I had checked “veteran” on the driver’s license renewal form I took to the Chinatown satellite City Hall. “Do you have your DD214?” the clerk asked. My what? Oh, yeah, my military service discharge paper. The one somewhere down deep with my fireproof-safe  documents.

I hadn’t had that one out for maybe 20 years. The last time to see if I qualified for VA medical coverage. I didn’t.

But the DD214 is there. Three years in the USAF. Almost all of it in Germany. Funny, though, nobody but the VA and the licensing clerk has ever asked me (1) did you do military service and (2) show me the evidence so we know you’re not one of those fakers. My news coverage of wars in Vietnam and Iraq doesn’t count. But I was making pretty good money and people back here at home treated me as a kind of hero while ignoring or poorly treating the people who fought.

With Lt. Col. Peter Kama of Waimanalo in I Corps, South Vietnam, 1972

We lavished praise on our WWII veterans, somewhat watered down praise for those who were in the Korean War, and were often downright hostile to those who came back from the Vietnam War. The Iraq/Afghanistan affair has been going on so damn long that only separated families or the relatives of the dead care about it or the people in it. Plus the fact that every trooper who even did MP, medical or clerical work somewhere in that “theater of war” seems to call him/herself a “combat veteran.”  Right! It was hand-to-hand combat to get into the head of the chow line or a good seat to watch a football game on TV.

But for those who have been true “combat soldiers” — I often wonder if we under-appreciate them, give them a just reward, or just try to ignore them unless they’re legless or armless.

There’s a lot of sappy stuff online, telling us how veterans protected our freedoms, fought while we enjoyed civilian life at its fullest, and suffered physical and emotional hangovers. That’s all true enough, but it also requires the country to be an agreement with the war or “police action” that caused all that disruption of young lives. We’ve not been in agreement recently. We even wonder how it is that China has become a great world power without going into a foreign war at all in modern times.

The politics and policies aside, I’ve always felt we do owe something to veterans — especially true combat ones rather than the “back on base” ones. They did the dirty work while the rest of us built job resumes, made money and bought houses.

A specialist 4th class, a common rank, makes $27,151 – $32,958  a year. An E-5 sergeant $29,610 – $42,023. Captains do fairly well, but not up to a civilian salary, $52,600 – $85,576 . Colonels draw $83,174 – $147,244 per year, and if you make just one-star general your pay jumps to $109,681 – $163,872 per year.

So at the higher end, not so terrible. But let’s say you’re a Marine corporal, a common rank, and maybe you’re married with kids and your wife isn’t working. Your pay is $27,151 – $32,958 per year. That’s barely a livable wage.

The only good thing about that is that if you serve in a “combat zone” you don’t have to pay federal income tax on your salary. To get that exemption you have to be assigned to a combat zone that’s been approved by the IRS and you have to be receiving special pay “for duty subject to hostile fire or imminent danger.”  So yes, that clerk or base military police trooper qualifies because the base could be hit by a rocket or mortar. So, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, now an Army reserve major, would have qualified even when she was based in Kuwait, next door to Iraq during hostilities between us and ISIS and some Shiite dissidents.

There are VA programs that aid with education, mortgages and medical care. But never enough money to pay for what’s well deserved. The VA is not a priority budget item. I don’t see much moving in that direction this coming Congress because of the revenue loss due to Covid.

There’s no civilian pressure because so many Americans are totally fed up with our Middle East mess that seems endless and already is the longest ongoing combat in our history.

The best way to honor veterans would be to say “we’ve screwed up a lot over the years and we’re done sending combat troops into foreign countries where we become all sides’ enemy eventually.”

That’s right. No combat engagements unless we or one of our treaty allies are attacked without military provocation.

Meanwhile, here at home, we really do need some kind of reward better than one free meal for a veteran at Chili’s Bar & Grill or Wendy’s on Veterans’ Day.



Published by Bob Jones

Journalist since age 19. St. Petersburg Times, Noticias y Viajes in Madrid, Overseas Weekly in Frankfurt and Paris, the Louisville Courier- Journal, the Honolulu Advertiser, KGMB-TV, NBC News foreign correspondent in Africa and Southeast Asia, and MidWeek columnist. LL.B LaSalle University Law. 3 years in the U.S. Air Force. Covered: Biafran War in Nigeria (1968) Vietnam War (1969-73), Iraq in 1991. George Foster Peabody Award for distinguished journalism for reporting in China. 2 Emmys for documentaries. Married to journalist Denby Fawcett; one daughter. Brett Jones, foreign service officer, State Department.

7 replies on “Do We Ignore And/Or Under-Reward Them?”

  1. Armistice Day! America has not heeded, nor has peace been a goal! Instead it has ravenged human life and the planet! As you stated well, “ we’ve screwed up a lot over the years and we are done sending combat troops into foreign countries.” Best thing for Veterans and their families! All that wasted money! That wasted human life!😢

  2. Yes. The get-out-of-wars needs to permeate human consciousness. And then, how to employ all those affiliated w/war machine.

  3. I thought China invaded Tibet and Vietnam in modern times and was involved in the Cambodian and Laotian communist takeovers among others.

    1. Tibet wasn’t really an “invasion” so much as a total takeover of an area that historically belonged to the Chinese Empire of old. You are correct about that brief Vietnam invasion, although it only lasted a few weeks and China got its ass kicked and withdrew. Maybe I should have said no lengthy foreign military troops involvement.

  4. Thank you for honoring veterans with your column today. Veterans are absolutely under-rewarded and deserve so much. I didn’t know the pay for lower ranks was so little. You should qualify for VA medical coverage with three years of service. Due to Covid, as you pointed out, U.S. Congress probably won’t be able to do much for veterans, but maybe they can find funding. Locally, it would be good if merchants gave veterans a daily discount, but again, due to Covid, probably unlikely at this time. And definitely, I agree that best way to honor veterans is to stop unnecessary military involvement in foreign conflicts.

  5. It’s a shame how we never hear those flag-waving Republican members of Congress (led by that great man-of-the-people Mitch McConnell) propose eliminating the Federal Income tax for ALL members of the Services. They prefer to push more plans for cutting or eliminating taxes for as many large corporations as possible under the guise of “It’s good for American Business”. Of course, members of our Military don’t make all those large “campaign” contributions. The sad truth is the people who make up our Military are mostly ignored, except when the public gets a day off. Perhaps the Biden Presidency will correct that neglect.

    1. I would not eliminate all federal income tax. employment is employment. combat vets do get an exemption. i’m more interested in help with mortgages and get-life-back-together loans.

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