Health care of veterans focus of protest

Pullout of forces in Iraq, better treatment for the wounded urged at rally

By DENNIS YUSKO, Staff writer

First published: Tuesday, July 31, 2007

ALBANY — Simultaneously opposing the war in Iraq while supporting returning American troops is not only possible, but necessary, say Grannies For Peace.
The group of local grandmothers and other women was organized last year to advocate peaceful approaches to conflict resolution, social justice and other issues.

On Monday, members held a silent vigil for veterans’ health care at the Stratton Veterans Affairs Medical Center to draw attention to the billions of dollars a month spent keeping U.S. troops in Iraq, and the “scandalous neglect of the health needs of our returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans and all veterans.”

Group members say they weren’t targeting the hospital but the nation’s priorities. Services for troops coming home with physical and psychological wounds could be improved by reallocating money from Iraq, members said recently at Friends Meeting House on Madison Avenue.

“We want the war over today, and we want the troops home immediately,” said Mabel Leon, a 66-year-old member from Schenectady and grandmother of four.

Grannies For Peace began as an offshoot of Women Against War, and the Capital Region-based group, which has dozens of members, has held numerous “actions,” as they call them, including protests at an Army military recruitment station and visits to the offices of both of New York’s U.S. senators.

Members believe it is not contradictory to support the troops and insist they leave Iraq. They also want to repeal the Military Commissions Act and the Patriot Act, and support closure of the Guantanamo Bay Naval base’s detention camp.

On Monday, the group called for more funding for Veterans Administration hospitals nationwide; expanded diagnostic and long-term services; gender-specific services for women veterans; physical and mental health screening; assistance with claims and access to specialized care; and screening of all war veterans for exposure to depleted uranium.

“There is a misconception about the peace movement that we don’t care about our soldiers,” Leon said. “But the interest in veterans is one of the top concerns of our group.”

Leon and member Micki Lynn of Delmar have been activists for many years. Lynn, a 66-year-old mother of one, picketed against the Vietnam war, apartheid, nuclear weapons and more.

At a recent Grannies rally against the Iraq war, she wore a poster bearing the image of Army Pfc. Melissa Hobart, who collapsed and died at age 22 while on guard duty in Iraq on June 6, 2004. “Mother. Sister. Daughter. Lover. Healer. Dancer. Friend. Athlete. Flute player. Reader,” it read.

There’s a lot of energy and organization associated with opposition to the Iraq war, Lynn said.

“This is a very intense movement. But if you look at the results, you can’t say at this point it is successful,” she said.

Today’s atmosphere differs from, say, the Vietnam era, when troops returned without fanfare and were called murderers by some protesters. The Grannies are less confrontational toward the troops. They hold the U.S. government accountable for the war in Iraq.

Maternal instincts brought the group’s members naturally to the concerns of veterans, Leon said.

“We view the soldiers as our children and grandchildren, and we are very concerned about the welfare of all of them,” she said. “We’re very concerned about the deaths and the services our soldiers need.”

Demonstrations by the group have been gaining increasing support from civilians and passing motorists, Leon said.

“We used to get more harassment than support. Now we get toots in favor and thumbs up.”

Dennis Yusko can be reached at 581-8438 or by e-mail at