The Problem with War
The Problem with War: Veterans Day Episode
It’s Veterans Day, so we're talking to some vets. Jon is joined by Staff Sergeant Wesley Black, who sadly passed away shortly after this episode was recorded, and Sergeant Isiah James. You may remember them from the Apple TV+ episode we did on burn pits—if you didn’t see it, you really should. Jon also catches up with his friend, Air Force Senior Master Sergeant Israel Del Toro.
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The Problem with Jon Stewart Podcast
Episode 7 Transcript
Isiah James: Could you imagine what would happen if LeBron James, Kim Kardashian, what if they lent their voice to this cause right now, what they just tweeted about this s*** right now? It would reach people who don’t listen to you, 15 or 16 and 17 year olds who don’t know who f***ing Jon Stewart is. Why don’t they care if those people tweeting right now that s*** will make national news right now. Nicki Minaj tweeted about somebody’s testicles that s*** was on the news for three weeks.
Jon Stewart: Because that’s – let me tell you something
Isiah: It was on the news for three weeks. It was on CNN.
Jon: That’s that’s what the news cares about.
Jon: But if the news would come on and just educate instead of incite, we’d live in a different world.
Jon: They’re interested in views and clicks and engagement and testicles sell.
Jon: Hello, everybody. Welcome to the podcast. Today is November 11th. It is Veterans Day, so we have a Veterans Day special program for all of you. Discounts? No, my friends. We will be talking to veterans. There is also a new episode of the Apple TV Plus show. It’s about gun control, and we’ll do that on next week’s podcast. But today is all about talking with some veterans. We actually did a TV show on the topic of veterans health and burn pit exposure. If you haven’t watched that episode, there is a link to it in this podcast episode description. And, of course, did a couple of podcast episodes on the topic as well. If you watch the show that we did on Burn Pits, you actually might remember two of these folks, Wesley Black and Isiah James, we’re getting some updates from them. But first, I’m going to talk to my friend, retired Air Force Senior Master Sergeant. Oh, I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted already. Israel Del Toro, his name is Israel Del Toro, but you can barely get to it behind all the other titles he makes you say. I know him as DT. He and I have been friends for 15 years and he is an a******. That’s not really true, actually. I love him, but I do like to say things like that to them just to see if he gets mad.
Interview with Israel Del Toro
Jon: You son of a b****. You’re not wearing any pants? How is she letting you get away with that?
Israel Del Toro: Hey man we’re empty nesters.
Jon: Empty nest means no pants?
Del Toro: That means no pants. No nothing.
Jon: So we’re talking to Israel Del Toro, DT. I’ve known DT. When did I meet you, DT? 1955? When how long have we known each other?
[DEL TORO LAUGHS]
Del Toro: I don’t know what to say. What about maybe 2008? Maybe.
Jon: Something like that. I met DT. Oh, this was such a weird night. I was with Mick Foley, the wrestler. Remember him? DT was there to speak. It was a USO event. Do you remember how nervous you were?
Del Toro: Hell yeah. I was just kind of starting out so you know, I was nervous. You know, I’d rather be calling in airstrikes downrange in a firefight than at that time being in front of all these guys and giving a speech.
Jon: You were saying it was one of your first things because DT was wounded in Afghanistan. In what year?
Del Toro: December of 05.
Jon: December of 05, you know, I remember you telling me the story about it. You got hit and you were obviously really hurt and wounded and you still like called in an airstrike like in your underwear as you were, as you were, like wounded.
Del Toro: Yeah, I got hit. I got on the truck, but I was on fire and luckily one of my teammates helped me up. He helped me to the creek and extinguished myself. The medic was trying to take care of me and I was like, “Nah, I’m good, I’m good.” You know, I’ll ask someone to cut off my – we call them ranger panties, you know, there’s a little running shorts like the elastic was burning me, so I actually was trying to get aircraft in butt naked.
Jon: Insane, man. And then obviously, I mean, grievously wounded in your stories is remarkable. You ended up. How long did they did they have to put you in a coma? At that point they weren’t sure.
Del Toro: They put me in a coma, and they gave me a 15 percent chance of survival.
Jon: They didn’t know who they were f***ing with.
Del Toro: They didn’t.
Del Toro: And it’s funny. You know, the doctors told that to my wife and she’s like, trust me, I know my husband he’s going to beat this because he’s a stubborn a******.
Jon: It worked in your favor. But the other side is you didn’t just survive, you thrived. You become a gold medalist in adaptive sports. I mean, you know, I’ve followed DT through all his exploits at the Warrior Games, you know, competing in shooting and racing and in the shot put, you’re like the world record holder for adaptive sports. And I mean, it’s an incredible achievement.
Del Toro: A lot of us, you know, especially in the military, a lot of us were athletes. So, you know, when we get out of the hospital and we’re saying, “Okay, we’re missing limbs.” I was like am I going to be able to play sports. And luckily, you know, you know, at least they’re at Brooke Army Medical Center, at the Center for the Intrepid. They introduced you to adaptive sports. And, you know, I kind of started, you know, getting into it because I wanted to continue sports. I wanted to one day be able to throw baseball and play catch with my son. You know, get back into it, start working out, get in shape because, you know, I got a smoking hot a** wife and I don’t want her to leave me. You know, I got to stay in shape.
Jon: Right. And you also could have worked on your personality. I mean, that’s the other thing is, you did work on the physical stuff and you got much stronger, but your still kind of is is d*** the right word? No, it’s –
Del Toro: You know, you know, I have no problem going over there and beating up an old man.
Jon: Don’t think I won’t come down there. I will fly out to Colorado. Let me tell you something about D.T. So D.T, not only has become an adaptive athlete, he re-enlists in the Air Force. A hundred percent, what you have a hundred percent disability rating?
Del Toro: Hundred percent disabled.
Jon: He re-enlists in the Air Force and becomes a jumpmaster. A jumpmaster like out of planes, right? They – he creates all these adaptive gadgets so that he can still jump out of planes. And what does he do that? What does he use that skill for? To throw his friend, to throw his friend out of a plane at 10,000 feet in Colorado.
[DEL TORO LAUGHS]
Del Toro: You thought I was going to go with you too.
Jon: That’s how diabolical this man is. He goes, “Hey, man, we should jump out of a plane. Be really cool.” I get all swept up in his enthusiasm. He’s like, “Oh, by the way, don’t eat anything that morning.” I’m like, “Don’t eat anything? Breakfast is the most important meal,” so we get there and they strap me up and they put me in like a Pinto that flies.
[DEL TORO LAUGHS]
Jon: It was like the smallest plane, doesn’t even have a door. It has like you would have on like a bread box, like a little handle that lifts up and you climb into it.
[DEL TORO LAUGHS]
Jon: And so I get in, I go, “DT what are you doing?” He goes, “Oh no, man, I’ll meet ya on the ground.” Like, wait what?
[DEL TORO LAUGHS]
Jon: They take me up, we jump out of the plane and they spin me around and like, I don’t know what it’s called like some sort of crazy.
Del Toro: Hold on. Hold on. You spun yourself.
Jon: But he told me to do it.
[DEL TORO LAUGHS]
Jon: The guy that the instructor goes, “Do you want to steer yourself?” I go, “Sure.” He goes, “Okay, yank it like this.” So I go boom and immediately throw myself into like a 720.
[DEL TORO LAUGHS]
Jon: So now I have to throw up and I have another five minutes before I, before I land. So I just had to sit there. I land in this circle of Air Force jump masters that have all come around to greet me. And before they can like cheer, I vomit for maybe 10 minutes straight.
[DEL TORO LAUGHS]
Jon: And I look over and DT. He’s just like this. “You feel good? Feel good, buddy? Hey, buddy. Was that fun? Was that good, buddy?” Son of a b****.
Del Toro: But you did it. Most people don’t do it. You did it.
Jon: I did it. I did it for you. I did keep it secret from my family, and then I told them afterwards, and I do have to say this, though, man, the free fall is really fun. Like that part was kind of exhilarating. The spinning and the vomiting and the just waiting to come down. Not as fun.
Del Toro: Right.
Jon: But the other stuff.
Del Toro: You know, it’s funny because you know you’re expecting – You jump out of a plane, you’re going to feel like, you know, you’re on a roller coaster.
Del Toro: But it’s not. You’re just floating.
Jon: It’s crazy. But that freefall. And they did it for a while like we were. We were plunging for a good longer than I would have thought. But man, that part I love. But the rest of it, I didn’t –
[DEL TORO LAUGHS]
Jon: – How many jumps have you made?
Del Toro: Total?
Del Toro: I got about 200 something.
Jon: That’s crazy.
Del Toro: It was, you know, fly a jet, call in an air strike, which I got to do again. But the last one I thought I’ll never be able to do will be jump out of a plane again.
Del Toro: And when you know the Air Force kind of reach out to me, it’s like they want me to come to be an instructor and then say, “Hey, do you want to jump?” I was like, “Hell yeah.” You know, luckily, you know, I have people that supported me because they had my back, you know, because you’re always going to have the naysayers like, “Oh, how could you do that?” You know. “He can’t jump out of a plane.” It’s like, it’s like, dude obviously you don’t know who I am? As like, “Yeah, you can.” I was like, “I’ll show you you can.” And you know, there’s a way to kind of show, you know, other people that sometimes feel like they can’t do things, then they’re like. They see me or see something that I do. And then, like “Holy s***, this guy is able to do this.” You know. “This guy is able to jump out of a plane with no freaking fingers.”
Jon: Mm-Hmm. So it’s- this is our Veterans Day episode. What do you want to say to the country about our veteran community, the way that we interact with our veteran community? How we respond to the issues in the veteran community, you know, what are your thoughts on that?
Del Toro: And on Veterans Day I just I guess it’s a day to kind of thank your veteran, but you know, you shouldn’t it shouldn’t just be one day. You know, just going up to one is like, “Man, I respected what you did,” or you know, “Thank you.” And… You know, just simple, like simple things like that means a lot, you know?
Jon: Mm hmm.
Del Toro: You know, for me is when I’m just, you know, go get something to eat and I sit down and, you know, sometimes I’m there by myself, sometimes I’m there with my, you know, my wife and I go to pay my my bill and the waitress is telling me “Someone just picked this up for you.”
Del Toro: Little things like that is usually not the biggest extravagant things that you see out there that the guys appreciates just the simple things.
Del Toro: You know, just saying, “Hey, man, I got your six. Means a lot.”
Jon: I get that. You think we sometimes get too caught up in like the symbolic s***?
Del Toro: You know, sometimes you know, we we kind of need a certain, you know, date or you know –
Del Toro: Yes, those days are important. I got it. But it’s just like.
Jon: But it’s the real stuff. It’s the on the ground –
Del Toro: It’s the real stuff. It’s like, it’s like Valentine’s Day. You know, you take your wife flowers on Valentine’s Day.
Jon: Are you proposing to me?
[DEL TORO LAUGHS]
Del Toro: Hey, man, it’s the world. But you know, when you take flowers to your loved one. But it’s not Valentine’s Day or an anniversary or birthday.
Jon: Right. It means you’re thinking about it on every day, every day you got someone’s six.
Del Toro: Yeah, every day. For me, I’m not supposed to be here. I should be dead. I should be buried out there with my teammates. So I live every day, like it’s could be my last, so why am I just going to wait one day to tell someone, “Hey man. You’re my brother,” you know, I call you out of the blue, like, “Hey, what’s up, Jon?”.
Del Toro: You know, call a buddy and say, “How are you doing, bro?” You know? I do that every day. I try. And like I say, I’m perfect, but I try.
Jon: Yeah, I’m not going to say you’re perfect either.
Jon: Don’t even f***ing. Don’t even try it. I will jump on your back and I will be a backpack and you will never shake me. You will be done, sir.
[DEL TORO LAUGHS]
Del Toro: Yeah, you’ll be like a little spider monkey?
Jon: You will. That’s exactly right. I’ll be a little spider monkey. And there’s nothing you can do about it. Dude. You know, I love you. I’m looking forward to seeing you. I’m so sorry that you’re wrong about everything politically but that’s okay.
[DEL TORO LAUGHS]
Jon: A lot of people have flaws, and that’s yours.
[DEL TORO LAUGHS]
Jon: Alright, young man. Please send my love to your family.
Del Toro: I will.
Jon: I’ll see you guys soon. Am I going to see you? Are you coming in for Stand Up for Heroes?
Del Toro: I am. Yeah, and try to dress up this time.
Jon: Shut the f*** up. I don’t need this from you.
Del Toro: Stop looking –
Jon: What are you, my grandmother? That’s it. I’m dumping out of this call I’ve had enough.
Del Toro: Love you, man. Take care.
Jon: Love you, brother. Take care DT.
Jon: Alright. So in honor of Veterans Day, Rob Christensen, one of our writers and he is a veteran and some of the other writers have compiled the best discounts that veterans do get. They might not get the health care and benefits that they’ve earned or deserve, but they do get some pretty tremendous discounts. So nothing says thank you for your service. More than five percent off apps at Chili’s.
Veterans Day Joke Off
Rob Christensen: Yo, it’s time for the writers to do a Joke Off. In the VA episode, we talked a lot about what veterans don’t get, like health care for their cancers, so in the interest of being fair, we’re going to talk about some things that veterans do get. I have Robby Slowik.
Robby Slowik: Yo.
Rob: Toccara Mallard.
Toccara Mollard: Oh hey.
Rob: And Kris Acimovic.
Kris Acimovic: Yes.
Rob: I’m Rob Christensen, and I have a list of military shopping discounts. I’ve compiled some of my favorites, but we’re going to start nice and easy a 30 day gym pass at the UFC gym, but only if you mention the Harley Davidson military program.
Robby: Yeah, that’s right. Soldiers, bikers and cage fighters in one place. Do I get to pick a locker or do they stuff me into one of their choice?
Kris: I can smell this gym just from reading like I can smell it.
Kris: Harley Davidson, military. UFC gym. Is that an offer or just your latest Google search Rob?
Rob: We don’t want to talk about my Google searches in public but it’s pretty close, pretty close.
Robby: It’s common knowledge when you outgrow the Pentagon. It’s time for the Octagon.
Rob: Oh yeah, this is something that I think you don’t want to discount on. That you might want to pay full price for its $4800 breast augmentation.
Toccara: Is this price inflation, huh, huh?
Toccara: You’re welcome, everyone.
Robby: You’re done fighting terrorism, but we’re still fighting gravity.
Kris: Ladies and gentlemen, Joan Rivers.
Robby: I wish.
Rob: Oh, here’s something I use. 20 percent off of pubic hair trimmer at Manscaped.
Toccara: Yes, this is a great deal. I cannot overstate the importance of positive attitudes towards male grooming, you guys.
Kris: Yeah that’s progress.
Robby: We’re all grown.
Rob: We are.
Robby: And it’s yeah, it’s 20 percent off, but you’ll use it to take about 80 percent off.
Rob: There it is.
Robby: How about a whole new meaning to Army Rangers securing a landing strip.
Kris: So I guess now we are shaving Ryan’s privates?
Robby: Smooth read.
Kris: Brilliant read.
Tocarra: When you hit it, you hit it.
Rob: One of my favorite military discounts. 50 percent off one item at Adam and Eve.
Kris: And that’s a sex store?
Kris: What have they got?
Rob: Sex stuff.
Robby: 50 percent off Adam and Eve. Crazy. I looked at their website. My pants were also 50 percent off.
Rob: There it is.
Robby: Is it one item if it’s double sided?
Rob: Yes, it is.
Toccara: 50 percent off. That’s perfect for Adam and Eve and Steve.
Rob: Don’t forget about Steve.
Kris: Don’t forget about Steve. I’m seeing a lot of butt plugs here, and you know what I’m thinking. Not a lot of people know about the part of the Old Testament where Adam and Eve got like super into butt stuff.
Rob: We need to talk about it more.
Kris: Yeah we need to talk about it more. You got multiple holes. You got to try to fit some stuff in. You’re the first people.
Robby: They did destroy a whole city over it, as I recall.
Rob: I got a website 50 percent off at Active Duty, a military themed gay porn site.
Kris: I think good. I think good for them. I think our culture needs more representation of consensual sex in the military.
Robby: And so it’s all military themed like I wonder do they have like a full metal jack off? The Hurt Licker?
Kris: Okay, here we go.
Robby: The Dirtier Dozen?
Rob: Do you have any more?
Tocarra: Oh no.
Robby: The bridge over the river guys?
Rob: You couldn’t have another one.
Robby: Das boot. I don’t even need to change that one. Sounds dirty all by itself. Zero Dark Flirty.
Kris: Okay, okay, how about this Forest Hump?
Robby: Love it.
Kris: Yeah, it’s just the parts where they let them f***.
Rob: Don’t ask. Do tell.
Toccara: I can’t believe no one has said “A Few Good Men.” You don’t have to change that one either.
Rob: That was perfect.
Robby: Written by Aaron Porkin, everybody.
Kris: Oh, okay.
Robby: Written by Aaron Porkin.
Rob: Aaron Porkin?
Robby: Uh-Huh. You know.
Toccara: Written by who?
Robby: Because Aaron Sorkin wrote A Few Good Men and porking is a euphemism for sex.
Rob: So therefore.
Toccara: The joke is always funnier once you explain it.
Kris: That is the rule of comedy.
Robby: This is why I’ve been nominated for three explainy awards.
Rob: Alright, here’s one 10 percent off escort radar. What does that sound like to you?
Toccara: Is that a trick question?
Robby: A place to get a sex worker?
Kris: Yeah or a person to be your date at a wedding?
Robby: Oh that’s a nicer read than I –
Rob: That sounds very sweet. And I know that this sounds like a site that would provide something like that for you, but it’s actually a site that sells radar that locates cops in your area.
Toccara: Oh that’s less cinematic.
Robby: And a wasted product. I don’t need a radar to locate cops in my area. They’re at the Ink Stop getting bad Punisher tattoos.
Kris: Is there a good Punisher tattoo?
Robby: No, there actually is not.
Rob: Well, actually, I have a Punisher tattoo.
Robby: Rob’s is pretty good. He got it at the UFC gym.
Kris: Yeah there is a tattoo parlor inside that gym.
Rob: And that was just a short sample of the endless discounts offered to military veterans. But I think we have enough information to deduce that none of these discounts are better than proper health care.
Toccara: Here here.
How to Thank a Vet
Jon: Alright, so Rob has some thoughts on how to thank a Vet. So Rob Christensen with his thoughts, how to thank a Vet beyond, of course, just the terrific discounts that I think we always offer at least once a year or at other times.
[DRUM ROLL SOUND]
Rob: People often wonder what’s the best way to thank a veteran? Well, you’re in luck because this non-combat Air Force vet is here to officially speak for all veterans. Here are some ways to make us feel appreciated. We want free parking at hotels. Fifty bucks a day and the new day starts at midnight, so you check in at 11 p.m. because you like to drive at night when there’s no traffic, then you pay for a second day after one hour. No, no, no, no, no. Heroes don’t do that.
[SOUND OF CHANTING]
Rob: Listen, if a veteran orders a martini in your bar and you don’t have blue cheese olives, you should just go to the store and buy some blue cheese olives.
[SOUND OF CHANTING]
Rob: Veterans want women to have speaking roles in the “Dune” sequel. I’m not even talking Bechdel test. Just some lines.
[SOUND OF CHANTING]
Rob: The regulation basketball rims should be nine feet high for veterans. We want to dunk for freedom.
[SOUND OF CHANTING]
Rob: Every veteran should get the chance to star in a hallmark Christmas movie and bring the spirit of the season back to a big city career person who forgot their roots.
[SOUND OF CHANTING]
Rob: All dogs should greet all veterans like they just came home from war. We would feel extra appreciated if every dog on the street totally flipped out when they saw us. It doesn’t matter if we’ve never met, or there’s no way for the dog to tell that I’m a veteran. Just train your dogs better. Let’s get it done.
[SOUND OF CHANTING]
Rob: Every single veteran in America wants Dana White to give comedian Rob Christensen two VIP tickets for UFC 269, where Dustin Poirier will beat Charles Oliveira for the lightweight strap. Yes, that is my pick. And yes, that is a lock. See, Dana, we’re not like other writers rooms that are full of nerds who hate MMA, no we’re diverse.
[SOUND OF CHANTING]
Rob: And finally, veterans want health care and benefits for toxic exposure. Obviously, it’s our whole first episode, and I think I’m contractually obligated to shout out Burn Pits 360 dot org. Go there. Help if you can. And look, I know there are a few big asks on this list. So in the unlikely event that none of this stuff gets done, a great way to thank your local vet is to wish them a very Happy Veterans Day. I’m Rob Christianson and happy Veterans Day. Thanks for your service.
Interview with Wesley Black and Isiah James
Jon: So we’re back. If you watched the television episode on burn pits and the toxic exposures for those who have served men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places, you may remember my next two guests. Army combat veteran Isiah James, who was deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq three times, and retired Staff Sergeant Wesley Black, who did two combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and was diagnosed with stage four terminal colon cancer in 2017 due to toxic exposures. Unfortunately, Wes is going to drop from the call, but we do follow up with him after that. So please make sure to keep listening. And here it is.
Jon: So, hey, we’re hanging out, we’re talking to Isiah James and Wes Black. You remember them from the show. I want to start off very quickly. Wes you’re right now we are talking to you. You’re in the hospital right now.
Wes: Yeah, I’m currently at the hospital.
Jon: Thank you for joining us. I’m sorry that you’re where you are today.
Wes: Ah it is what it is, man. My whole health has changed over the last couple of weeks. I’m actually going into hospice care now.
Jon: Are you really?
Jon: Ah f***. I’m sorry to hear that, Wes.
Wes: Just the cards I got dealt, man. I didn’t get the ace on the river like I was hoping, so.
Jon: That f***ing sucksm, Wes.
Wes: It just is what it is, man.
Jon: How are you holding up like, like pain wise and things like that?
Wes: Pain wise. I’m doing okay, pain wise. You know, that’s the nice thing about modern medicine is that, you know, they can do a really good job of managing the pain aspect.
Wes: The mental anguish is more what a what the problem is, you know, dealing with knowing that every time I look at my son, you know, could be the last time I look at him looking at my wife, you know.
Jon: Hey, Wes man, I feel for you and your family and and thank you so much for even taking the time to do the things that you’re doing and trying to get it. But Isiah, you know, this is the kind of s*** I’m sick of seeing this. I’m sick of visiting friends in hospice, and I’m see – this is also the reality of war. This is what people face during these times that the rest of the public doesn’t seem to understand what Wes and his family are going through. What you’re going through with the with all of these families are going through and we’re not being intentional and urgent enough in helping.
Isiah: So you’re sick of seeing it. I’m sick of seeing, Wes is sick of seeing in it. But we’re just talking in our own echo chamber of pain. What we need to do is make America see it so they can get sick of seeing it.
Isiah: That’s the thing we need to bring exposure to this issue because after we taped the show, I got so many messages from people saying that even though this was a problem, they had no idea that veterans were going through this. And how can our country do this to veterans? And that is the reality of war. It seems like America has unlimited amounts of money to go to war, but the care and the treatment and everything that comes after when all these broken soldiers come home, you know, we sacrificed our youth, our mentality. I’m – the best years of our life. It happens every generation, every generation we go to war. You can look back and look at Civil War veterans trying to get benefits. You can look back at Desert Storm veterans trying to get benefits, Vietnam veterans. It’s the same damn thing. So we have a choice. We just ended the longest war we’ve ever had, so we can decide to leave with diplomacy and not fight these wars, to never have these things again. Or we can decide to pump more money into the defense industry.
Jon: I can tell you which way we seem to be going. Wes is there anything you know, Isiah and I are going down to D.C. We’re going to be trying to keep hammering away at getting these things done. Is there anything that you want us to relay on, on your behalf, on your family’s behalf, on any of this?
Wes: I mean, Isiah, you are such an eloquent speaker man like the way you talk. I just I could listen talk to you all day, dude.
Isiah: Thank you, brother.
Wes: And I guess the biggest thing is the total cost of war is much greater than sending our soldiers overseas with, you know, two hundred and eighty thousand dollars worth of equipment strapped to him or her. And the VA is getting better. And I wish that the V.A. and the Department of Defense, they would understand that the total cost of war for these veterans to come home is tragic. Ultimately, it’s tragic.
Wes: My son has to grow up without his father. You know, that’s not fair to my son.
Wes: You know, ultimately, he has to face the ramifications of my decisions.
Jon: Talk to me about that decision Wes because that, you know, I’ve had friends. You know, and visited in hospice and in a similar situation, people that it had served, and they never expressed a regret of their decision to serve, you know, they see a problem, they want to fix it. And do you still feel like you’ve always been that guy and you are that guy and no regrets? Or how are you feeling?
Wes: I do. Yeah, I am who I am because of my service to not only my country, but my community. I chose to be a firefighter when I left the military. I chose to serve my community. And that’s the message that I pass on to my son is serve something greater than yourself. And I would do it all over again without a question.
Jon: I find that to be an incredible sentiment.
Wes: Just like I’m standing up for veterans now talking about burn pits. You know, I’m choosing to do this because I want to stop others from suffering the way that I had to.
Jon: Yeah I mean, if people can see, you can’t see but Wes is talking to us literally from a hospital and Isiah, what you know as you listen to Wes talking, same sentiment?
Isiah: I’m the same way. Yes, I would still serve again. It’s just, I don’t know. Some people are built for some people are built and they’re gorgeous when they’re born. Some people are, you know, mathematical geniuses. Some people just like to serve and help others. And I, to my detriment, sometimes that’s who I am. And that’s just it’s weird because me and Wes think the same way. And so now it’s time for America to atone and to have some skin in the game and to actually help these veterans because frankly, anybody, anybody in government right now. I don’t care what side you’re on, should be goddamn ashamed of themselves that we’re even having this conversation. These are people who sacrificed the best years of their life, their youth, their mental health. These are the most selfless people in society, and they’ve been thrown to the wayside. And like Wes said, the VA is getting better. I saw there are people who truly do want to help you, but the resources aren’t there. I don’t care what anybody says. The resources aren’t there. The resources are put somewhere else. And I don’t know how many times I can say this, and I’m so thankful for people like you using your platform to help people like us because without, our voices would be drowned out.
Jon: I mean, I appreciate that very much, but it’s not, you know, I always considered the least that we can possibly do. And I think the problem that you find is you have a system set up that is utterly removed from the needs of the people that it pretends to serve. And I was going to ask Wes, but I think we lost him, did we?
Sophie Erickson: We lost Wes.
Jon: Okay. Wes, I’m so sorry that we lost him. There’s probably no way to get him back on there, right? He’s gone?
Sophie: No he went to go talk to a doctor.
Jon: Okay, so. Alright. So he had to go talk to a doctor. Alright. Well, let me let me talk to you, Isiah, then about this because we’re going to go down. We’re going to spend a little time down there. You know, I can remember this is a terrible story, but it’s the truth. You know, we went down to testify for the 9/11 health care bills. And I’m, you know, my friend Louis Alvarez, who was sitting next to us. And so we testified in the afternoon that night, Louis went into hospice. Liver shut down, he’d been through chemo, you know, 160 times or some kind of crazy thing, and he was like Wes, using his final moments to continue to advocate for others so that no one else would have to go through this. It was his only f***ing goal.
Isiah: I saw.
Jon: Okay. There’s only f***ing 14, 15 people on the thing, and there’s only six people that are sitting in there. And two of these guys, Gohmert and Jim Jordan, come in and they get their name tags and they get counted as present for a minute, and then they hand back their name tag and they leave. So I’m obviously completely out of my mind with anger about this situation because, you know, we were invited down there to tell, you know, have these guys tell their stories to amplify their stories. And the indifference of this panel was startling. And one of the congresspeople, the guy has the balls to say to me, “You’ve got to understand, you know, the members are very busy,” which is basically saying, as we’re sitting next to a guy who’s spending his last f***ing days on this Earth, advocating so that other people don’t have to suffer the way he did, what this congressperson was saying to him was, “Hey man. My time is valuable. You have to understand I got a lot of s*** going on,” and it was that disconnect in the room that made me realize, “Boy, we’ve got a road to travel here.”
Isiah: Then that’s the same disconnect that we’re dealing with today.
Jon: No question.
Isiah: During World War II, everybody had skin in the game. You know, Veterans Day now has become f***ing triple stack pancakes and half off mattresses.
Isiah: I don’t need a f***ing half off of a mattress. I need health care. I don’t care about a “Rooty Tooty Fresh N Fruity.” I care the fact that there’s a homeless veteran who’s about to kill himself and 22 are dying a day because we don’t have the resources. I mean, like I said on the last show, this s*** is criminal what we’re actually doing to people we, you know, sent to fight in our name. This, if this was in a movie, we would be the bad guys. We would be the villain.
Isiah: If America saw what America was doing to America’s veterans, America would invade America to save American veterans from America.
Jon: And then America would make it illegal to teach that in our schools. So that we don’t know that’s actually what happening.
Isiah: It’s an insane thing that this is going on.
Jon: It is. I’m going to prepare you for that when we go down there. So the thing you’re going to hear from these senators and they’re all going to be very polite and they’re going to be very nice. But the thing they’re going to say that’s going to drive you bananas is you spend this kind of money. You need a PAYGO and a PAYGO is you’ve got to offset that spending somehow. And what you’re going to be thinking in your head is we just spent $6 trillion on 20 years of war with no f***ing PAYGO And now you’re telling a sick veteran, “Hey, man, if you can come up with the money, if you can go through the countries couch in the underneath those cushions and find yourself a little something, yeah, we’ll take care of it.” That’s the disconnect that continues to haunt all of these meetings. Taking care of this issue is a drop in the bucket. They just passed after 20 years of war, a defense budget that’s more than $750 billion. That’s who gets out of 20 years of war and gives themselves a bump.
Isiah: Yeah. So the good thing about talking to folks like that is I went to graduate school for public policy, so I know how to read a budget. So I know when you’re telling me bulls***, I mean, so yeah.
Jon: Alright. I should have – I should have brought you earlier.
Isiah: I wouldn’t – Listen, I literally went to school for public policy. So like, you just said $750 billion. Think about this, Jon. That’s more than the top ten nations combined. The top ten largest nations defense combined. Nine of which, eight of which, excuse me, are our allies. The only two that aren’t allies are Russia and China. So we spend more than all of them put together so that the PAYGO is bulls***. All we have to do is cancel one contract for General Dynamics, and that’s $50 billion that we can put into the burn pit registry.
Jon: Yo, I’ve said that a million times in those meetings. We have this thing during this war. It wasn’t enough that they were spending, you know, billions every year.
Isiah: So our defense budget right now is over a trillion dollars. You just don’t see the other part because not only that, not only is it 750 billion on paper, it’s all the contractors and subcontractors and all that stuff. Our defense budget is well over a trillion dollars as it stands right now.
Jon: Bananas. And you would actually save money by changing the VA from their adversarial position to just an administration position and then focused on screening and prevention. They would save so much f***ing money and so many lives and change the stress of what you guys have to go through to jump through. They audit you guys within an inch of your lives. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has they failed any audit they’ve ever gone through, and there’s no oversight to any of these guys.
Isiah: Do you realize that the top 20 corporations last year did not pay billions of dollars in taxes?
Isiah: Do you realize there’s over two trillion dollars sitting in offshore accounts that aren’t taxed?
Isiah: So the money is there all we – So if you don’t want to touch a defense budget, which is crazy. Don’t touch the defense budget. Just close every f***ing corporate loophole. BP does not need subsidies. WalMart does not need subsidies. No Fortune 500 company needs subsidies. Just close those loopholes, and we could pay for every single program we’re talking about with veterans, with free college, with health care. All that s***.
Jon: Right for everybody, not just veterans. Here’s the other thing. You know, one of the things people say to me like is you – Yeah, sure. You know, you advocate for veterans. Here’s one of the things also that goes along with this. If we can’t take care of the people that take care of us, this is the lowest hanging fruit of a functioning society.
Isiah: We’re one percent of the population.
Jon: One percent of the population, and it’s the population that serves to protect the other 99 percent of the population. And you may disagree with their mission. You may disagree with whatever the foreign policy is that they have to execute. But the truth of the matter is if we can’t take care of them, what chance do the rest of us have? Very little.
Isiah: Little we can. We truly can. But so the thing is, we have to shake this old tree of all these –
Jon: No question.
Isiah: Our constitution is over, is 200 years old, right? The Constitution was written when I was literally human f***ing property. Okay, so maybe it’s time to look at that document and to say maybe senators shouldn’t have as much power as they have? Maybe this electoral college, which is a vestige of slavery and white supremacy, is kind of bulls***. Maybe all these other rules and laws that were written by men who did not f***ing know that we could walk on the moon should not be governing our life 200 years later.
Jon: What Isiah is proposing right now is critical race theory, and obviously that is illegal to speak about on radio and podcasts. So this disclaimer’s for the Apple lawyers.
Isiah: Oh my bad. I didn’t know.
Jon: Apparently, this podcast can no longer be heard in Florida. I’m terribly sorry. And Ron DeSantis, you have my official apology. Isiah, I mean, like, you couldn’t be more f***ing dead on. So how do we address this urgent need in a non bureaucratic doublespeak way? Because it’s doable.
Isiah: So I always use the example of we found Saddam Hussein hiding in a dirt hole in the middle of Iraq in a country of millions of people. We found Osama bin Laden by using satellites to measure his gait and his shadow from ten thousand miles up in the middle of Abbottabad, Pakistan. The s*** we’re talking about is $50 billion.
Jon: Right. And it’s literally like just administrating people and screening them for health care, which is something that we already do in other ways
Isiah: That other other nations already do it. So we’re talking –
Jon: Well, that’s a great point.
Isiah: Other nations already do this, so it’s not like we’re trying to reinvent the wheel. It’s trying to get these people in Congress to understand that our car has no goddamn wheels and people are dying in the backseat while you’re telling me that you’re going to try to look for tires for it.
Isaiah: Other nations have already done this. This is not something new. And that’s why it’s so infuriating and frustrating is because, I can see if we were talking about, you know, six seven hundred billion dollars for this problem. $20 billion is not a lot of money to throw at a problem like this. Over five years.
Jon: Where the solution is is clear.
Isiah: It’s clear as day.
Jon: All you need is the intention and the will. It’s possible I’ve seen them commit to excellence in these other ways, why they can’t do it for exposures and other illnesses. Is a question of intention and will.
Jon: Alright. Isiah James, I can’t wait to go down to D.C.. We’re going to have ourselves a day.
Isiah: Yes, I will.
Jon: You know, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your help and your wisdom and your insight. And we were talking to Wes Black as well. Obviously, we always wish Wes the best, and it just reminds us of the heartache of all the other friends that we’ve lost and so many that have sacrificed so much. And so obviously, you know, we wish Wes the best and we’re always thinking about him and Isiah, you as well. So we’ll talk to you guys later.
Isiah: Thank you.
Jon: Thank you, sir.
Jon: Thanks to Isiah and also to Wes. Unfortunately, as you heard during that, Wes had to drop out. But the next day, he and I were able to jump on another call. And here’s part of that conversation, here you go.
Jon: I want to remind everybody, so we’re talking to Wes Black, we’re talking him yesterday, but he had a bunch of appointments. Wes, how often do you now have to like check in with the doctors? Like is that are you there every day now?
Wes: Yeah. So I’m actually right now in liver failure.
Jon: Oh boy.
Wes: And my my health is to the point where I’m doing visiting nurse and hospice every, every few days.
Jon: Oh Jesus.
Jon: Are you able to spend like any time with some friends, with your family? Like anything where you can you get your mind off it a little bit?
Wes: Yeah. So I’ve had family and friends from both the fire department the military have come up to visit and, you know, hung out with me for a few hours at a time.
Jon: I remember when my buddy Ray was going through this and he was with the fire department for many years. And those dudes would not leave him alone to the point where at a certain point Ray was just like, “get out of my house.”
Wes: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. My guys on my fire department were phenomenal through this entire process.
Wes: It’s it’s good. It’s a good problem to have is having that, that family connection, that camaraderie. Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Jon: I have heard now I’m not. Obviously, I’m not a physician, I’m not a doctor, but I have heard that the best medicine is Guinness. Is that possibly correct?
Wes: I would be willing to venture that the best medicine is quite possibly Guinness. Yeah, that or a McCallum 40 year.
Jon: Oh, exactly. So they better come bearing gifts.
Jon: That’s all I can say.
Wes: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Jon: And by the way, tell me if, like any of this s***’s too personal or any of that kind of stuff. But you know, that’s a tough thing. And people are going, I think they think it’s unimaginable. And, you know, to hear somebody discuss it rationally when it’s such a. You know, it’s an irrational thing. What you’re facing, do you say things like, you know, here are some things I want for the future. And is that something like that you allow yourself to think about and to face head on?
Wes: You know, I already have my pallbearers picked out, I already have, you know who I who I wish to speak at my funeral picked out.
Wes: I’m pretty sure my wife is going to speak at my funeral. She just said, no, she just said, “No, I’m not.”
Jon: Is she right there? Can I say hello? Hello. We’re sending you the best from over here. Wes, I can’t tell you how much, you know, I don’t know if you get a sense of this, but your words on the show were really powerful and the response that the groups that are working on the burn pit issue has been phenomenal.
Wes: That’s great. I’m glad because it was the whole point. You know, I just I if I can just prevent one other veteran from going through what I’ve gone through.
Wes: Then, then I succeeded.
Jon: You know, we’d been working on this for a while. But over this past year, it kind of stagnated a little bit. You know, the as things do down in Washington and COVID didn’t help because we couldn’t get down there and kind of rattle the cages and all those sorts of things. Your appearance on the show, I really feel like reinvigorated the groups that are working on it. And I can tell you, Isiah and I are going to be down in Washington and obviously, you know, we would have loved to have you there and we understand that, you know, physically, that’s not possible. But I can tell you this for sure that you’ll be with us, that your words will be driving us, that we will tell your story. You’ve inspired us in a tremendous way and we’re not going to rest. But it’s due to your words and your inspiration. Like, you matter. I just want to make sure that you understand that, that you matter and that what you’ve done is consequential. And will have an impact.
Wes: I appreciate that. I first started arguing about burn pit legislation, thinking that I wasn’t going to make a difference. You know, I was just one single voice that. How much can a difference can one voice make
Wes: And as I’ve continued down this path now I’m thinking more of what what legacy I’m leaving behind for my son and what my son is going to think of me in ten twelve, fifteen twenty five years because the last thing I want is for my son to be chewing the same dirt that I did when I was in Iraq and Afghanistan. I hope in some small way. That my choosing to stand up for what is right. Will, forever last in his mind of, you know, my dad was a good person because again, going back to what we were talking about yesterday, I don’t regret my service.
Wes: I regret what my service has done to me, that’s unfortunate.
Wes: I would do it all over again, but I want to ensure that my sacrifice and what I, how far I moved the ball forward. A few inches, a few yards, whatever it was, that that success and that accomplishment isn’t lost on the next generation.
Wes: And it swung the pendulum. The one hundred and eighty degrees the other way. So that now when we get home today. Thank you for your service free pancake day at IHOP. You know, thank you for your service, free Jimmy’s Burgers and whatever.
Wes: Well, I understand people try to convey a sense of thanks in whatever way they can.
Jon: Let’s not do it symbolically. Let’s do it in a real way.
Wes: Yeah. And the way to do it in a real way is here. Let’s not have another war.
Jon: Oh, boy. Boy, your mouth to God’s ears on that one.
Wes: And Jon, I hope he’s listening. Dude I really do.
Jon: And as far as your contribution to it, you know you’re bringing light. Do you know what I mean in the ultimate battle, you’re bringing light and your son’s going to know that.
Jon: And what you’ve done is phenomenal. You’ve led by example, your ability to give back your sacrifice.
Wes: That’s all I ever wanted. I just want my son to know that I was a good person and that I had a happy life with him and his mom up until I wasn’t there anymore. You know?
Jon: You know, that doesn’t go away, brother at all. And I’m so proud to know you, and I’m so glad that we got a chance to to hear your story and to tell your story. And when Isiah and I go down there, you know, that story’s going to be at the tip of the tongue and at the forefront of everything that we say. And if there’s anything you want us to mention down there, tell me because I’ll throw it out there with as many curse words as you want me to know.
Wes: No I just, you know, I guess. Sure, I would love to grab every single politician and shake them by the neck and be like, “What the f*** is wrong with you?” Like, what are you f***ing people doing? Seriously.
Wes: But I just. I. I don’t know, at the end of the day, they’re human and no human is perfect.
Wes: And I hope that we can always strive to be better. If we genuinely push ourselves to be better, we can always be better. And I want politicians to know that they have the opportunity right now to be better. Push yourselves to support those who willingly, willingly went and defended this country. Do not forget their sacrifices.
Jon: Your grace in this situation and you are giving of grace in this situation is even more powerful and I can’t thank you enough, brother.
Wes: I appreciate that.
Jon: And I just want to tell you how much your words and your appearance have meant to everyone here and everyone who works on the show. And you know, please, please, please hug your family for us and know that we’re thinking about you guys. And please keep in touch.
Wes: Okay. Yeah, I will. I absolutely will Jon and thank you for giving me this platform, but also giving me the opportunity to. To have a chance to make a difference.
Jon: You absolutely have, and you take care. We’ll talk to you soon.
Jon: Alright. Unfortunately, I do have to share some sad news. After the call with Wes and Laura that Sunday night, November 7th, unfortunately, Wes passed away and we just here at the podcast, just can’t thank him enough for sharing with us in those really difficult moments, and he clearly knew what was ahead of him. And unfortunately, having been through these types of things more than I’d like to, I do know one thing in that these guys just want to know that they mattered. And, you know, beyond just making sure that their families are going to be okay. They want to know they the reason, I think, why they keep fighting for these things is it’s how they’re wired and and they want to feel like their time here mattered. That their service, not just in the armed forces, but just in life meant something. And I can say to Wes how much that is true. That his his courage and resilience mattered greatly. And, you know, on a pure just. Not even existential level, but just on a practical level. There’s already because of Wes’ involvement and speaking out about the troubles that he had and and why he developed the stage four colon cancer. We’ve already gotten notices on Twitter from soldiers saying, you know, because of that, they got a colonoscopy, and one individual said they found a cancerous polyp. And you know, that’s Wes. That’s Wes Black saving a life. Even after his is over. So, so. Burn Pits 360 other organizations still working on these things. We send our our best wishes and greatest hopes to Wes’ family. I know that they’re surrounded in love, but they’re adjusting to life without. So I’ll leave the last word to Isiah. This is he was speaking to a group of reporters, this is when we were in D.C. last week. This is, I think, a great example of of what drives his passion and what drives Wes’ passion and gives you some perspective and context on how someone in their final moments can still be fighting so that others don’t have to experience it. To all of our veterans serving here and abroad. Just f***ing be safe and take care of yourselves. Thank you. We’ll be back next week.
[ISIAH JAMES NEWS CLIP]
Isiah: My name is Isiah James. I’m senior policy adviser for the Black Veterans Project. I want to talk about my brother, Sergeant Wesley Black. Sergeant Wesley Black was denied the treatment at the VA that would have caught his cancer early and would have saved his life. Sergeant Wesley Black is not an aberration. Sergeant Wesley Black is millions of veterans across this nation that are denied health care and benefits from the very government that they were called to serve. America on this issue is missing in action. Our Congress on this issue is missing in action. We don’t need your goddamn pancakes. We don’t need half off mattresses. What we need for you to do, America, is to enact legislation that will take care of those who went in your name. We laid it out for this nation. All we are asking for is give us what you promised us.
Jon: The Problem With Jon Stewart podcast is an Apple TV Plus podcast and a joint busboy production.