Civil rights activists should be honored as veterans

I have spent my entire life hearing about righteous American wars, how we sent troops to other countries to fight to restore, preserve or install democracy. The troops who risked their lives to fight these wars, some of whom came back injured physically or mentally, are entitled to certain rights and benefits, including disability compensation, medical and educational benefits, housing assistance, burial allowances, counseling and sometimes pensions. While the Veteran Affairs benefits come with their own sets of problems and shortcomings that need to be addressed, at least they’re a start.

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My dad and other activists like him have no such benefits. Many also have gone for decades without adequate health care — which speaks to the larger missing safety net that leaves far too many Americans unprotected. I’ve seen so many of my dad’s friends limp to old age because they never got their broken hips or torn ligaments or cracked bones fixed after they were beaten in the 1960s. I’ve also had to watch my dad and his friends pool together money to bury their friends who died in poverty. Imagine how many civil rights veterans could benefit from mental health support. They all deserve better.

It’s also important to note that there are precedents for benefits being extended to veterans of liberation movements in other places around the world.

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