Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan want their own memorial

Veterans from the post 9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan want a monument, but is it too soon for a memorial if fighting continues?

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Jan C. Scruggs, visits the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. Scruggs, who led efforts to build the memorial on the National Mall, is calling for a national memorial for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, even though violence in those countries is still claiming the lives of service members. The Commemorative Works Acts stipulates that a decade must pass before work can begin on a memorial, but supporters of the idea say the war on terror may never end.

The war’s not over yet but some veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are asking for a monument. 

And yet, such a memorial is barred by legislation because 10 years have not passed since the end of the conflict, and the arguably the post 9/11 wars in these countries haven't ended yet. 

Veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan say that a conclusion to the fighting could be too far in the future and that the veterans need this tangible recognition as soon as possible. 

"A lot of these veterans were hurt physically. There are high rates of PTSD, just like among Vietnam veterans, and if we wait until the war on terror is over, they will never see it happen," Jan Scruggs, a Vietnam veteran told the Associated Press. Mr. Scruggs led efforts to fund and construct the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington three decades ago. 

"I look at the Vietnam veterans and they really jelled around their memorial after it went up," said Andrew Brennan, a former Army captain in Afghanistan told AP. "It was a very conflicted conflict in the hearts and minds of Americans, and the same can be said about the global war on terror, but the memorial gave everyone a focal point.”

Brennan has organized the Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation Inc., with fellow post-9/11 veterans. He said, ”I want that for my era of veterans, to kind of have our own place to heal.”

But the Commemorative Works Act of 1997 stands in their way. Under the act, war memorials cannot be approved until 10 years have passed from when the war ended. 

"Whatever memorial they build, it has to be cognizant of the fact that this isn't an end game. The war on terror is going to be an issue in the next several presidential elections, I'm afraid," Retired Rear Adm. George Worthington, a Navy SEAL who served in Vietnam told AP.

“One of the things that’s very difficult is, because these aren’t technically declared wars, they’re operations of the global war on terror, it’s difficult to fit the statutes,” Lauren Augustine, a member of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’s legislative team told the Washington Times. “We’ve been in the wars for over a decade, but it’s particularly difficult to have that closing date.”

Past wars have had clear enemies and there could be clear negotiations. But the war on terror is a new breed, Terry Anderson, a military history professor at Texas A&M University told the Washington Times. 

“This shift happened because we’ve never fought an enemy like Osama bin Laden types, we’ve never fought an enemy like that before,” Mr. Anderson said.

“As long as there are radical Islamists who will kill themselves to kill others, we never will have a peace treaty with the [global war on terrorism],” he said. “It is the never-ending war.”

Even if Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are allowed to have a monument before the fighting ends, there might not be a place for them on the National Mall. But the advocates will press on and are seeking a congressional sponsor.

“When we’re thinking about the legacy and the service of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s so important to start thinking about that today to ensure their services are honored on the National Mall alongside many of the other wars and that our country never forgets,” Ms. Augustine said. 

These efforts come just as the Senate passes a bill to spend billions of dollars on veterans’ programs and other military projects. 

The bill, passed Tuesday, allocates $80 billion to programs such as the Veterans Administration’s medical services. The measure will move into House-Senate negotiations now.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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