Most Sunday evenings I start assessing that week’s news events for potential worthy subjects to highlight in this column. Sometimes there are sparse choices. Other weeks offer a plethora of events, which makes the decision more difficult. This was a week of overabundance with the question of which story deserves first focus.
There is the ongoing South African murder trial of Oscar Pistorius for the shooting death of Reeva Steenkamp, from a stormy three-month relationship between the two. Next, was the Pacific Ocean rescue of the Kaufman family and infant daughter Lyra, from their round-the-world sailboat folly with two young children aboard.
An anti-climactic NCAA basketball championship game occurred Monday evening between the Universities of Kentucky and Connecticut, with the Huskies mauling the Wildcats. And finally, there was this week’s public revelation of what “compensation packages” top American executives receive. But our dedicated military will receive the majority of this column with the occurrence of a second mass shooting at beleaguered Fort Hood.
Specialist Ivan Antonio Lopez, age 34, was the most recent gunman executing a rampage of terror last week at this Army base. He killed three fellow military members and injured 16 others, before turning the gun on himself. Our country’s military installations should be safe shelter from the haunting memories of a war front. Instead they have become their own battleground of over-stressed service personnel finally coming unglued from being asked to perform herculean tasks far from home for little pay, while being given minimal merit as to the emotional toll of serving our country.
Specialist Lopez had spent four years with the Army, but was paid only $28,000 annually at the time of his shooting spree and subsequent suicide. He had two families to support on a near minimum wage salary. His first wife resided in their hometown where they met in high school, with that union producing two children. Lopez’ second marriage was to a community college student he met in Texas, and had one young child.
Carmen Lopez, his mother, died suddenly of a heart attack Nov. 24. Specialist Lopez was initially denied emergency leave to fly home to Puerto Rico and attend her funeral. He was finally allowed a hasty reprieve from Texas to Puerto Rico and back in just 24 hours. Reports also mention that he had argued with another service member concerning lost or stolen money, something already in short supply for Lopez.
The financial and personal stressors of attempting to balance all of these factors was the potential “tipping point” for Lopez. Instead of seeking emergency mental health services to alleviate multiple imploding personal crises, he took the macho walk into Guns Galore in Killeen, Texas, (an ironically named location for a firearms store), on March 1 and bought a .45-caliber Smith & Wesson. It is the same establishment where the first Fort Hood executioner, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, bought his weapon and used it on Nov. 5, 2009, to kill 13 military staff and injure 30. Sadly a purchase of a firearm seems to be the catharsis for a troubled serviceman to solve his demonic angst against others, and the world. Each becomes famous for all of the wrong reasons.
According to a 2012 tabulation by the National Center for Veterans Analysis & Statistics, there are 877,894 military veterans residing in Ohio. Scott O. Leonard, a U.S. Army Veteran and Delaware County Veterans Service Officer estimates 12,000 former military members reside locally. Ohio is a more fortunate state since there are four VA Medical Centers, one each in Cincinnati, Chillicothe, Cleveland and Dayton.
Another aspect of medical and psychological care is the reliance on Community Based Outpatient Clinics, (CBOCs) for these former military members, per Leonard. There are 25 CBOCs located throughout our state. “The one most accessible to Delaware is located in Marion, with a larger, newer facility, the Chalmers Wylie Center, opened four years ago, located at 420 N. James Road in Northeast Columbus,” per Leonard.
Considering Ohio has 88 counties and almost one million veterans residing in the Buckeye State, potentially just 25 CBOCs and four military hospitals are still not enough to adequately serve their needs. As more former military members return to civilian life, become aged and continue to cope with physical or psychological injuries or afflictions that occurred during their service to our country, more facilities are essential to expedite efficient and timely care.
More than 40 years ago as a child, I remember making multiple long drives to the VA Medical Center in Dayton for my late father, Max Main, to receive treatment of a back injury which occurred during his military service. It was a dark and foreboding place, with little relief forthcoming for his relentless pain. I can only hope that the treatment options and interior decorating have improved for today’s veterans seeking assistance with a gamut of post-service challenges at that location and those accessing care at facilities elsewhere.
There is no excuse for the unthinkable deadly actions last week by Specialist Lopez. No matter how dire your life situation, killing others is a cowardly act versus seeking assistance and guidance to negotiate a problematic life of dire decisions and challenging consequences. However, when I read that Muhtar Kent, the CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, received total compensation of $20,380,660 (yes, more than $20 million), for 2013, I am angered by the paltry pay our military receives versus that of a corporate kingpin. Muhtar’s compensation for last year was a 33 percent decrease from his 2012 earnings.
When a multi-year military member is receiving less than $30,000 annually, there is something fundamentally wrong with our country’s corporate pay structure and what we value as a society. Without the historic sacrifices of our military, it is doubtful that the Coca-Cola Company’s business empire would be the corporate monolith it is today, allowing Mr. Kent to benefit far beyond what one human should be entitled to receive in executive compensation.
Mariann Main is a Licensed Counselor and a Delaware native. Her column appears weekly on Wednesdays. To submit a question and have Mariann answer it anonymously, send mail to the Delaware Gazette office, 40 N. Sandusky St., Suite 203, Delaware, OH 43015. You can also reach her directly at: MariannMain@GMail.com