How Veterans Are Losing the War at Home: Making America Pain-Free for Plutocrats and Big Pharma, But Not Vets
Ann Jones writes at TomDispatch.com:
A friend of mine, a Vietnam vet, told me about a veteran of the Iraq War who, when some civilian said, “Thank you for your service,” replied: “I didn’t serve, I was used.” That got me thinking about the many ways today’s veterans are used, conned, and exploited by big gamers right here at home.
Near the end of his invaluable book cataloguing the long, slow disaster ofAmerica’s War for the Greater Middle East, historian Andrew Bacevich writes:
Some individuals and institutions actually benefit from an armed conflict that drags on and on. Those benefits are immediate and tangible. They come in the form of profits, jobs, and campaign contributions. For the military-industrial complex and its beneficiaries, perpetual war is not necessarily bad news.
Bacevich is certainly right about war profiteers, but I believe we haven’t yet fully wrapped our minds around what that truly means. This is what we have yet to take in: today, the U.S. is the most unequal country in the developed world, and the wealth of the plutocrats on top is now so great that, when they invest it in politics, it’s likely that no elected government can stop them or the lucrative wars and “free markets” they exploit.
Among the prime movers in our corporatized politics are undoubtedly the two billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, and their cozy network of secret donors. It’s hard to grasp how rich they really are: they rank fifth (David) and sixth (Charles) on Business Insider’s list of the 50 richest people in the world, but if you pool their wealth they become by far the single richest “individual” on the planet. And they have pals. For decades now they’ve hosted top-secret gatherings of their richest collaborators that sometimes also feature dignitaries like Clarence Thomas or the late Antonin Scalia, two of the Supreme Court Justices who gave them the Citizens United decision,suffocating American democracy in plutocratic dollars. That select donor group had reportedly planned to spend at least $889 million on this year’s elections and related political projects, but recent reports note a scaling back and redirection of resources.
While the contest between Trump and Clinton fills the media, the big money is evidently going to be aimed at selected states and municipalities to aid right-wing governors, Senate candidates, congressional representatives, and in some cities, ominously enough, school board candidates. The Koch brothers need not openly support the embarrassing Trump, for they’ve already proved that, by controlling Congress, they can significantly control the president, as they have already done in the Obama era.
Yet for all their influence, the Koch name means nothing, pollsters report, to more than half of the U.S. population. In fact, the brothers Koch largely stayed under the radar until recent years when their roles as polluters, campaigners against the environment, and funders of a new politics came into view. Thanks to Robert Greenwald’s film Koch Brothers Exposed and Jane Mayer’s book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, we now know a lot more about them, but not enough.
They’ve always been ready to profit off America’s wars. Despite their extreme neo-libertarian goal of demonizing and demolishing government, they reportedly didn’t hesitate to pocket about $170 million as contractors for George W. Bush’s wars. They sold fuel (oil is their principal business) to the Defense Department, and after they bought Georgia Pacific, maker of paper products, they supplied that military essential: toilet paper.
But that was small potatoes compared to what happened when soldiers came home from the wars and fell victim to the profiteering of corporate America. Dig in to the scams exploiting veterans, and once again you’ll run into the Koch brothers.
Pain Relief: With Thanks from Big Pharma
It’s no secret that the VA wasn’t ready for the endless, explosive post-9/11 wars. Its hospitals were already full of old vets from earlier wars when suddenly there arrived young men and women with wounds, both physical and mental, the doctors had never seen before. The VA enlarged its hospitals, recruited new staff, and tried to catch up, but it’s been running behind ever since.
It’s no wonder veterans’ organizations keep after it (as well they should), demanding more funding and better service. But they have to be careful what they focus on. If they leave it at that and overlook what’s really going on — often in plain sight, however disguised in patriotic verbiage — they can wind up being marched down a road they didn’t choose that leads to a place they don’t want to be.
Even before the post-9/11 vets came home, a phalanx of drug-making corporations led by Purdue Pharma had already gone to work on the VA. These Big Pharma corporations (many of which buy equipment from Koch Membrane Systems) had developed new pain medications — opioid narcoticslike OxyContin (Purdue), Vicodin, Percocet, Opana (Endo Pharmaceuticals), Duragesic, and Nucynta (Janssen, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson) — and they spotted a prospective marketplace. Early in 2001, Purdue developed a plan to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars targeting the VA. By the end of that year, this country was at war, and Big Pharma was looking at a gold mine.
They recruited doctors, set them up in private “Pain Foundations,” and paid them handsomely to give lectures and interviews, write studies and textbooks, teach classes in medical schools, and testify before Congress on the importance of providing our veterans with powerful painkillers. In 2002, the Food and Drug Administration considered restricting the use of opioids, fearing they might be addictive. They were talked out of it by experts like Dr. Rollin Gallagher of the American Academy of Pain Medicine and board member of the American Pain Foundation, both largely funded by the drug companies. He spoke against restricting OxyContin.
By 2008, congressional legislation had been written — the Veterans’ Mental Health and Other Care Improvement Act — directing the VA to develop a plan to evaluate all patients for pain. When the VA objected to Congress dictating its medical procedures, Big Pharma launched a “Freedom from Pain” media blitz, enlisting veterans’ organizations to campaign for the bill and get it passed.
Those painkillers were also dispatched to the war zones where our troops were physically breaking down under the weight of the equipment they carried. By 2010, a third of the Army’s soldiers were on prescription medications — and nearly half of them, 76,500, were on prescription opioids — which proved to be highly addictive, despite the assurance of experts like Rollin Gallagher. In 2007, for instance, “The American Veterans and Service Members Survival Guide,” distributed by the American Pain Foundation and edited by Gallagher, offered this assurance: “[W]hen used for medical purposes and under the guidance of a skilled health-care provider, the risk of addiction from opioid pain medication is very low.”
By that time, here at home, soldiers and vets were dying at astonishing rates from accidental or deliberate overdoses. . .