresh
look at a new bill, which Representative
Chris Van Hollen
of Maryland and
Tim Johnson of South Dakota will introduce to
the 109th Congress. It will contain the language of the old HR3474 and
S2065 bills, which had
257 House, and 11 Senate co-sponsors. Those bills are
designed to restore
the long, promised health care benefits.
Harry Riley, who is
spokesman for the Class Act Group is attempting to have
every member of the retired military family send their
own brown paper bag
messages to Congress. He says, "Every retiree involved
in this broken
promise issue should do this once a week .... rip a piece
of old brown paper bag -- don't cut the section out nice and clean, just rip it
out with your
hands. It is important that everyone use the brown paper
bag .... no other
paper will do."
"Then on your piece of
paper bag .... just write it in grease pencil, paint,
pen, whatever, don't even try to be neat and tidy. Print
your quick message
to the congressman or congresswoman .... it doesn't have to be great
English or the "correct" words .... just plain words to
say 'You and the
government broke your
promise to me and my family' or 'I want you to put a
bill on the floor that restores my right to free medical care'
.... get the idea."
He suggests that each
person address the paper bag message to:
of your senators)
Washington D.C. 20510
of your representatives)
Washington D.C. 20515
A message could also be
President George W. Bush, White House, 1600
Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington D.C. 20500.
If enough retirees send
their messages to Washington, perhaps one day soon
the words of President Bush to our military community of
"Promises made will
be promises kept", will become a reality. For now,
however, they still feel
as if they have been treated like that old brown paper bag
.... used, wadded
up and tossed away.