Iraq veterans find the war at home is with red tape
Glenda Flowers stood at the edge of a crowd of angry veterans at San Francisco's War Memorial building. They had been waiting months, even years, to hear whether they would receive disability benefits, and they were tired of excuses.
Flowers, a 31-year-old Iraq veteran and mother of two, had come to the meeting with a pair of Veterans Affairs officials because she wanted to be heard. But she was trying too hard to fight back tears to take the microphone.
The social worker who accompanied her couldn't let her be overlooked.
“Nobody brought up here that a lot of these young vets have children,” said Marcy Orosco, who heads a Salvation Army transitional housing program in San Francisco. “Because of this wait, she was living in her car with her children.… What are you going to do about that?”
Flowers, a small, compact woman eager for adventure, thought the Army would be her life. But when her marriage to a fellow soldier and her mental health collapsed under the strain of their tours to Iraq, she found herself alone with her children facing the prospect of another deployment.
She left the Army in January 2010 and submitted a benefits claim the same month, citing post-traumatic stress disorder and injuries from years of parachute jumps, among other ailments.
She didn't know it at the time, but her application would become a case study in the kinds of issues that can delay a claim.
Another Iraq veteran, Ari Sonnenberg, said the agonizing wait and bureaucratic bungling added to an already painful transition to civilian life. He wonders how many people will want to serve in the future.
“I never used to understand why the Vietnam guys were so bitter,” he said. “We're very quick to send people to war, but we're super slow taking care of those people that actually make that sacrifice.”
#storysongs combo: “Think You Can Wait,” by the National. “I was drifting, crying/I was looking for an island/I was slipping under.” A sadly beautiful song.
If you have ideas for story-song pairings of your own, tweet the title and artist to @karihow or @LATgreatreads with the hashtag #storysongs.