Right-wing attacks on peaceful vigil come on same day as announcement that Walter Reed Hospital will be closed.
Washington, DC – Since March 25, CODEPINK: Women for Peace members in Washington, DC have been holding vigils outside Walter Reed Hospital every Friday evening, to shed light on the plight of injured soldiers.
Gravely and seriously injured soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan arrive at Walter Reed for treatment late at night, under cover of darkness, so that the public does not become aware of the number of soldiers wounded and the severity of their injuries.
These are vigils, not protests, and participants have included Washington, DC-based members of Veterans for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, and DC Labor Against the War, who all want more support for veterans.
“Since we started these vigils, we feel we have helped put the spotlight on the needs of the soldiers and helped achieve positive results, such as greater VA funding and a rollback of attempts to make soldiers pay for their own meals, phone calls, daily hospitalization fees and increased co-payments,” said CODEPINK’s Gael Murphy, one of the vigil’s organizers.
The vigilers still have concerns about veterans’ care, such as a projected $3 billion shortfall for 2006 VA funding, the closing of veterans hospitals (including Walter Reed), the bureaucratic hurdles facing soldiers with long-term disabilities who are trying to get disability payments, and the Army’s recent statement that it is “revisiting” 72,000 cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) recorded in past 5 years because misdiagnosis and fraud have inflated the numbers. “We are continuing the vigils because there is still a need to push for better care,” said Laura Costas of CODEPINK and Military Families Speak Out, whose brother served in Iraq. “Yes, we want to bring the troops home, but we also want to ensure that they are well-cared for when they return.”
The vigilers have often received encouragement from the wounded soldiers and their families, who often join the vigil themselves. “The first time I attended one of the vigils, a soldier’s wife invited me to come inside and visit her severely wounded husband,” said Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK. “He shared his worries about the care he would get when he returned to his hometown and the financial burden on his family, and he thanked us for being there. His parting words were ‘Please don’t forget us like veterans of other wars have been forgotten.’”
In recent weeks, the vigil has attracted some people who have tried to change the tone and message of the vigil, including yelling and holding up inappropriate signs. The organizers have asked the newcomers to be respectful and wonder if they might indeed be infiltrators whose aim is to disrupt the vigil.
The organizers also suspect that the sudden attention to the vigil on the part of the conservative media is part of a well-orchestrated smear campaign against the peace movement. “With the war in Iraq so disastrous and public opinion turning against this war, there is a new desperation on the part of the some conservative groups,” said CODEPINK co-founder Jodie Evans. “Despite their mud-slinging, the peace movement continues to gain momentum, as we see in Crawford, Texas and will see at upcoming massive anti-war rally on September 24 in Washington DC.”
PHOTOS of the vigil are available from Andrea Buffa, firstname.lastname@example.org.