The way we take care of our veterans says a lot about us as Americans, as well as our country. These men and women put their lives on the line in order to defend the Constitution and protect the security and well-being of the United States and its citizens. For those who give their lives in the line of duty, we erect monuments in their honor. Yet those who survive are left to fend for themselves, with little help from the government.
As a recent article in the New York Times pointed out, “Tens of thousands of reservists and National Guard troops, whose jobs were supposedly protected while they were at war, were denied prompt re-employment upon their return or else lost seniority, pay and other benefits.
Some 1.8 million veterans were unable to get care in veterans’ facilities in 2004 and lacked health insurance to pay for care elsewhere. Meanwhile, veterans seeking disability payments faced huge backlogs and inordinate delays in getting claims and appeals processed.”
Furthermore, according to the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs, nearly 200,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. And nearly 400,000 experience homelessness over the course of a year. Indeed, it is believed that veterans account for 23 percent of all homeless people in America.
Clearly, we have not done enough for our veterans. That’s why it’s so infuriating that when someone finally does, government bureaucrats try to stop them.
Take John Miska, for example. If you ever passed the 6’8” Vietnam War veteran, dressed in uniform and clutching a handful of small, delicate red poppies, you wouldn’t forget him.
A disabled Vietnam vet, “Big John” spends most of his free time either trying to raise awareness about the plight of today’s veterans or working to alleviate their troubles. Twice a month, Big John makes the two-hour drive from Ruckersville, Va., to Washington, DC, to help with a Sunday brunch for wounded soldiers and their families. Miska drives the troops over from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Hospital. Afterwards, Miska heads over to the National Mall, an area encompassing the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial, to hand out Buddy Poppies, which are the official memorial flowers of the VFW.
Strangely enough, after more than 30 years outside the war zone, it’s the Buddy Poppies that have put Big John back in the line of fire.
Since 1922, the Buddy Poppy has been synonymous with the VFW and veterans’ issues. As the VFW’s official memorial flower, the Poppy represents the blood shed by American service members and serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made by members of the U.S. military. The small, red artificial flowers are assembled by disabled veterans. They are then distributed by VFW members and supporters to raise awareness of veterans’ issues and to promote charitable donations to the VFW. Poppy assembly is often used as a therapy program for disabled veterans.
Attached to the flower’s wire stem is a rectangular paper tag identifying the flower as a Buddy Poppy with the insignia of the VFW. The tag also invites recipients to “WEAR IT PROUDLY” and show support for the VFW, its programs and veterans. The reverse side of the tag also bears the VFW insignia and contains the following message: “Proceeds to the Veterans of Foreign Wars for Veterans Assistance Programs.”
Any monies received by Miska are turned over to the VFW and used for veterans’ welfare, for the well-being of their needy dependents, for a disabled veterans’ relief fund and to support veterans’ hospitals. Donations also enable the VFW to pay disabled veterans for assembling the poppies. In most cases, the extra money provides income for the worker to pay for the little luxuries that make hospital life more tolerable.
That’s what makes it so outrageous that National Park Service officials in Washington, DC, have repeatedly harassed and threatened to prosecute Miska or confiscate his supply of Buddy Poppies if he accepted donations. Fortunately, Miska refused to back down and, with the help of The Rutherford Institute, filed a First Amendment lawsuit in federal court against the National Park Service.
The VFW has a motto that “we remember the dead by helping the living,” and Big John Miska takes that motto to heart. Wounded in Vietnam and recuperating at Walter Reed, he has first-hand knowledge of the price our wounded veterans pay to defend our freedoms. What’s more, having taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution, Miska knows exactly what his rights are. And he’s not about to back down, especially when it comes to standing up for wounded veterans. It’s unfortunate, however, that his opponents are U.S. government officials. They should be ashamed.
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at www.rutherford.org.