Richmond Authors Tell Story of Veterans, Locally and Nationally
By Suzanne Gordon and Steve Early
Two years ago, Richmond Civic Center Plaza was the scene of a protest vigil organized by Estefany Sanchez and her two sisters. Estefany is a Richmond resident and an Army veteran whose experience of sexual harassment in the military led her to identify strongly with the tragic case of Vanessa Guillen, a 20-year old soldier at Fort Hood in Texas.
Guillen was sexually harassed by a fellow soldier, at a base with one of the highest rates of murder, sexual assault, and suicide anywhere in the military. Her complaints to superior officers were repeatedly ignored before she was finally killed and dismembered by her assailant, who then became one of 70 suicides at Fort Hood since 2016.
The Sanchez sisters’ local organizing was part of a national movement to challenge the toxic work environment that many young soldiers encounter, even if they are never deployed abroad or serve in a combat zone.
Protestors around the country demanded Congressional action to better protect victims of military sexual assault and harassment. In Richmond and other places, they also questioned the targeting of working-class communities by military recruiters, who encourage young people to enlist based on the promise of secure employment, job training, and future access, as veterans, to educational benefits and healthcare provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
In their new book, Our Veterans (Duke University Press), Richmond authors and RPA members Steve Early and Suzanne Gordon take a critical look at how the federal government has fulfilled such commitments to nineteen million veterans, including 1.8 million Californians who served in the military. The NY Times Book Review has called Our Veterans a “chilling account of the physical, economic and psychological consequences of military service on veteran health.”
While doing research for the book, the authors interviewed many Bay Area veterans and VA healthcare providers, plus members of advocacy groups like Veterans for Peace and the SF-based Swords to Plowshares, which aids homeless veterans. One current threat to VA patients and staff at hospitals or clinics in San Francisco, Oakland, and Martinez is the unnecessary outsourcing of VA care, which could lead to closing of these much-needed local facilities.
During his bid for the presidency in 2020, Democrat Joe Biden pledged that he would never “defund,” “dismantle,” or “privatize” the VA. However, his administration has followed in the footsteps of Republican Donald Trump and continued to divert billions of dollars every year from the VA’s direct care budget to reimbursement of for-profit hospitals and medical practices. This outside medical treatment of nine million VA patients is costlier, less effective, and often slower than in-house care.
Our Veterans shows how the bi-partisan undermining of our largest public healthcare system will adversely affect the campaign for Medicare for All, a single-payer healthcare system that would make coverage universal and affordable for everyone. The authors urge all readers of their book to support the community-labor struggle to save the VA from privatization and preserve our best working model of socialized medicine in the U.S.