Sunday, May 25, 2008

Veterans Memorial Day and the race for Oregon Senate District 23

Portland, Oregon—

I’m going to cut right to the chase: The fact is that the American people largely accept the war casualty rates in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They shrug it off, complain a little, but at the end of the day have something else on their minds; like, for example, ethanol, and they shrug it off.

These wars are happening to Other People, Elsewhere, On TV.

Some offer Moments of Silence now and then; but the People are already silent, I say, and moments of silence are nothing more than that, opportunities to be silent together and reinforce our devotion to silence.

The nation’s college campuses are hotbeds of inaction and rest, if not outright privilege. You’d never know there was a war on, hanging out on campus.

This is how wars drag on for ten or thirty years or more, even in democratic societies. It starts with an acceptable casualty rate, which is related to the nation’s sense of who is, well, expendable.

If the nation is settled on losing only the expendable, then business and politics can proceed as usual, like in the recent Oregon primary races.

Here we are on Memorial Day, a holiday marked by many with profligate displays of high-octane fuel-burning, by many others holiday travel, even to the last bogus environmentalist, jetting off to New Zealand or elsewhere to mark the holiday.

Many complain about the cost of gasoline and diesel fuel; can’t seem to connect the price spike with the fact that if you invade an oil-producing nation on the other side of the world, you should expect the price to go up.

Throughout the entire primary period, there was no public discussion of veterans issues or the costs of the wars. I brought the subject up twice in the Williamette Week interview, also in the Oregonian and Matt Davis (Portland Mercury) interviews.

The Skanner didn’t even have interviews, figure that one out. Too busy putting out a newspaper once a week, lots of cutting and pasting from the AP wire involved.

None of the local Portland races ever got out of the bubble, the war nonexistent even in its impact on local budgets and resources, apparently.

The candidates for federal offices alone recognized the wars exist, offering challenges and counterchallenges on what to do about the wars.

No one pointed out that whatever direction the troops move in, the move will result in loss of life. Whatever you do, people will die—our people, our loved ones.

There is no way that someone standing here in Oregon can know how to make that happen.

Every path from Iraq leads through death and destruction, which is why it is so important not to launch an invasion in the first place, and so vital for the People and their elected officials to stop being so damned silent.

Our injured will come home to a long-overwhelmed VA system and politicians with ethanol on their minds.

In a truly democratic society, every single elected official who had a piece of moving our military and their families into endless hell ought to have been tossed out of office more than four years ago. None merit re-appointment or re-election.

Those who were in office and let it happen on their watch ought to have been put on probation at minimum, some already cashiered by now.

Senate District 23 and House Districts 45 and 46, on this day, are much like the rest of the nation: The wars are happening to Other People, Elsewhere, On TV.

The Ethanol Mafia is celebrating the Senate District 23 primary victory of my opponent, a little too early in my book.

My guess is that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will still be ruining the lives of our loved ones in November, and for we military families, alone bearing the burden, veterans issues will trump any other interest.

I am calling for the appointment of a new, permanent Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and I will—with your help--serve there, starting in January, 2009.

This Senate committee will work in a nonpartisan way, alongside the overburdened House Veterans Affairs Committee and the Governor’s Office, to address the critical needs of our troops, our veterans and their families.

No more will there be a day in the Oregon Senate when the flags are at half staff outside of the Capitol and yet there is no honoring of the fallen in either House or Senate chamber, and that’s just for starters.

We have more than five months to muster, to organize a write-in campaign, and deliver a historic victory in the November general election.

This change will be immediate, C.O.D.

--Sean Cruz, May 25, 2008


The Oregonian Editorial Board on Senate District 23:

“Cruz…knows the issues well…”

“Sean Cruz, who has served as (Senator) Gordly's legislative aide and chief of staff for the past five years…is qualified for the job. He knows the issues that are important in the district, and he certainly knows how things get done in the Legislature. Most notably, he persuaded Gordly to push legislation, called ‘Aaron's Law,’ that gives families tools to punish parents for the crime of child abduction. “


Friday, May 9, 2008

In Memory of Aaron Cruz (March 21, 1982 to April 25, 2005)

My son Aaron died in Utah of medical neglect while under Army orders.
He received no medical care for his seizure disorder after he left our home in Portland, under deployment orders for Iraq, to report to his Utah Army National Guard unit.

Here in our home in Portland in 2003, he was starting a treatment regimen at Providence Hospital paid for by the Oregon Health Plan.

He was sick enough to qualify for OHP coverage, but George W. Bush needed him on the other side of the world.

They held him in Utah under medical review (which included NO MEDICAL CARE OR TREATMENT OF ANY KIND), where he was homeless and too ill to support himself. I went broke that year, trying to keep my son alive in Utah.

After Aaron died, the Army threw a real nice ceremony for him. Too bad he wasn't alive to enjoy it.

Here in Oregon, most people don't believe that Aaron's death was a consequence of the occupation of Iraq, wonder what I'm so worked up and "bitter" about.

I know that my son would have gone to Iraq and given his life gladly for his brother, his unit and his nation. It would have ended his pain, the pain that began with his kidnapping in 1996, and he would have died feeling good about himself, the first time he felt that way since his kidnappers took him away and stuck him in the desert of Mormon Utah.

Aaron had a warrior's heart, a tiger's heart. He got it from me, and I from my father before me.

THREE YEARS after his death, the Department of Defense has still not complied with my request for my son's medical records, citing a "large backlog of requests."

my testimony on 2007 Oregon Senate Iraq Memorials

Salem, Oregon April 23, 2007

Senate Rules Committee

Senator Kate Brown, Chair
Senator Ted Ferrioli, Vice-Chair
Senator Betsy Johnson
Senator Laurie Monnes Anderson
Senator David Nelson

Testimony on SM1, SJM6, SJM9, HJM9, related to the Iraq War
by Sean Cruz
April 23, 2007


Photograph of Spc Tyler Cruz, unarmored humvee, 2004
Photograph of Spc Tyler Cruz, humvee with welded armor, 2004
Photograph of Spc Aaron Cruz, 2001
Certificate of recognition for Aaron Cruz, 2005
Letter from US Dept. of Veterans Affairs re Aaron’s medical records, 2005

Madame Chair, members of the Committee, for the record my name is Sean Cruz.

I do not intend to read all of my written testimony, which I have provided to the Committee. I would like to provide some foundational information and then stand aside for others to speak.

Mrs. Michele DeFord, a Gold Star Mother, whose son David Johnson was killed in Iraq , could not be here for this hearing, and has requested that I read her testimony into the record on her behalf.

I will do so at the Chair’s convenience, and otherwise will remain available to answer any questions the Committee may have about the legislation before you.

I appear before you today as the father of two Army National Guard soldiers, and as a member of the Northwest chapter of Military Families Speak Out ( MFSO ).

There are several MFSO members present to testify today, and we all speak equally for ourselves and as some of the faces of Military Families Speak Out.

I have been a resident of NE Portland for the past dozen years. For the past five of those years, my boys have been subject to combat deployment to the war in Iraq .

My sons are: Specialist Aaron Cruz, who died in 2005 at the age of 23, largely from medical neglect while he was under military orders, and Specialist Tyler Cruz, who has at this time—at the age of 21—so far—served two year-long deployments in combat in Iraq as a .50 caliber machine gunner on a humvee.

Sgt. David Johnson was killed doing the same job my son Tyler has done through two deployments in combat in Iraq .

I want to note for the record that my sons’ Army National Guard unit was first placed on alert in the Spring of 2002, ordered to pack for deployment to Iraq on 24 hours’ notice, and this April marks my family’s fifth year of continued, open-ended, actual participation in the catastrophe in Iraq .

I have provided five exhibits to the Committee to illustrate several points regarding the Iraq-related legislation before you.

These exhibits are:

(1) This early 2004 photograph of Tyler at the age of 19 shows him manning his .50 on a humvee with no armor or protection whatsoever. He is completely unprotected by even a windscreen.

(2) Later 2004 photographs such as this one showed that his unit, an engineering battalion, welded scrap steel plate for protection as best they could and, during that first deployment, he escorted convoys all over central Iraq and provided security for his unit under those conditions.

Tyler called me from the Baghdad area in 2004 and asked me if I’d heard of the “Highway to Hell.” Of course, I had.

“We paved it,” he told me, with a lot of pride in his voice. That’s my boy.

(3) This is a photograph of my son Aaron at the age of 18.

(4) This is the certificate, signed with George W. Bush, President of the United States ’ very own autopen, which reads:

“The United States of America honors the memory of Aaron A. Cruz. This certificate is awarded by a grateful nation in recognition of devoted and selfless consecration to the service of our country in the Armed Forces of the United States .”

(5) The last exhibit is a copy of the letter from the US Department of Veterans Affairs, dated November 2005, in response to my request for access to Aaron’s medical records. It reads:

“Mr. Cruz’s request will be forwarded to our privacy act officer for processing of his request. He should be advised that we have a large backlog of requests for copies of records and that it may take up to a year before his request is processed. This report of contact will be faxed and serve as a final response to this inquiry.”

For the record, I have heard nothing regarding my son since receiving this letter.

It is common knowledge that the medical system is overburdened and chaotic, and there is little expectation that it will receive either the funding or the commitment it needs in order to properly care for the injured coming back from the war.

I want also to note for the record that from April 21 until April 25, 2005 , I was absent from my job as Senator Avel Gordly ’s Legislative Aide during the 2005 legislative session.

For those five days, I was at my son Aaron’s bedside as he lay comatose in Utah . He was pronounced dead at 4:50 p.m. on April 25, 2005 .

His Utah Army National Guard unit’s entire officer and NCO staff turned out in full dress for Aaron’s memorial service and they presented his mother with a flag in his honor.

They spoke of his commitment to the unit and his despair at being left behind, due to his medical condition, which continued to deteriorate until he died.

His First Sergeant said that of the 200 soldiers he was taking to Iraq , most probably didn’t want to go, but here was one soldier who absolutely did want to go, and he couldn’t.

We buried Aaron on May 3, and 8 hours later, my son Tyler was on his way back to camp in Southern California to prepare for his second deployment to Iraq .

This is how we treat our soldiers and honor their service and their sacrifice in the real world we military families are living in.

Tyler served his second deployment in Ramadi, in Al Anbar province.

During that year, of the 4,000 soldiers and Marines fighting in Ramadi, 75 were killed and more than 1,000 were serious casualties, including many cases of Traumatic Brain Injury, or TBI, the signature injury of this war.

What has been said about the living conditions for those troops is that they lived in squalor, under fire every day and every night.

During that year, no day and no night passed without my being aware that my son—the one son I have left—could be killed or severely injured at any moment.

Aaron did not die as a result of combat in Iraq , as he would have much preferred.

He died from a life-threatening seizure disorder for which he was receiving treatment while he was living with me in our home in Portland , prior to his 2003 Iraq deployment orders.

A few days after Aaron left, a letter from one of his Portland doctors arrived in the mail, warning him that he could suffer a seizure that could put him in a coma from which he would not recover, and that is in fact what happened to my son.

He concealed his medical conditions from his unit as best he could, and he called me to tell me that he had passed the Army medical exam and was going to Fort Carson , Colorado .

But Aaron was held back for at least one of the several serious medical conditions he was suffering from. As near as I can tell, he received no continuing medical treatment after he left my home and reported to his unit.

Two years later, I have no information from anyone about what happened to him medically between leaving my home and suffering the fatal seizure.

Senate Memorial 1, in line 17 page 1, refers to the deaths of 83 military personnel “from Oregon” in connection with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I want to note for the record that this number does not include my son, Aaron Cruz, although he was an Oregon resident at the time he reported for deployment.

The way this war is compartmentalized, if your soldier doesn’t die from gunfire or in an explosion, he or she isn’t a real casualty of the war, and if the soldier is from another state’s National Guard, no one pays much attention to the loss.

Now the President has announced that troops are being rotated back into Iraq again, for deployments extended to 15 months.

We military families are seeing our loved ones exposed to chlorine gas bombs now, and to shaped-charge IEDs that cut right through armor. We are seeing our troops ordered into neighborhoods, as Representative Brian Boquist described, where the streets are too narrow for the tanks and combat support vehicles they need.

The lifetime medical costs to care for some of the brain-injured soldiers returning from battle can run to $ 8 to $ 14 million dollars. Where is that money going to come from?

Will this legislature back its message to Congress with a commitment to provide the funding level that our troops, our veterans and their families need as a consequence of being a “Nation at War.?”

Is—for example—a nickel per gallon gas tax too much to ask of the Nation to help pay for the war, to finance veterans’ services for the small fraction of Americans who are actually fighting it?

I am not here to advocate for any of these Memorials as the one to support.

I believe that they each contain important concepts that merit consideration and debate by the full Senate, and I hope this Committee will decide to move them all to the floor, including HJM9, so that they can have that debate, and then bring them back to this Committee for further action.

Regarding Senate Memorial 1, I would ask the Committee to remove the platitudes from the bill.

For example, on page 1, lines 13 and 14, which read: “Whereas the Oregon Senate and the residents of the State of Oregon recognize, appreciate and are forever thankful for the sacrifices that all of our Oregon and other American troops and their families have made, especially the troops who have given their lives or been wounded to protect our freedoms.”

This expression of gratitude rings especially hollow on a day in which flags are at half-staff to mark the loss of life of another Oregon soldier, but which received no acknowledgement, no remonstrance, on the Senate floor.

A second example is found on page 2, lines 16 and 17, which read: “The Oregon Senate and the American people will continue to support and protect the members of the United States Armed Forces and the Oregon National Guard….”

I have no idea what that means, neither when that support and protection is going to begin, nor what level of commitment the bill refers to.

With that statement, Madame Chair and Members of the Committee, I will stand aside so that others may speak.

End the War sign updated (again) (originally posted April 2007)