There’s probably no class of American more universally revered than the veteran. I know, I’m one. Pedestals abound on which we place women and men like me; monuments to the guilt and appreciation that the country feels for people who are at once known and unknown to us.
To support us; to thank us; to ameliorate the conscience and assuage the guilt, Americans contribute to all kinds of organizations that support veterans. These are known as veterans’ service organizations. Some of them you know: the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars. Some of them, not so much.
Then there’s the Wounded Warrior Project. You probably know about this one because of its nigh-inescapable presence on TV. Ads with cloying music; a celebrity earnestly asking you to care. Pictures of a vet in the fullness of health, followed by devastating video of that same veteran struggling to cope with the injuries caused by war. Then a pitch for funds to help.
Most Americans “know” veterans through our culture. Whether it’s someone like Nicholas Brodie in Homeland, Chris Kyle in American Sniper, or Steve McGarrett in Hawaii Five-O, depictions of veterans in popular culture begin to abound the further we seemingly get from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Comics are no different. Venom: Space Knight, for instance, features a Iraq veteran front-and-center. Not just any veteran, either: a veteran who is disabled, thanks to the wounds suffered in Iraq. Flash Thompson, the character in question, lost his legs in the war. His alter-ego, an alien symbiote, gives him not just strength but the ability to walk.
Because of that, Marvel Comics is joining with Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) in order to bring attention to the issues that veterans deal with. Their upcoming story arc focuses on Thompson’s struggle with learning how to use prostheses, as well as well as his daily struggles with life as a double-amputee.
I love the idea of Marvel using its phenomenal cultural might to garner veterans the help they need. I strongly dislike that they’re partnering with WWP to do that. Of all the organizations that Marvel could’ve picked, WWP is probably the worst.
WWP is notorious among veterans like me for doing very little to actually help us. The money they ask for in those ads? Very little of it winds up helping veterans. Most of it, in fact, goes towards either self-promotion (those cloying, saccharine TV ads) or internal support — salaries for their executive officers, lavish offices, that sort of thing.
It’s a shame, because there’s organizations out there that could totally use the help. Take the Fisher House, for instance. This is a network of comfort homes where families of veterans can stay at no cost whilst their veteran is receiving care from a VA or military medical center. Thompson’s family would qualify. I’m sure that the Fisher House would love the publicity.
Fisher House isn’t the only one. Team Rubicon’s gotten a lot of deserved plaudits for leveraging the expertise of veterans in helping communities get over disasters. The Pat Tillman Foundation, set up by the family of the former NFL star who died in a tragic friendly-fire incident in Afghanistan, runs a scholarship program for veterans. Its charge is building a diverse community of people who are committed to public service and helping others.
The list goes on — the Bob Woodruff Family Foundation. Operation Homefront. The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. Swords to Plowshares. All of these charities actually do what the Wounded Warriors Project claims to do, and fails to actually accomplish — help veterans and their families.
Here’s the thing: it didn’t take a whole of effort to dig this information up. Criticism of WWP is fairly widespread, and goes back several years. Certainly, talking and engaging with communities of veterans reveals that information. Not only that, it helps point the way towards organizations that actually engage with veterans, and don’t just use them as props for personal gain.
I’m glad that Marvel is doing this. I’m looking forward to seeing how this particular storyline develops; it’s got the potential to depict veterans like me as humans in their fullness, rather than marbled figures on a pedestal, there to be venerated. I just wish that, fourteen years after we began fighting our latest war, Marvel had done their homework a little better. The beauty of it is that there’s always another story on the horizon, and another moment for redemption. Let’s hope they don’t let it pass by on the by.