Tuesday, May 06, 2008

American Public Abandon Vets As 1,000 a Month Attempt Suicide

Abandoning The Troops :American Public Uncaring , disinterested or Uninformed ?

Most Americans know little or nothing about Mental Illness so are unable to seriously debate or discuss these issues. Many come from the old school who still think that a number of Mental Illnesses are a lot of liberal hogwash.They may see it as mere lingering or laziness or just cowardly behavior.

There are those of course who just don't want to spend large amounts of money on the veterans and so will do whatever they can to reduce the cost.

Is the American Media not interested in this story because it would mean facing up to the real human cost of war. No one wants to read about soldiers with missing limbs or disfigured by burns and explosions . People don't want to hear about soldiers returning who suffer from severe depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder who are suicidal or who are unable to reintegrate into civilian life. No like Bill O'Reilly and other supporters of the Iraq war they only want to hear about the happy stories of Vets who successfully re-integrate into civilian life whose marriages are not destroyed who are happy and well adjusted. But many soldiers return their bodies or minds shattered. The argument must be made again and again that suffering from some form of mental illness brought on by being in a combat zone is just as serious as being wounded or having lost a limb. When over 6,000 US vets are taking their own lives in a period of a year then this is a crisis and an epidemic which should not be ignored. Yet it has been and will probably continue to be ignored.

One of the reasons for this is the stigma our society still attaches to all forms of mental illness.

It is seen as personal failure on the part of the individual.
The individual is told in one way or another that this is something about which they should feel shame.

The family and friends of the mentally ill veteran also feel ashamed about the issue and would rather not admit to the problem or to face it or talk about it.
And when the illnesses outcome is drug or alcohol addiction this only adds to the stigma.

Suicide is one of the most drastic outcomes of the illness and is seen by our society as a cowardly and shameful act . So families and friends are not willing in most cases to discuss the event. It becomes a shameful secret.

So for the Veteran who is depressed who feels life is either meaningless or just pain and more pain who then considers suicide as an option is not encouraged to admit these feelings to friends or family or to health care providers. This is part of the insidious nature of mental illness . The secrecy, the shame , the sense of failure, a sense of inadequacy combined with the replaying of various horrifying experiences the person had while in combat all of this for individual becomes overwhelming. When you add to this an unresponsive bureaucratic system then disaster is sure to follow.

Part of what is needed is understanding mental illness which develops as a result of being in a combat zone . We should not blame the victim. It is not some sort of failure on the part of the individual . There is nothing the individual could do about it.

Of course early intervention may help in a lot of cases. But this means being prepared to deal with these cases in the field. This means having enough medical staff who are trained to deal with depression, severe panic disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other forms of mental illness without stigmatizing the patients.

The persons suffering must be willing to seek help. But if the disease is stigmatized it becomes difficult for individuals to seek help before it is too late.
It is too late when the person has already committed suicide. What some will do is volunteer for more dangerous assignments as a kind of death-wish . They may also due to their distorted thinking be a danger to themselves and others especially in a combat situation where everything really is a matter of life and death.

A soldier should not have to choose between getting the help he needs and being tossed out of the military without the same protection as a wounded soldier would receive. Those with mental illness should be treated the same as those who are wounded in action.They should be properly evaluated before they are actually released from the military at least where this is possible. For some the worst psychological symptoms may not become evident until months after leaving the military . Professionals and the public have to see this in terms equivalent to soldier developing a serious life-threatening infection from a wound for instance long after leaving the forces or developing a physical illness from bacteria or a parasite picked up while on active duty yet not detected till some time later.

Healthcare for Vets

What is most hypocritical about the Bush/Cheney Regime and its supporters and cheering section is that on the one hand they insist that everyone support the troops and claim they are the most supportive of the troops yet they are constantly 'nickel and dimming' the troops to save money. When troops landed in Iraq they did not have the proper equipment families of soldiers were holding bake-sales to raise money to buy proper flak jackets etc.

If a soldier has been wounded and was shipped state-side before his or her tour of duty was finished the government insisted the soldier pay back their signing bonus because they had not finished their tour of duty.

Now we discover vets are not entitled to full medical care that this is a matter of discretion on the part of the VA.

So the president may give a soldier a medal for some heroic act or use the troops in his speeches but he does not want the VA to expend resources on Iraqi Vets. I guess they are not worth it.

So for all the talk about supporting the troops it becomes muted when there is money involved

Once again we enter the surreal world of Bush/Cheney and the neocons.
The department of Veteran Affairs one would think would be on the side of the Vets but instead it is run not by concerned empathetic health Care professionals but by the Bean Counters who will do anything to save a buck or two. The health and welfare and dignity of American Vets of the Iraqi and afghanistan Wars is not a first order priority.

The U.S. government may be very generous when it comes to Blackwater & Halliburton and KBR and other private contractors working in Iraq but as for the soldiers and vets not so much.

This is why we have the spectacle of a government department and its lawyers fighting against American Vets in order to deny them full medical coverage . They also seem to be making the point that once a soldier returns to civilian life the military no longer has any responsibility to that soldier . Therefore any care the soldier receives after that point is purely discretionary and is not a right. The only thing they that is the VA will pay for is for the Vet's funeral. Though maybe Bush or a later government will try to change even the rules on paying for a Veteran's funeral . I.E. if you don't get killed in combat the government does not pay for your funeral.

from AfterDowningStreet.org VA Debated PR Plan on Vets' Suicides by davidswanson Tue, 2008-04-22

By Jason Leopold, www.consortiumnews.com

“Seeking help from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs ... involves a two-track system,” according to the plaintiff’s trial brief. “A veteran will go to the Veterans’ Health Administration for diagnosis and medical care; and a veteran goes to the Veterans’ Benefits Administration to apply for service-connection and disability compensation.

“VA is failing these veterans as they move along both of these parallel tracks. They are not receiving the healthcare to which they are entitled (and where they do receive it, it is unreasonably delayed) and they are not able to get timely compensation for their disabilities, which means that they have no safety net.

“These two problems combine to create a perfect storm for PTSD veterans: they receive no treatment, so their symptoms get worse; and they receive no compensation, so they cannot go elsewhere for treatment. The failings of these two separate but interrelated systems are what this action seeks to address.”

The lawsuit alleges that numerous VA practices stemming from a 1998 law violate the constitutional and statutory rights of veterans suffering from PTSD by denying veterans mandated medical care.

Justice Department attorneys argued in court papers filed in March that Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were not "entitled" to the five years of free healthcare upon their return from combat as mandated by Congress in the "Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act."

Rather, the VA argued, medical treatment for the war veterans was discretionary based on the level of funding available in the VA's budget.

also see:

Al Martinez:Los Angeles Times:Insidious disease of war is behind many military suicides/Recent reports from Iraq and Afghanistan bring to mind a sad case from Korea./May 5, 2008


The Madison Times: U.S. Veterans Sue VA over poor care,soaring suicide rate

"The veterans groups are also seeking a judge’s order forbidding the VA from turning away any veteran who shows up at a facility seeking mental health care.
In a number of high-profile cases, Iraq war veterans have killed themselves after being turned away from the VA.

Lawyers for the government disagreed strongly with the veterans, claiming that the VA runs a “world-class health care system.” Multiple times during his opening statement, Justice Department lawyer Richard Lepley portrayed the veterans’ groups as “special interests” and argued the changes the groups seek in their lawsuit — better and faster mental health care, and more rights for veterans appealing denials of benefits — are beyond the judge’s authority.

“You have no standards to judge,” Lepley told Conti. “This court shouldn’t be trying to be a substitute for what the medical professionals at the VA decide.”

the case " focuses on the nature of the Byzantine bureaucratic system that veterans must navigate to receive health care and disability benefits. According the Department of Veterans Affairs, the average time a veteran must wait to learn if his or her disability claim has been approved is 185 days, or about six months.

Veterans’ groups have asserted that the real wait is much longer, noting that if a veteran appeals the disability ruling, the appeals process can drag on for years. According to internal VA documents provided by the plaintiffs, 526 veterans have died this year while their disability claims were being reviewed."

—Aaron Glantz

As retired Col. Robert F. Collins writes in the The Coloradoan:

The Coloradon May 4, 2008 /Where is outrage?
Robert F. Collins, col., U.S. Army, retired

Leaving aside the merits of the decision to invade Iraq, U.S. citizens are in agreement that veterans have a right to expect excellent medical care, rehabilitation, counseling, relocation support and government-assisted programs to integrate them back into society as productive members. The current administration has criminally, deliberately, and systematically refused not only to acknowledge the extent of the problem, but also worked to cover up the problem and pass it on to the next administration.

This is the most secretive administration in U.S. history. It is almost impossible to obtain reliable statistics on any activity associated with the Iraq War. The shoddy treatment received by veterans was exposed briefly by the Walter Reed Hospital scandal. The VA mental health director inadvertently disclosed suicide statistics for veterans. In 2007, there were 1,000 suicides or attempted suicides per month. Studies reveal more than 300,000 veterans suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, more than 300,000 have suffered brain injuries; and more than 330,000 veterans are homeless. It takes more than 180 days for the VA to adjudicate veterans' claims.

There is no shared sacrifice in the United States for the Iraq War. The sacrifices are made by the military and their dependents. Their postwar needs have largely been ignored. No planning was conducted to care for returning veterans - many with permanent debilitating injuries. The VA does not have the personnel, resources, facilities, or will to adequately treat our veterans. The problem must be addressed; our veterans should not be dishonored.

and so it goes,

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