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Respecting Vets Means More Than Clapping

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Respecting Vets Means More Than Clapping


When a soldier goes off to fight, we say, “We’re praying for you.” When a soldier passes in uniform we gush, “Thank you for your service.” When a soldier is brought out on a football field, we whoop and cheer loudly.

But when a soldier dealing with post-combat issues needs a place to go, and that place needs to be built, and that building is in our backyard, suddenly, we’re not so welcoming.

For years, the Michigan Veterans Foundation had a facility in the Cass Corridor area of Detroit. The center provided meals, guidance, treatment and a welcome embrace for veterans dealing with everything from post-traumatic stress to homelessness. No one objected because, let’s face it, the Cass Corridor was hardly valued real estate. Truth is, that’s why many of our social services outlets were located there.

Recently, that has changed. A new hockey arena and a new Wayne State University business school made the Veterans Foundation site — and others nearby — desirable. An offer was made and, rather than fight the tide, the foundation accepted. It sold the building.

And began searching for a new home.

And, suddenly, the cheering stopped.

“Opposition was expressed,” explained Tyrone Chatman, executive director of the Michigan Veterans Foundation, when speaking about the site in Detroit’s Woodbridge District that the veterans group purchased, with plans of building a new center. “They thought it wasn’t a good fit.”

The property currently is an empty lot. And buildings nearby are mostly empty. You would think some activity — any activity — would be welcome.

But numerous residents objected, writing letters to the Detroit Planning Commission and speaking out during community meetings. They were often careful to say how much they supported veterans — don’t we always? — but then said the site was used for walking dogs or jogging and, besides, maybe a more fitting business could go there. You know, the kind that might increase property values.

Chatman, a Vietnam vet, took this hard. He remembered how returning soldiers in his day were spat upon by their countrymen. He thought we were past that.

“It kind of bothers us that it’s OK for men and women to give themselves to this great nation and fight our wars,” Chatman said, “but it’s not OK for us to live near you?”

Sadly, that’s the case. And it’s not the first time it has happened. When those same soldiers we enthusiastically send to fight our wars return with physical or mental issues, we’d privately prefer that they stay out of view.

Which renders us hypocrites.

I have known Chatman and the Michigan veterans group for a while. S.A.Y. Detroit, a charity I helped create, built a state-of-the art kitchen in the Cass Corridor facility. When I visit, the place is spotless. The clients are respectful. Military decorum is followed. You can tell many veterans still cling to their service as a buoy in troubled waters.

There are no wandering vagrants, no leering or dirty language. Nothing that would diminish a neighborhood. The building itself is neat, clean and attractive. The new building’s design is even more impressive, a single-story pentagon with a courtyard in its center.

“We thought the community would be delighted to support it,” Chatman said.

Instead, many objected to its look, while more likely being concerned about its clientele. The center, with a kitchen, gym, guidance center and just over 100 beds, hopes to serve about 1,600 veterans each year.

“It’s not always pretty, when you see men and women that are confined to wheelchairs, canes, walkers, amputees,” Chatman said. “It just seems to me there ought to be a debt of gratitude saying, ‘Hey, guys, you’re our nation’s defenders. You’ve earned the right to live wherever you want.'” Fortunately, by a city meeting Thursday, such an attitude had taken over. According to Chatman, a female veteran spoke movingly of how she was helped. It helped. The plans were tentatively approved, and vocal opposition was minor.

“The vote was to move forward,” Chatman said. “It’s a new day.”

It shouldn’t have to be. The day we send a soldier off to fight should be the same kind of day when he or she returns. If we don’t shun them when we want their sacrifice, we can’t shun them when they need our help.

I’m glad the Woodbridge District has overcome its objections. We’ll be better when there are no objections in the first place.


Photo: The U.S. Army via Flickr



  1. Dominick Vila November 24, 2015

    The epitome of cynicism are the photos I see showing the difference between W and President Obama on the issue of relationship with veterans. For my far right relatives and friends what matters is seeing photos of W serving troops Thanksgiving dinner, bumping chests with veterans, giving them high fives. Needless to say, the contrast between that relationship and that of a President determined to keep our troops out of harms way; the difference between a President who needed distractions to keep our minds off the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil in history, and who the President and CiC was at the time, and one who does not need antics to demonstrate that he cares for the well being of our veterans; and a President who instead of retaliating against the homeland of the terrorists, planners, and financiers of 9/11, decided to keep that nation a Most Favored Nation, and invaded instead a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, because its ruler had, allegedly, not destroyed all the WMDs the Reagan administration gave him during the Iran-Iraq war, may satisfy brain dead zombies, it does not do much for me.

  2. ps0rjl November 24, 2015

    This article is so true. When I got out of the Marines, no one called me names or spat on me, but people did isolate me as if I had some form of communicable disease. Only in the last 15 years or so have I worn a cap signifying I served in the Marines. I will NEVER wear anything saying I am a Vietnam veteran. How we were treated will always be an open wound to me. Maybe that is why I get so angry when people who will never serve and especially men my age who avoided serving when young talk about sending in troops.

    1. bcarreiro November 24, 2015

      Welcome home…Corruption is the stronghold that takes away from this country and abroad. War Veterans deserve the benefits of our congressional leaders anything less shou

      1. ps0rjl November 24, 2015

        I agree. Before we ever again commit troops to fight in some foreign land we should have three things in place.

        1. What are our goals for going into the fight and these should never change?

        2. How will we withdraw if we win and how will we withdraw if we lose?

        3. What facilities and programs does the government have or will have in place to treat our service men and women when they return?

  3. Stuck in Kansas November 24, 2015

    Much as it is appreciated, I find it humiliating that we need charities such as The Wounded Warrior Foundation to help take care of our veterans. This is our responsibility. As United States of America citizens, we are obligated to assist our veterans in there return to civilian life. As I see it, our defense budget needs to be increased. And all of that increase should go to current enlisted and veterans until they are adequately shown the respect and admiration they deserve.

    1. FireBaron November 24, 2015

      This is one instance where you CAN and SHOULD blame Congress. They have repeatedly voted to cut VA benefits, as well as reduce the medical programs for active duty military in order to provide tax breaks to those who don’t need them, and weapons systems that the Pentagon neither wants nor needs. Then they have the audacity to claim the Armed Services and VA are not doing enough to help our active duty military or veterans suffering from PTSD, filing disability forms, or seeking any help with physical and/or psychological conditions.
      The next member of Congress who starts sabre-rattling should be handed a stack of enlistment forms and told to “press hard – six copies”. Let them do their time before sending someone else into harm’s way.

  4. idamag November 24, 2015

    I feel the same way about magnets on cars and empty “thank yous.” Even thought some of the wars we started should never have been, it is not the veterans’ fault. If we really care about the veterans, let’s stop sending them to be killed for stupid reasons, like Iraq. We need to take a look at how trite our “thank yous” sound when those veterans who survive are physically and mentally maimed. If you really care, volunteer in military hospitals or support groups or start a support group if your community does not have one. Actions speak louder than words and mean more than signs on our cars.

  5. Whatmeworry November 24, 2015

    Respect should also be given to us who refused to serve in dems war also

  6. Insinnergy November 24, 2015

    More attention, money and assistance needs to be given to veterans…
    And the cost of the long tail of veteran assistance needs to be figured into the future cost of any wars… before the decision is made to fight them.


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