Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"Coming Home" 2008: Iraq and Afghan Vets Return



YouTube: IAVA "Community of Veterans"

More Importantly, How Are Our Vets Being Treated?

TV has recognized our vets. Well, a soap opera hired one, anyway. Obama may hire one, too: Hawaii's own Major Tammy Duckworth, the Army's female helicopter pilot who lost both legs fighting for her country, might be our next Secretary of Veterans' Affairs. As for the rest of those coming home, it's not a happy time.

Unemployment in parts of the States has hit double digits. State, County, City and private colleges are cutting back their financial aid and their enrollments. The credit crunch is hitting kids who grew up on plastic especially hard: Can't even afford a Slurpee at the 7-11 now that the VISA-card is canceled. And that dream home the military bonus was supposed to buy? It's a bit beyond the means of most enlisted personnel and lower-ranking officers, even if they could get a mortgage these days. Just getting a loan for a new car might be a problem for many. And let's not talk about the price of gas, "down" to $2.50/gal! Welcome home, soldier!


The nation's financial crunch is taking its' toll. Already majorly stressed-out after repeated deployments to urban, mountain & desert guerrilla wars in hostile nations whose very culture rejects us, our troops are suffering psychological problems in record numbers. Whole combat units have suffered suicides, family killings, and other acts of violence on the home-front. The Department of Defense and Veterans' Affairs have been slow to address the problems, starting out with the usual bureaucratic defense of denial. Hell, they only just recognized the effects of Gulf War Syndrome, after seventeen years. But that's faster than they recognized Agent Orange problems, I guess.

VA Hospitals are not what they once were, or what they were meant to be, after WWII. They means-test and narrowly define "service-connected" medical problems, discouraging vets from seeking treatment. The whole system has been hanging by a thread for decades, eyed for possible conversion to Medicare or Medicaid facilities, or privatization. Some entire States only have one VA Hospital. And there is little or no outreach to the new generation of veterans.

The problem is compounded, ironically, by the advances in battlefield medicine: Wounded soldiers who might never have made it to an aid station are now whisked off to state-of-the-art hospitals in time to save their lives. But many of them are so grievously wounded or mutilated that they will require major rehab and/ or medical attention for the rest of their lives. The system is just not set up for that. Even wounded vets with much less serious problems are finding that the DOD and VA are not able, or not willing to help them out, Stateside. We've all seen the pictures of those run-down military hospitals and barracks for the casualties of war who made it home. Did we care?

Public sentiment is another problem. Sure, every SUV had a "9/11" sign, a yellow ribbon that said "Support Our Troops," and a "BUSH-CHENEY" bumper-sticker. But what is the attitude toward the men and women going off to war, and then bringing it all back home with them? We haven't heard those apocryphal stories of "hippies" spitting on returning soldiers at the airport this time. But we haven't seen a lot of ticker-tape parades on national TV, either, except for sports teams.

Given the fact that this was an all-volunteer effort, drawing largely upon our National Guard and Reserves, with their older personnel, constantly rotated in and out of two war zones, the effect of the war on the larger population has been minimized. At the same time, while none of the rest of us was at risk, we all knew somebody who was at risk. The shipping clerk or his wife. The corner druggist or her husband. The mailman, fireman, policeman or woman we used to see almost every day. The boy next door. The girl you sat next to in school. Women. Lots of women in this one, in combat for the first time, despite the regulations against it. Well, they're back, mostly intact. They look the same, sort of. A little older. A little haggard, maybe. Probably lost a few pounds. Kinda tired around the eyes. Sometimes they just stare off into space. We all do that, sometimes, right? But we did not choose to go to war. And they did.

So what's the difference? Are they angry at us? Are they hurt that we didn't join them, and haven't much recognized them for what they did? Do they find it hard to understand that we don't understand what they did, or what they think they did? To many of them, their actions "in-theater" mattered, to themselves and their comrades, and to many locals over there. They could see the chaos, which we created, coming under control, thanks to their own efforts. They saw the remains of the old Saddam and Taliban regimes, and they knew that there had been major improvements.

After many months inside the military propaganda machine, they might have come to accept the official line on the war's effectiveness and on the Iraqi and Afghan people's gratitude, and on how we succeeded in bringing democracy to the Middle East. All that stuff which the rest of us don't even consider real, for the most part; don't even think about, ever: All of us among whom the returning warriors-triumphant now have to live as shipping clerks and insurance salesmen. How's that working out for them, I wonder?

"Vets' Suicide Rate "Stunning""
' Some of America's 25 million veterans face their biggest fight when they return home from the battlefield -- when they take on mental illness. And, a CBS News analysis reveals they lose that battle, and take their own lives, at a clip described by various experts as "stunning" and "alarming," according to Chief Investigative Correspondent Armen Keteyian. One called it a "hidden epidemic." He says no one had ever counted just how many suicides there are nationwide among those who had served in the military -- until now. The five-month CBS News probe, based upon a detailed analysis of data obtained from death records from 2004 and 2005, found that veterans were more than twice as likely to commit suicide in 2005 as non-vets. A recent Veteran Affairs Department estimate says some 5,000 ex-servicemen and women will commit suicide this year, largely as a result of mental health issues, and Keteyian says, "Our numbers are much higher than that, overall." '
"VA Conceals Vet Suicide Figures From CBS To Downplay ‘Epidemic In Suicide’»"
' Yesterday marked the opening day of a class action lawsuit brought by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans against the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), arguing “that failure to provide care is manifesting itself in an epidemic of suicides” among veterans. The VA denies the charges, pointing to increased resources devoted to mental health. Today, CBS News reports that the VA apparently concealed veteran suicide statistics, and fed the news organization faulty data for a story on the issue. The VA told CBS that there were 790 attempted suicides in all of 2007. Yet shortly after, the VA’s head of Mental Health, Dr. Ira Katz, wrote in an e-mail to the VA’s top media adviser that there were “about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among veterans we see in our medical facilities.” Suicide among veterans — even those who seek help from the VA — continues to be a huge problem. Just last week, the VA Medical Center in Dallas, TX, officially closed its psychiatric ward after a fourth veteran this year took his own life. Often veterans cannot get help right away: According to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, “The average wait-time for a disability claim” — including mental health problems — “is 183 days, or about six months.” '
"New Ad Tells Vets They're Not Alone, Offers Social Networking "

' Sometimes one needs to restate the obvious to point out what's right in front of us. Herbert was discussing the launch of a major new ad campaign by the advocacy group, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, that aims to send a message to returning vets: you are not alone. The ad touts an online social networking Website called communityofveterans.org which not only provides useful information (such as how to navigate the VA), but also gives vets a chance to correspond with each other. Because the site was designed by veterans, attention is paid to aspects of veteran life the general public may not be aware of, such as an excellent portion that deals with homecoming. Put simply, the site got it absolutely right: It’s good to be home. Or is it? '
"Help Is on the Way"
' Returning to civilian life from combat is almost always a hard road to run. Studies have shown that a third or more of G.I.’s returning from the combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan — more than 300,000 men and women — have endured mental health difficulties. Many have experienced the agony of deep depression, and alarming numbers have tried or succeeded in committing suicide. A CBS News study found that veterans aged 20 to 24 were two to four times as likely to commit suicide as non-veterans the same age. The advertising campaign, initiated by the advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, was designed to increase the number of veterans seeking treatment for their mental health difficulties. Many are embarrassed to speak about their problems or are unaware that help is available, or even that they need help. As Bryan Adams told me, “I didn’t know anything about these symptoms. I didn’t know what post-traumatic stress disorder was.” '
"Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America"
' Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is the nation's first and largest group dedicated to the Troops and Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the civilian supporters of those Troops and Veterans. IAVA is an independent organization and is not affiliated with any groups other than our sister (c)4, IAVA Action Fund. '
"Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans Social Networking Site"
' Join our veterans-only online community to connect with people who know where you're coming from. Share your experiences and help others make the transition to civilian life. Stronger Together. '
[Cross-posted at blog me no blogs by cosanostradamus.]