Monday, April 21, 2008

A Surge in Soldier Suicides

The American heroes of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are being decimated, not by the enemy, but by their own hands through suicides. These soldiers are the veterans of both wars who returned to the country, were given military honors and presented as heroes; and after the photo ops and the fanfare, were left to rot by the wayside. In 2006, the rate was reported to be at its highest among soldiers in 26 years at 99 confirmed suicides. Today, it is running at an average of 18 suicides per day. Five of these are under the care of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth have filed a class action suit against the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) claiming inadequate care is leading to a surge in suicides, and would like to see that patients are actually treated with respect. According to Lawyer Gordon Erspamer, "failure to provide care is manifesting itself in an epidemic of suicides". There are about 300,00 US troops, roughly 20% of those currently deployed, who are suffering from depression or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), after their tour of service in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In July last year, a class action lawsuit was also filed against the US government by veterans of both wars on behalf of hundreds of thousands of veterans, claiming the DVA has deliberately cheated traumatized war veterans of benefits owed to them. These include disability pay and mental health treatment. This case comes 3 months after President George Bush apologized for the scandal that broke out in Walter Reed Medical Center where wounded veterans were housed in sub-standard facilities infested by rats and cockroaches on walls full of molds. The scandal caused the resignation of US Army Secretary Francis Harvey. President Bush promised to fix the problem at the time. While the walls have apparently been whitewashed, the problems remain and its effects have worsened.

Of the country's 744,313 homeless, about 194,254 or roughly 25% are veterans, even if they comprise only 11% of the adult population. Moreover, 44,000-64,000 are chronically homeless and some 500,000 are at a high risk of homelessness as of November 2007. And, many veterans find themselves at shelters so soon after their discharge from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The mental health problems arising from these wars are enormous, and fears of their numbers growing at a very fast rate have been raised.

The DVA has countered that 3,700 new mental health professionals have been added, bringing the total to just under 17,000; and that $3.8 billion has been earmarked for mental health. It is filing papers arguing that courts have no jurisdiction on the day-to-day management of a network that has 153 medical facilities nationwide. Here, the American bureaucrat's penchant for numbers and figures come into play. It is not the size of the budget nor the number of professionals that matter, but the quality of care and treatment received. Reference should be made to the thoroughness with which each patient is diagnosed, evaluated, and respected in the process of treatment. Also, the rightful provision of benefits paid to each soldier after the service duty should be judiciously and speedily forwarded. A disabled soldier has already been robbed of a number of opportunities in life, must he still be cheated out of the sacrifice he has rendered and endured?

Can the US sustain 100 years in Iraq as John McCain proposes if it treats its heroes this way? Will not these images weaken recruitment for US forces? Is America so financially bankrupt that it allows its heroes to waste away in demeaning conditions? What purpose do the medals serve? Has financial bankruptcy led to moral bankruptcy? Is this any way to fight a war, much less win it? Will these issues be singled out again as agitation by left wingers so it can be easily dismissed after labeling? The figures cited are from the DVA and US Census, and there is no way these can be denied. The number of suicides per day are actual deaths with the corresponding body count, it cannot be silenced by denial, but can be denied by silence.

Like Vietnam, the veterans are being released like damaged dogs left to struggle for their survival in the garbage dumps of the urban jungle. This is no longer surprising. After being used and rendered useless, the promises become memories of a surreal nightmare, which soldiers wake up to each day. Would they have been better off killed and buried? Apparently, that's what those who took their own lives believed. In World War II, the US created the USAFFE to help defend against the Japanese invasion in Asia. These were soldiers fighting for America who were promised veterans benefits and back pay after the war. They are now in their 80's and are dying in the streets of the US waiting for the promised benefits. Their Iraq and Afghanistan wars counterparts could well be their grandchildren in terms of the age gap, and they suffer the same fate.

It seems that being a soldier in the land of the free and the home of the brave, you are free to die by your own hands or those of the enemy, or you can brave surviving alone, like a wounded and unloved dog.



The Fitness Diva said...

WOW. I had no idea that the neglect and mistreatment of vets both new and old was this severe. Our gov't should be ashamed of itself, truly.

18 A DAY? That's an epidemic. The fact that these people are so used and then just tossed away like empty containers is deplorable.
Why would anyone want to join a military that is so blatantly uncaring and disloyal to them in the end?

Kim said...

it's shocking Durano !!!
and to deprive these heroes of their benefits is pushing these people over the edge....
these soldiers are the real victims of war!!!
excellent post !!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Fitness Diva,

I see a lot of blogs where there's a dedication to soldiers killed in action. Also, some other sites that post a story of the heroics of a disabled soldier.

Perhaps a majority of Americans have not realized the plight of the returning veterans, a considerable number may not want to know, while others simply don't care.

These are human beings who fought for what they believed in, and to return to get such treatment only worsens their personal tragedy, making it more difficult to live with. They lose all hope and surrender their faculties to the nightmares endured as they have lost the will to cope and the hope of getting their life back.

This is a tragedy for the youth of America who have once again been made to bear the political adventurism of its leaders.:-) --Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hello Kim,

Just think about the soldier after all his training has been completed. He is thinking of the honor and dignity of the uniform,the privilege of fighting for his beloved country, the pride and the capabilities that were provided so he can serve to the best of his potential,the courage and the glory of serving the cause of freedom and what it will be worth for his family and loved ones to live in a free environment, the opportunities that await him - the hero - when he returns via the benefits and pay.

He then does battle, goes on patrol, and the nightmare slowly creeps in. He is wounded and suffers PTSD and depression, treated like dirt and dumped into a rat and cockroach infested facility. He is discharged and is cheated of his pay. He cannot face his townmates because of his disability,and cannot get a job because of his mental condition, cannot qualify for admission in school also because of his mental health; and the hero has nothing to show for his tour except fading medals and crutches, and dwindling cash. He leaves town, moves to a shelter and drinks his life away.

These are being re-lived by veterans of these recent wars. The descriptions I made above were those of the Vietnam veterans 30 years ago, and the same thing is happening today. From the second world war, it hasn't changed much. There was a song in the 60's titled "Where Have All The Flowers Gone". If you know that song, the end line goes "When will they ever learn?" That song aptly describes this current situation of the US soldiers in these wars. :-)--Durano, done!

Tommy said...

The poor have always historically fought the wars for the rich with little or no dignity left as a result. Unfortunately, your line about financial bankruptcy giving way to moral bankruptcy is probably the most powerful and telling of the entire post. Sad really.

joanjoyce said...

worst is here in the Phils. the gov't cant even afford to buy them boots, eating on a 30 pesos a day allowance.

Soldiers really are every nations heroes, they really deserve a salute whenever we see one.

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Joanjoyce,

Notwithstanding my personal experience with soldiers, I still believe in the inherent goodness of the Filipino soldier, their dedication and love of country.

True, they are also deprived and are at times humiliated by politicians when used for campaign purposes. It's the rich versus poor struggle always and there will come a time when these will have to be put to an end by what is right and what is just. :-) --Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Tommy,

I really feel for the soldiers and their misfortunes are many. Its the job being performed at its dangerous location that causes the depression and PTSD and at such a young age. This drives them to acts of aggression when they are in civilized society where they are often misunderstood and dismissed as freaks. Yet they went to war believing in the goodness of their country and the worthiness of its defense and imperative nature of fighting for its honor. That's the spiel they are indoctrinated with.

We know it goes beyond that and into the depths of greed, profit and plunder using personnel paid by civilian taxes to enlarge the wealth of businessmen cronies of those in power.

Its more than moral bankruptcy Tommy, it's truly in the depths of evil. This is really deplorable and sad. --Durano, done!

April 22, 2008 4:53 AM

Zhu said...

That is really sad. It really shows that wars are ugly for everyone, no matter on "which side" they stand... or are made to stand.

Tapline said...

Brad, I read your post with much dismay....I have availed myself with assistance of the VA on many occasions. I have never had a problem, Never, with any treatment or assistance I have requested from them. I have never had to require the assistance of a Mental health counsellor, psychycologist or worker. I guess I can count myself lucky. If indeed I read your post correctly, 25% of all VA patients who are diagnoised with PTSD Commit suicide? this is scandalous.

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Zhu,

Tommy's right. Since time immemorial, wars were fought by the poor for the rich.

War is an extreme form of political action based on an economic agenda. And I agree with you, all wars are ugly and vicious no matter what side you're from or at. Benjamin Franklin once said "...There never was a good war, nor a bad peace..."
:-) --Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Tapline,

I would not say you're lucky Tap, but rather fortunate.

There is an average of 18 suicides per day presently. 2006 was previously the highest suicide number in 26 years at 99.

The 25% referred is the proportion of homeless veterans to total homeless people. This is such a disproportionate figure since the veterans comprise only 11% of the adult population. In short, most veterans end up in penury and cannot afford a home. As of November 2007,more were already at risk of losing their homes and are probably homeless too by now.

This is still a scandalous situation considering what they went through. The 2 veterans organizations that have filed cases in their behalf I don't know about. I hope they are not there to use these veterans for whatever insidious political agenda or propaganda. Just help the soldiers, that should be foremost on everybody's mind.:-) --Durano, done!

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