A Public Media Mashup For Veterans Issues

Nov 1, 2015

The concerns of disabled veterans and their families take center stage when JPR News and Southern Oregon Public Television team up for Local Focus: Debt of Honor. It’s the first joint project between JPR and Public TV in many a year, and could pave the way for future efforts.

We are able to save more grievously wounded warriors, but we return them to a society that is often ill-equipped to accommodate their needs.

SOPTV approached us over the summer about the possibility of joining forces for special projects. The logical starting point was a combination of our various skills, centered around the PBS documentary Debt of Honor: Disabled Veterans in American History, by award-winning filmmaker Ric Burns. The new film, part of PBS’ ongoing “Stories of Service” project, pays homage to the men and women who have fought and sacrificed for the United States through military service.

The film airs on SOPTV the night before Veterans Day, November 10th, at 8 PM. After the showing, the Local Focus part kicks in, with a live panel discussion in the SOPTV studios with guests familiar with the concerns of disabled veterans and their families in our region. I’ll host the TV show, in addition to interviews with vets and vet service providers on The Jefferson Exchange. Exchange Producer Emily Cureton is doing the heavy lifting, arranging for the guests on both TV and radio, and preparing additional materials I’ll touch on below.

The Local Focus project includes the participation of the VA Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics (SORCC), based in White City. The VA operation, often called “the Dom” by us old-timers, was formerly known as the VA Domiciliary, and it traces its history back to Camp White, a sprawling base for the Army’s 91st Infantry during World War II.

If our society thought that war was the “war to end all wars,” we were wrong, and not for the first time. We continue to fight around the globe, though with increasingly sophisticated weaponry, and with increasingly advanced medical technology to save the lives and bind the wounds of our fighting men and women. So we are able to save more grievously wounded warriors, but we return them to a society that is often ill-equipped to accommodate their needs.

How DO we integrate people who, even if whole in mind and body, have experienced something that the vast majority of us only know from pictures and video? I’ve been struck in several previous interviews by the realization that we ask almost the impossible of warriors: learn how to kill other human beings while staying alive, then come back to a society that simply cannot relate.

And we can relate even less if our veterans come back wounded in body and mind. Throughout our history, we have frequently dropped the ball when it came to caring for disabled veterans, right back to the Revolutionary War. Revelations of long waiting lists at VA hospitals led to the VA administrator resigning last year, so it still happens.

Debt of Honor takes an unblinking look at this checkered history. We hope to complement the documentary with our Local Focus, assessing the needs of, and services for, veterans in our region, and attitudes about them. Emily Cureton has constructed an online survey for anyone to take, to help us build a realistic picture of regional thoughts and attitudes, and even collect stories from people with experiences to share. We call the survey “What Do We Owe Veterans?” And it can be found and taken online at tiny.cc/veteransurvey. I stress that this is a survey and a project for EVERYONE, not just the disabled veterans who are the focus. Please give the survey at least a look.

As the son, grandson, and nephew of veterans, all volunteers, I remain in awe of the people who stepped forward to take up arms for the United States when its security and very existence were threatened. And I am struck as well by the lack of knowledge so many of the rest of us have about the challenges vets face once they’re back among us. We’re proud to be a part of this effort, and gratified that Robert Mead and Jeff LeBeau at SOPTV reached out to us to participate.

So give us a listen. JPR reporter Liam Moriarty will contribute some news features as well; those will be on Morning Edition periodically, and posted to ijpr.org when complete, under the Local Focus: Debt of Honor heading. The Jefferson Exchange interviews will be sprinkled through our schedule in the weeks leading up to November 10th. Then give us a look; the TV show(s) air that night.

And here’s the survey link again: tiny.cc/veteransurvey. We look forward to hearing from you.

Geoffrey Riley began practicing journalism in the State of Jefferson nearly three decades ago, as a reporter and anchor for a Medford TV station. It was about the same time that he began listening to Jefferson Public Radio, and thought he might one day work there. He was right.