In the wake of the horrible Fort Lauderdale shooting–the seventh U.S. shooting this year–numerous Republicans in Congress have took to Twitter to show their grief.
While these cute 140-characters-or-less comments of grief seem like these Congressional members (Rubio, Lankford, and Ryan) actually feel sorrow over the Fort Lauderdale shooting, they are among some of the most gun-friendly members of Congress, and none of them have actually made an effort to prevent gun violence or seek gun control measures. And since the U.S. will have a Republican majority in the House of Representatives and Senate along with a Republican President, it’s unlikely that gun-control measures will be passed in the near future.
However, in the wake of the Fort Lauderdale attack, it isn’t just evident how frequent gun violence is in the United States (it was the seventh shooting of the year, on the 6th day of the year), it’s evident just how horrible conditions are for veterans discharged with a less-than-honorable status.
Esteban Santiago, the gunman in the Fort Lauderdale shooting, is an Iraq veteran who had a less-than-honorable discharge for “unsatisfactory performance.” Fighting in wars is traumatic, and the mental wounds of veterans as a result of war is a problem often overlooked. And in his case, he did have mental health issues–this varied from having visions to hearing voices–and his brother, Bryan Santiago, said he believes “the shooting rampage resulted from mental issues that appeared after Iraq.” And this isn’t surprising. Veterans with less-than-honorable discharges are more likely to go for years without actual treatment for the physical and mental wounds of war. In Santiago’s case, this was true as he was hospitalized “for four days” after asking for help, though his brother claims that “they [authorities] did nothing,” years after. It is clear that he had mental issues, but as a veteran, why didn’t he get mental healthcare from the VA? That, of course, goes back to Congress.
In 1977, Congress passed Public Law 95-126, denying entitlement of veterans’ benefits to those with other than honorable discharges–including mental healthcare–meaning that Esteban Santiago and over tens of thousands of other veterans like him would be prevented from getting mental healthcare, along with other veterans’ benefits. However, the Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Healthcare Act, introduced by Mike Coffman in March 3, 2016, would let the VA provide for all former service members with a mental health test and health care services (aside from those with a bad conduct/dishonorable discharge). This bill was introduced almost a year ago and its last status was “referred to a committee.” So the question is, why hasn’t Congress done anything about this well-needed bill? The median amount of time it takes for bills that had Committee hearings to become laws is 215 days. However, it has been over 300 days since this bill was introduced, and there still has been little progress–possibly because Congress is more interested in building Trump’s wall along the southern border within a few months than helping veterans.
So, as a result, I’d like to ask Congress, specifically the Republican majority, how they could complain about the gun violence in Fort Lauderdale when mass shootings like this could be avoided, at least to some extent. No, you might not support gun control. But you should support giving mental healthcare for the veterans that fight in the wars you declare. Would you rather support building a wall composed of racism and hatred, or enact a law composed of respect for U.S. veterans?
It’s really funny how Republicans in general cite their respect for people who supposedly fight for the freedom of Americans–including law enforcement officers and veterans–when they choose not to support something, but they don’t actually do much to help these people. We saw it in the pro-Blue Lives Matter and anti-Black Lives Matter rhetoric of some Republicans. We saw it in the anti-Colin Kaepernick arguments of other Republicans, who explained how disrespectful it is to dishonor a flag that so many veterans of this country value. But we didn’t see it in the amount of Republican Senators that didn’t sign the Zadroga Act to aid 9/11 First Responders, despite their claims that they would “Never Forget 9/11”–including James Lankford from above.
So my question is, if you are really sorry about the shooting in Fort Lauderdale, when are you going to do something to prevent events like it?