Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Send Them Where?

A wise person once said that any nation that cannot properly care for their veterans has no business making new ones. These, our newest generation of scarred soldiers, deserve far better than what they have received from the government and the nation they swore to defend. We sent them over there, and now they are marching home, some of them with Hell itself in their minds and hearts. They can, and must, be helped and healed.

We must get them out of Iraq, get them out of Afghanistan, get them home and get them well. They deserve nothing less from us, and it is the very least we can do for them.
- William Rivers Pitt, "When PTSD Comes Marching Home"

Which is exactly how I'd concluded my own treatment of the subject of Sgt. John Russell allegedly slaughtering five of his fellow soldiers at Camp Liberty. But Pitt, while he may be right about calling for the return of these psychologically-scarred veterans of the Bush/Israel proxy wars, virtually invalidated his call before he'd even made it.

The Walter Reed Hospital scandal is still fresh in the minds of those not easily distracted by American Idol or Dancing With the Stars. It was a scandal that made even people who haven't a dog in this fight to quiver with fury that our government that impersonally sends so many hundreds of thousands of troops over a 6 year-long campaign could then treat them so shabbily when they're invalided home.

Send them home to what? The government, showing its shallowness as well as its gift for unintentional irony, swiftly mobilized and thought they could both literally and figuratively whitewash the problem of the private corporations that had neglected our soldiers. The PR campaign had the appearance of a slumlord being reported to the Board of Health who then hastily hired painters, paper hangers and exterminators just to get the authorities off his back.

The problem with Walter Reed was that the slumlord was the authority. The base commander obliviously lived in a palatial mansion literally right across the street from Building 18, the source of the most infuriating revelations in Dana Priest's and Anne Hull's landmark expose for the Washington Post.

But what outsourced horrors we'd seen and heard at Walter Reed is, of course, only part of the picture. What has gotten far less attention was the Bush administration crowing about increases in VA funding while saying nothing about drastic decreases in their budget for dealing with veterans suffering from PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

When the Bush administration and the GOP-dominated Congress were still running roughshod over the land, they had in 2005 proposed cutting out of the VA's budget $4.3 billion that were directly paid out to the treatment of PTSD for these troops. As with Hurricane Katrina, the GOP's first instinct and rationale for cutting such necessary funding was to blame the troops themselves. A mantra that we'd heard in late 2005 was "fraudulent claims" of PTSD.

As if a combat soldier would be willing to put those big, scarlet PTSD letters on their forehead, especially if they weren't truly afflicted, just to get a free handout.

Adding pressure on lawmakers to further slash the VA's budget was this sobering statistic given to us by the Washington Post in 2005:
In the past five years, the number of veterans receiving compensation for the disorder commonly called PTSD has grown nearly seven times as fast as the number receiving benefits for disabilities in general, according to a report this year by the inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs. A total of 215,871 veterans received PTSD benefit payments last year at a cost of $4.3 billion, up from $1.7 billion in 1999 -- a jump of more than 150 percent.

Experts say the sharp increase does not begin to factor in the potential impact of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, because the increase is largely the result of Vietnam War vets seeking treatment decades after their combat experiences.

In other words, the financial as well as the psychological note hasn't even come due, yet. One of the reasons why we faced a recession in the Carter years was because the note from the Vietnam War hadn't fully come due until then. There's always a lag, a calm before the storm before it's truly felt on Main Street, USA. War has a wide turning radius and its impact isn't truly felt by the general population until long after the war itself is over.

But the psychological toll has barely begun to be felt. William Rivers Pitt begins his article by giving us a long list of crimes that had been committed by men of all ages and in many different states, often ending in murder and/or suicide. Only later in the article does Pitt reveal that every one of the dozen crimes was carried out by a veteran of either Iraq or Afghanistan. And, as Pitt said, it is far from complete.

So again, I ask, if we're to bring these men and women home, where will we put them, how will we treat them both medically and socially? Much has been made by Republicans who publicly fret about placing Guantanamo's detainees in US prisons but they, strangely, do not seem at all concerned about mainstreaming psychologically damaged, trained killers back into the open streets of America.


At May 14, 2009 at 4:44 PM, Anonymous Heidi Stevenson said...

This nation does not care for those who are in need, whether mentally, physically, or any other way. That's the bottom line. It matters not how a person got into the loser class. Once there, that's all that counts.

Yes, I'm angry - not just about the vets, who have never been treated any better than now - but also about all those whose lives aren't worth a shit because they never had a chance, or the medical system destroyed them, or they're the wrong race, or the wrong sex, or born with a body that doesn't work right, or born in the wrong country.

The idea that America loves an underdog is pure myth, an idea that's fed to the public to redirect their attention. It works quite well.


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