Homeland Security Slanders Vets

An April 7 report from the Department of Homeland Security warning of a potential surge in rightwing extremists has an entire section dedicated to “Disgruntled Military Veterans.”

The report argues veterans’ combat skills and knowledge make them recruiting targets for rightwing extremist groups, vaguely defined in the report as any organization primarily hate-oriented, anti-government, or rejecting government authority in favor of state authority or no government at all. (Those who are against abortion and immigration got special mention.) The report expressed concern that “terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists” could emerge from “the return of military veterans facing significant challenges reintegrating into their communities.”

More than any previous action by the Obama administration, this report demonstrates the liberal disdain for the military.

To Pete Hegseth, an Iraq War veteran and chairman of Vets for Freedom, the report shows extreme naïveté by those inside DHS.

“They probably haven’t spent that much time with the soldiers and Marines that are serving and gotten to know who we really have out there fighting,” Hegseth said. “We’ve got veterans coming home, and they’re running for office, and they’re starting businesses and they’re going to school, and they’re sharing their experiences with their peers who have no idea what it means to serve their country, who have no idea what it means to put their lives on the line for a cause greater than themselves. To have millions of veterans coming home and infusing that in their communities, I think, is incredibly important.”

Hegseth also said the idea that veterans — who have vowed allegiance to the United States — would be at high risk to join these kinds of groups is dead wrong.

“If anyone has an allegiance to the government, and has in fact sworn an allegiance to the government to defend the government, to put their life on the line for our country and the safety of our citizens across the globe, it’s the veteran,” Hegseth said. “He’s the one that is more apt to stand up for the flag and say, ‘For better or for worse, I will love my country,’ because he’s made that oath.”

Any reader of the report would conclude that DHS believes veterans are prone to criminal violence and should be regarded with fear and suspicion — and treated with derision — by their fellow citizens. DHS apparently wants the vets coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan to be treated as scornfully as too many Vietnam veterans were.

The section on military veterans cites three cases to support its broad-brushed claims: Timothy McVeigh; a 2006 report by a civil rights organization claiming “large numbers” of white supremacists are now learning warfare in the armed forces (both the report and organization are unnamed); and an FBI report from 2008 stating 203 veterans have joined such groups between 2001-2008.

What DHS doesn’t say is that those 203 are out of a population of about 42 million U.S. veterans now living in the land they defended. The DHS report begins with its own disclaimer that it “has no specific information” any of these groups are planning violent attacks.

“I’m not sure that they [the Obama administration] had adult leadership review it or understand the implications, but it clearly is an affront to our returning combat veterans,” retired Air Force Lt. General Thomas McInerney (a Vietnam vet) said.

Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd, also a veteran of Vietnam, agrees it’s logical for supremacists to want recruits with military skills, but Shepperd doesn’t believe veterans are more likely to join than anyone else.

“To in any way portray military veterans as more likely to be rightwing radicals or nut cases than anybody else in society is just absolutely absurd, in my opinion,” Shepperd said.

“Timothy McVeigh was an anomaly, and they’re trying to generalize it,” McInerney said.

Missing from the report is any recognition that the military already devotes significant resources to ensure veterans get help combating post-traumatic stress disorder and readjusting to civilian life. The Department of Veterans Affairs had a net program cost of $787 million for Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment as of September 30, 2008, according to the department’s 2008 budget report. Retired Rear Adm. Mike Groothousen said the military’s efforts to help veterans when they return home is something he emphasized whenever he addressed new crews shipboard.

The DHS report also fails to acknowledge that being accepted by the armed forces is a process in itself. Groothousen said the Navy even regulates the kind of tattoos allowed on enlistees because of gang-related symbols.

“There’s all kinds of things like that that we look at to make sure that we have really good people in the service,” Groothousen said.

Groothousen expressed concern with making every serviceman and woman suspect when they come home.

“To have a government document say that, to me, is absolute travesty of the first degree,” Groothousen said. “To think that some of our money went to produce that report bothers me…because it certainly was not well spent-money.”

Though, as Shepperd pointed out, Americans have shown an ability to separate the warrior from the war, other vets said this report doesn’t do much to help civilian perception of the military.

“It’s amazing how far [the report] goes to single out veterans,” Hegseth said. “Things like this add to the perception that ‘all veterans are’ are potential problems down the road and we better look out for them.”