May 25th, 2014

Is the U.S. failing its veterans?

Today on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy CrowleyWes Moore, army veteran, advocate, and filmmaker, spoke about the challenges that soldiers face re-adjusting to civilian life and what these military veterans need.

A transcript and videos of the interview are available after the jump.


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CROWLEY: I talk about that with Wes Moore, an author and army combat veteran who fought in Afghanistan. He’s also the executive producer of “Coming Back with Wes Moore” which chronicles the stories of veterans adjusting to life back home.


CROWLEY: Flat out, is the United States of America failing its veterans? 

MOORE: We’ve had a level of structural dysfunction that’s existed for well over a decade with this. You know, a lot of the issues that we’re seeing right now at the V.A. are not new issues. 

CROWLEY: Do you blame Eric Shinseki, should he go? 

MOORE: Even if we get the resignation, then what? There are still — there are still structural barriers that are in place. And so, you know, we’ve had now four secretaries of the V.A. since 9/11. And we still have the same barriers in place.

So, while I think there needs to be real accountability and we need to figure out where this train goes and anyone who had any sense of what was happening, particularly as it now starts melding into the criminal side, needs to be held to account for that. We can’t simply think we’re going to fire someone and that’s going to solve a problem. 

CROWLEY: You consider yourself fortunate. You came back to a supportive family, you came back to a job. So, that made your transition easier. But what was hard about your transition? 

MOORE: Even with those things, everything was hard about the transition because you’re not coming back as the same person. And that’s one of the things we wanted to highlight with coming back is we always — we often think that just because a person makes it home, we can now breathe a sigh of relief and say, whew, I’m glad that’s over. Without understanding that that person is coming back as a changed person. The environment that they’re coming back to is a changed environment. So, that transition still becomes real even if you have things in place.

Now, this isn’t to say that, you know, what we didn’t want to do is delve into the swamp of insincerity on either side. This is everybody has issues and we’re all ticking time bombs or anything along those lines, because statistically that’s not even true. But the fact is is that we have to be able to account for levels of transition. We have to be able to account for the fact that the family that you’re coming back to, the community that you’re coming back to and you as a person are fundamentally changed.

CROWLEY: Some of the details you’ve written about is just like trash in the road. 

MOORE: Yes. (INAUDIBLE). You know, when you’re — when you’re in Iraq or in Afghanistan, everything is a potential threat. And so, you know, you see a pile of trash, that could potentially be a pile of trash or it could be a hidden IED. And so you’re now coming back to an environment where you see a trash can on the side of the road and your brain is doing flips. I had the same thing with me with lights where — for my time in Afghanistan, we had 100 percent light discipline. So, there are no white lights because white lights can be seen from miles away.

So, what happens when one week that’s your reality and then two weeks later you’re in Times Square? You know, your brain is doing flips. A lot of veterans who I know when they’re in classes they need to sit near an exit because they always want to know where is the exit point. These are things I think a lot of people don’t think about what that transition is like for a lot of vets but it’s very real when you think about (INAUDIBLE).

CROWLEY: Possibly the vets don’t know until they come home. 

MOORE: And we don’t prepare for that. 

CROWLEY: Do you remember someone special on Memorial Day? 

MOORE: I remember growing up, I didn’t really think much about Memorial Day. Memorial Day was the start of summer and Memorial Day was going to have barbecues. And in many ways, I now realize that Memorial Day is really one of the loneliest holidays that we have.

And I think Memorial Day just means so much more to me now because when I think about Memorial Day now, I think about Toby and I think about Brian. I think about friends who now are no longer here to celebrate with their families. They shape how I think about every day.

I stand here because of them. You know, we all understand, anyone that’s been in combat, there is a certain fatalism and such an arbitrary nature about this. I don’t stand here because we are any smarter, or better, or stronger, or better than the people that we lost.

We were lucky and we are thankful for the luck. And we just always want to make sure that their memory is never forgotten, their families are never forgotten. Whether it’d be those that were lost in combat, whether it’d be those that came back home and took their own life because they realized the war, they couldn’t leave it behind.

In the past now 22 months I’ve lost three friends, to suicide, all military veterans. One of them was a dear friend and we talked about coming back who’s my former roommate. Who everything seemed to be going well. He had a job. He just got married to a wonderful woman and had an extraordinary mother and got a call one day that he had shot himself.

I think that often times we don’t think about them on Memorial Day and we need to because these are people who love this country and fought for this country just like everyone else. These are all people who we will think about and we’ll celebrate and support not just on Memorial Day but for every day. 

CROWLEY: Wes Moore, I think you probably have given a lot of people pause on Memorial Day weekend and maybe get them to remember a little, if not, a specific person, all of the people. So, thank you so much for joining us on this day. I hope your memorial weekend goes well.

MOORE: Bless you. Thank you so much. 

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