The Super Bowl is a football game, but it long ago ceased being about football, with all the attention paid to the backstories of the players, the amount of money being paid for tickets, the celebrities in the stadium, the half-time show and the expensive ads. It’s a shame, because there’s something to be said about watching the two (supposedly) best teams in the league face off. This year, the distractions were a bit more understandable, given the humiliating rout by the Seattle Seahawks of the Denver Broncos (I myself took to flipping over to watch the Kitten Bowl, where Meow-shawn Lynch and Tomcat Brady were occasionally penalized for illegal use of paws or fluffing the passer; they did sometimes mix up the game by stopping mid-field to take a nap – but hey, so did the Broncos). So it’s understandable that the advertising would take a more prominent role in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Many people were likely moved by the ads and other tributes to the troops. There was the Budweiser ad, showing a (healthy-looking) soldier being treated to a warm homecoming. There were the videos of the troops overseas, saying hello to folks back in the States and promising they’d be home soon. There were the scenes of troops waving hello and presumably watching (one hopes) the game from afar.
That’s all very nice. But it’s so appallingly inadequate that it adds up to being an insult.
Perhaps it’s because Americans (even those who weren’t alive then) still feel guilty about the way Vietnam War veterans were treated when they came back to the States. Never mind that they had been largely drafted into a wildly unpopular war; they were still called “baby killers” by those who failed to understand the difference between the people who order wars and those who end up having to fight in them. And it’s true that modern-day veterans are given, superficially, a warmer welcome. It’s just that it’s not remotely enough.
When veterans return from war, they face a plethora of problems, ranging from health-related troubles to financial stress. Some 7 percent of the population is homeless, but 13 percent of vets have no place to live. And that doesn’t count those who are in serious danger of losing their homes. On any given night in 2012, the Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates, 62,000 veterans were homeless. Many live in poverty, with 900,000 receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan benefits (food stamps) – and the House recently voted to cut $8 billion from the program.
Health – be it recovering from a physical injury, dealing with a sexual assault or grappling with the mental and emotional stress of being in combat – is another huge and underaddressed challenge. According to the online activist group DoSomething.org:
- One in three veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan will face a serious psychological injury, and 20 percent have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Only half of those screening positive for PTSD or major depression seek help.
- Healthcare for a veteran with PTSD costs 3.5 times as much as care for those not diagnosed with the disorder.
- Suicides among U.S. troops are up, averaging nearly one a day. Suicide has risen to the highest noncombat death toll among soldiers. Veterans account for 20 percent of all U.S. suicides.
According to a Pentagon report, violent sexual crime in the military has increased 64 percent since 2006. The study said that “rape, sexual assault, and forcible sodomy were the most frequent violent sex crimes committed in 2011.”
Veterans also face extra challenges finding a job when they get home. The unemployment rate for recent veterans is substantially higher than that for vets overall or the American public overall, the Council of Economic Advisers reported. The added struggle is due to disability, lack of training in civilian work and difficulty transitioning from a combat environment to life back home.
Saying “thank you” is a no-brainer, even if you were opposed to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and even if you are opposed to all wars. This isn’t about making a statement on U.S. foreign policy. It’s about showing support and compassion for people who have displayed extraordinary commitment and bravery.
It means making mental health treatment a priority for vets. It means making sure they have roofs over their heads and something to eat. It means providing counseling to those who were sexual assault victims. It means hiring a veteran, even when his or her on-paper skills don’t immediately appear to fill the needs of a job description.
Veterans have earned the right to have their government and fellow citizens give back to them. A sappy Super Bowl commercial just isn’t going to cut it.