Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Iraq veterans deserve more than post-combat negligence

Iraq veterans deserve more than post-combat negligence

by Military Families Speak Out Member Stacy Bannerman

WHEN the appalling conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center were made public, accompanied by grim photos of moldy walls, crumbling ceilings and dirty, bug-infested rooms, it sparked a national outcry and immediate action. Unfortunately, it has been comparatively quiet about the nearly 300 Iraq war veterans who have committed suicide, and thousands more who have attempted it.

America cannot afford the price of failing to care for veterans with combat-related mental-health problems. The systemic breakdown in mental-health care is so profound that military families and veterans groups have filed lawsuits against the Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth have filed a class-action suit on behalf of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The suit claims there are as many as "800,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans said to suffer or risk developing PTSD." The groups charge the VA with collaborating with the Pentagon to avoid paying PTSD benefits.

Joyce and Kevin Lucey of Belchertown, Mass., are suing the VA for negligence, contending that their son Jeffrey, a Marine Reservist, hanged himself after the military refused to treat his post-traumatic stress disorder.

Yet, in conversations about the dire state of care for deployment-related trauma, the question I am most often asked is some variation of "Why should I care?"

Not so long ago, I believed that when it came to veterans' assistance, demonstrated need was justification for treatment. I thought that the unprecedented number of troops returning from Iraq with post-combat mental problems — 31 to 48 percent, compared with the estimated 30 percent for Vietnam veterans — was evidence enough.

Because this country drapes itself in the flag of family values, I thought the increased divorce rates among U.S. troops might be sufficient motivation. I presumed that the growing body of evidence attesting to the skyrocketing rates of child abuse, neglect and maltreatment during combat-related deployments would be enough to spur this nation to tend to the invisible wounds of war.

I imagined that the escalating incidents of post-deployment domestic violence and murder — domestic abuse in military households is around five times the civilian rate — would seal the deal. And then there are the public health and community costs incurred when the police, fire and emergency medical technicians are called. The costs escalate more when the courts get involved, when guardians for the children are assigned, supervised visitation is required and foster-home placements have to be made.

I figured that making good on this nation's commitment to support the troops, and keeping America's promise to take care of our veterans, would be sufficient closing arguments.

I was wrong. It seems that the double bottom line on most Americans' minds is economic and national security, both of which are compromised by negligent post-combat care.

According to the Department of Labor, the unemployment rate for young Iraq war veterans is triple that of their civilian counterparts. Almost half of the 425,000 citizen soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan experience deployment-related mental-health problems, according to the Department of Defense Mental Health Task Force.

Because their post-combat mental-health care is limited or nonexistent, when citizen soldiers return to their civilian jobs, they bring their psychological problems along.

In Washington and other states with large concentrations of civilian veterans in the work force, untreated war trauma means higher turnover, increased absenteeism, elevated health-care and human-resources costs, and reductions in performance and productivity. It also means a diminished tax base, lower housing values and fewer consumers.

Those things may be the least of our worries. The No. 1 reason for military attrition is untreated mental-health problems, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. If we don't take care of the troops who have seen combat, they will, quite literally, not be available to take care of us.

Stacy Bannerman is the author of "When the War Came Home: The Inside Story of Reservists and the Families They Leave Behind." The wife of an Iraq war veteran, she is working to establish The Sanctuary for Veterans & Families, a Kent-based nonprofit. She can be contacted at

Posted with permission of author.


RoseCovered Glasses said...

We need to be careful to differentiate between the Active Service Hospitals and the Veteran’s Administration.

There are major differences.

I am currently a resident in a Veteran’s Home after having undergone treatment through the VA for PTSD and Depression, long overdue some 40 years after the Tet Offensive that cap stoned my military 2nd tour in Vietnam with a lifetime of illness.

My blog has attracted the stories of many veterans such as myself and other sufferers from PTSD who were victimized by elements of society other than the VA system of medical and mental treatment. I, for one, became trapped in the Military Industrial Complex for 36 years working on weapons systems that are saving lives today but with such high security clearances that I dared not get treated for fear of losing my career:

When my disorders became life threatening I was entered into the VA System for treatment in Minneapolis. It saved my life and I am now in complete recovery and functioning as a volunteer for SCORE, as well as authoring books and blogging the world.
When I was in the VA system I was amazed at how well it functioned and how state of the art it is for its massive mission. Below is a feature article from Time Magazine which does a good job of explaining why it is a class act:,9171,1376238,00.html

I had state of the art medical and mental care, met some of the most dedicated professionals I have ever seen and was cared for by a handful of very special nurses among the 60,000 + nursing population that make up that mammoth system. While I was resident at the VA Hospital in Minneapolis I observed many returnees from Iraq getting excellent care.

I do not say the VA system is perfect but it is certainly being run better on a $39B budget than the Pentagon is running on $494B.
We have bought into the Military Industrial Complex (MIC). If you would like to read this happens please see:

Through a combination of public apathy and threats by the MIC we have let the SYSTEM get too large. It is now a SYSTEMIC problem and the SYSTEM is out of control. Government and industry are merging and that is very dangerous.

There is no conspiracy. The SYSTEM has gotten so big that those who make it up and run it day to day in industry and government simply are perpetuating their existance.
The politicians rely on them for details and recommendations because they cannot possibly grasp the nuances of the environment and the BIG SYSTEM.

So, the system has to go bust and then be re-scaled, fixed and re-designed to run efficiently and prudently, just like any other big machine that runs poorly or becomes obsolete or dangerous.
This situation will right itself through trauma. I see a government ENRON on the horizon, with an associated house cleaning.

The next president will come and go along with his appointees and politicos. The event to watch is the collapse of the MIC.

For more details see:

unhappycamper said...

Thanks for posting Friend, and let me say 'Welcome home, Brother.' I'm glad you found us.

I would be happy to post any of your articles. After all, this blog is for veterans.