Honoring Those Heroes Who Have Defended Us
Report Issued Week Leading up to Memorial Day
Memorial Day originated in 1868 to honor the sacrifices of soldiers in the Civil War. During the first commemoration, James Garfield, a former Union general, gave a speech at Arlington National Cemetery.
“We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke,” Garfield was quoted as saying. “But we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country, they accepted death and thus resolved all doubts and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.”
The solemn holiday was observed every year since then in neighborhoods across America, and in 1873, New York officially designated it as an official day of remembrance – the first state to do so. In 1971, Congress designated in on a federal level. It takes place on the last Monday in May and is highlighted by the president or vice president laying a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Web site usmemorialday.com has this to say about the occasion: “Memorial Day started off as a somber day of remembrance; a day when Americans went to cemeteries and placed flags or flowers on the graves of our war dead. It was a day to remember ancestors, family members, and loved ones who gave the ultimate sacrifice. But now, too many people “celebrate” the day without more than a casual thought to the purpose and meaning of the day. How do we honor the 1.8 million that gave their life for America since 1775? How do we thank them for their sacrifice? We believe Memorial Day is one day to remember.”
On May 28, the country will come together to honor veterans who fought and died for freedom. The American Association for Justice is hopeful the country also will come together to protect the rights of veterans who are alive.
“There are just over two million men and women in the uniformed services of the United States,” states Sue Steinman, the association’s senior director of policy and senior counsel, in a recently released a report titled “Fighting for Those Who Fight for Us: Protecting the Rights of Service members and Veterans.” “By voluntarily joining, all have signaled that they are prepared to risk their lives to defend their country. They do not appear at first blush to be a vulnerable community. Yet their unique situation – predominantly young and financially inexperienced, often relocated or deployed abroad and sometimes facing inconsistent access to phones and Internet – has made them a target for the unscrupulous.”
The report exposes how corporations take advantage of former and active members of the military and why the federal government fails to protect the population.
“Even as they drape themselves in the American flag, corporations have foreclosed on service members’ family homes, repossessed their cars, scammed their pensions, fired employees called to active duty and even profited from their life-insurance policies when they have been killed,” Steinman said. “Congress has passed laws to protect the rights of service members and veterans, including the Military Lending Act, the Service-members Civil Relief Act and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, but corporations frequently use legal maneuvers like forced arbitration to avoid accountability when they violate these laws.”
The first section in the report, with the heading “Profits Over People,” cites cases of predatory lending and identity theft.
“The typical American military base is surrounded by predatory lenders, rent-to-own stores, pawn shops, and car dealerships that target young men and women, often without good credit,” according to the report. “And such greedy behavior isn’t limited to smalltime lenders; large corporations, including the likes of JPMorgan Chase, Prudential, and United Airlines, have taken advantage of servicemembers, sometimes on a massive scale.”
Another section with the heading “Toxic Exposure” explains how America’s military has endured complications from asbestos, burn pits and Agent Orange.
“As if military service were not risky enough, servicemembers and veterans are at far greater risk for developing cancer than ordinary civilians, due to the multiple chemicals and carcinogens to which they are exposed,” according to the report. “Hundreds of thousands of military beneficiaries suffer from a broad array of cancers.”
The crux of the report centers on the Feres doctrine, which arose from the 1950 Supreme Court case Feres vs. United States. The Feres doctrine prohibits claims against the government by members of the military, as well as their families, for physical harm incurred during service. It is a top concern of the association, whose mission is to preserve the right to trial by jury.
“The lack of any real deterrent to negligent action has resulted in the kind of substandard care long considered unacceptable in the civilian world,” according to the report. “Far from saving fallen comrades, the Supreme Court’s misguided decision, and Congress’ failure to remedy it, routinely leave servicemembers behind in their time of greatest need.”