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On Shoshana Johnson, Jessica Lynch and Disability
In Dissent, Number One Hundred and Forty
by Brian S. Wise
28 October 2003

Shoshana Johnson and Jessica Lynch were wounded in the exact same battle; why is one getting more in disability than the other?

“Shot through both legs and held prisoner in Iraq for 22 days, [Army Specialist] Shoshana Johnson returned home in the spring to a difficult convalescence that lacked the media fury and official hype that attended her friend and comrade in arms, Jessica Lynch,” reported the Washington Post last Friday.  A regrettable circumstance of a regrettable incident, the 507th Maintenance Company’s wandering off course in Nasiriyah and being ambushed last March twenty-third.  “Depressed, scared, haunted by the trauma of her captivity and at times unable to sleep, Johnson walks with a limp and has difficulty standing for long, according to her parents.”  Also most regrettable.
“And now that Johnson is on the verge of her discharge from the Army, insult is being added to her injury, [the Johnsons] say.  While Lynch was discharged as a private first class in August with an 80 percent disability benefit, Johnson, set to leave in the coming days, learned last week that she will receive a 30 percent disability benefit for the Army for her injuries.”  The difference is palpable, but not merely financial.  It’s true Lynch’s monthly disability will exceed Johnson’s by as much as $700, but put the money aside for a moment and think about what it means, ideologically, when a soldier who was practically sitting next to an eventual media darling at the time of the ambush cannot merit the same consideration as the current day celebrity.
We cannot say whether Shoshana Johnson wanted or expected the media fury that enveloped Lynch, or even a book deal.  (One suspects not; Johnson has had the good sense to avoid the national media thus far, though it would be nice to hear the story of the entire 507th as opposed to one capture and rescue.)  We also cannot say whether Johnson was afforded similar community pleasantries compared to Lynch, but those were hometown movements impossible to intellectually transfer from city to city.  We can say both Johnson and Lynch came about their injuries in the same attack and battle, so there is some wisdom in wondering why one person will receive $125 per week for suffering serious injuries and why the other will receive $375 per week for suffering serious injuries.
Enter Jesse Jackson, at the behest of the Johnson family.  Jackson is pretty good at thinking and talking about other people’s money, but even better at getting money out of people and organizations who have no interest in giving it away.  “Race clearly is a factor.  Here’s a case of two women, same [unit], same war; everything about their service commitment and their risk is equal … Yet there’s an enormous contrast between how the military handled the two cases.” 
Well, you should be skeptical enough of Jackson by now to consider the first part typical race baiting of the Jackson tradition and par for the course; the implication suggests nothing other than an institutional racism was at work in the decision, something Jackson cannot prove, but that is illogical besides.  Surely there are some black soldiers collecting more in military disability than some whites and vice versa, some whites collecting more than some Hispanics and vice versa, right on down the line.
Despite that, Jackson was right to say there was clearly an “enormous contrast” between the handling of Shoshana Johnson and Jessica Lynch, which is problematic because it at least hints to racism and other dishonesties, something the military doesn’t need at any time, but now especially.  It should be said: I have absolutely no knowledge of the processes employed when it’s decided which wounded veteran is entitled to what amount of disability pay; of course it’s possible that many factors unknown to me were taken into account when it came to Shoshana Johnson.  Certainly it’s impractical to suggest every soldier wounded in Iraq should proportionately be allowed what Jessica Lynch was allowed, but how consistent are the current standards?
If you believe the military as a whole is an honorable institution that acts in the country’s best interests – and therefore has a vested interest in treating all its soldiers (active, discharged and wounded) fairly – then equal consideration should be lent in equal matters.  Given that Shoshana Johnson was actually shot in combat alongside Jessica Lynch, who wasn’t, that she was held for nearly two weeks after Lynch was rescued and has a child to support, Johnson’s actually seems a superior argument for greater compensation than Lynch’s, and should be reevaluated before an unfortunate, if unintentional, moral mistake is made.

Brian Wise is the lead columnist for IntellectualConservative.com.

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