The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing -- Edmund Burke

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Treated Like A Brown Paper Bag

Thomas D. Segel

Thomas D. Segel

tsegel@americasvoices.org          
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January 7, 2005

 

Retired military personnel are very busy these days telling those gathered in Washington just what is on their collective minds.  They are sending messages scrawled across ripped 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.

The 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. Government challenging the 1995 policy of kicking military retirees, their spouses and widows over 65 years of age out of military medical facilities.

The lawsuit ended in 2003 at the United States Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case.  Earlier, however, the Federal Appeals Court language 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 legislative body 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.  Most doctors, 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 Senator 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:

Senator (names of your senators)
U.S. Capitol
Washington D.C.  20510

and to:

Representative (names of your representatives)
U.S. Capitol
Washington D.C.  20515

A message could also be sent to 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.

 

Copyright Copyright 2020 by Thomas D. Segel & America's Voices, Inc.  All rights reserved.
Tom Segel is a former combat correspondent and Master Gunnery Sergeant, USMC (Retired), who holds eight personal decorations for valor and meritorious service, along with the Thomas Jefferson Award for Journalistic Excellence, six Armed Forces Writers League awards for Outstanding Achievement and the title of Military Journalist of the Year.  Nationally published in both print and online media, his conservative writings are distributed by the Paragon Foundation News Service, and he now writes for America's Voices.  The author of several books, his Men in Space, published by Paladin Press, was selected for both the national high school and junior high school library lists.  Mr. Segel resides in Harlingen, Texas with his wife, Pattie.  You can e-mail Tom at tsegel@americasvoices.org.

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