When Warriors Come Limping Home


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When Warriors Come Limping Home

Shameful details continue to emerge on the neglectful care extended to soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army's inspector general reports that more than nine out of 10 disabled veterans have been kept waiting for benefit evaluations beyond the 40-day limit set by the Pentagon. Some have waited up to a year and a half for benefits.

A study of 650 soldiers at 32 Army bases portrayed a system overwhelmed by the dual wars. And the number of cases needing evaluation have leapt to 15,000 in 2005 from 9,000 in 2001. The system is stymied by a lack of trained personnel, modern computer systems and even wheelchair access for some of the returning wounded.

The story isn't much better at the Veterans Affairs Department, responsible for shepherding wounded soldiers after service. With a backlog of 600,000 claims, the agency took four to six months to process a veteran's initial paperwork and more than 20 months for appealed decisions, according to a survey by Congress's Government Accountability Office. That study predicts that the veterans department will be swamped by 638,000 new claims in the next five years, adding up to $150 billion in costs.

Congressional critics are properly calling for the hiring of hundreds more workers to process the claims. Others urge a new policy that would automatically accept a veteran's claim for disability benefits, with spot-checks to weed out weak claims. This seems both sensible and humane because more than four out of five claims are eventually approved under the currently overwhelmed system.

It seems like every day another member of the Army brass is out because of this scandal. That’s not nearly enough. President Bush has a clear responsibility to fix this shamefully broken system.





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A Valentine to Newlyweds Separated by Their Country

by Susan Van Haitsma

Published on Wednesday, February 14, 2007 by CommonDreams.org

The young woman and I talked into the night as we headed south on a Greyhound bus. Each minute of conversation carried us physically farther from but perhaps emotionally closer to the enlisted man she had married just three days prior. The wedding she had arranged and paid for in their home town had to be canceled because his leave was revoked at the last minute, so she had traveled across the country for a visit with him that included a quick civil ceremony at the courthouse nearest his base. She described in almost comical terms their attempt at a honeymoon, braving sub zero temperatures with bodies unused to a northern climate, with his close-shaven head and light sailor hat and her thin jeans, to walk downtown to see the sights. When she couldn't feel her legs anymore, she told him, “Baby, I'm sure this is a nice place. Send me some pictures. But, for now, get me out of here!”

She said that they ate at the McDonald's on base, “where their logo has a little anchor hanging on it - it’s kind of cute.” She didn't expect the food prices to be so high there, nor had she or her husband counted on other expenses of military life when they had decided jointly on his enlistment several months ago. This hadn't been her first trip to see him, and she hoped that she could go again by train in the coming weeks, bringing along her two children. But, she wondered if she could afford the travel, or even the purchase of winter clothing for her children. There were also the added costs of keeping up two households, as she put it - “his and ours.” She said that they had decided he should enlist in order to help support their family, but now she realized that the support they really needed was his presence at home.

Although I was a stranger, my seatmate expressed her concerns with a frankness that had not yet been altered by the ‘culture of silence that often engulfs military family members. With surprise rather than self-pity, she noted the ways her husband had already changed since basic training. She described his new obsession with order, his habit of lining up his shoes and even his toothbrush and toothpaste in precise, parallel fashion. She said that he suggested she do the same. He was more acutely aware of the time, of the number of minutes necessary to accomplish daily tasks. He walked in front of her instead of by her side. In his sleep, he called out as though he was responding to orders. She explained that he used to show his affection for her liberally in public and private ways, but now he was aloof, turning away from her in bed even during their honeymoon weekend.

Another unexpected consequence of being a military spouse was the paper work she had been required to sign in the case of her husband's death. She described feeling physically sick as she and her husband listened to an official explain the necessary procedures: the personal effects that would be sent to her, the body, the funeral. Because he was in the Navy rather than the Army, she hadn't foreseen such a discussion taking place in the first hours of their marriage. The death talk compounded her worry because he told her rumors had been circulating that his unit might soon be shipped to the Middle East.

I asked my seatmate what reasons, beyond the financial security they had hoped for but that so far had proven illusory, had guided their decision about her husband's enlistment. She said that he “had a problem with authority” and had been fired from a series of jobs, so he felt that the military would help him achieve the discipline he needed.

I confided to my seatmate that the “I need more discipline” motivation is one of the most perplexing reasons for enlistment that I hear, and I hear it frequently. Self-discipline and coercion are opposites. But, I didn't really need to explain that paradox to my seatmate, who already had described how the brand of discipline her husband was learning was leading to family separation rather than the family protection they were promised.

My heart aches when I think of the significant challenges this young couple faces, but I also am heartened by the fact that they are asking questions and discussing the discrepancies between what they know and what they are told. My valentine to them reads, “Question authority always.”

That jealous lover, Uncle Sam, pointed his long finger and shot an arrow into the joined hearts of this couple and said, “I want you to be mine.” But, they had pledged their hearts to one another, not to him.



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Battlefield Flashbacks

For many Vietnam veterans, the Iraq war is a trauma trigger

Dan Ephron ~ Newsweek

Sep 25, 2006

Oct. 2, 2006 issue - Scott Cameron and Dennis Kanke had a lot in common. Residents of Duluth, Minn., both fought in Vietnam and returned home with traumas that lingered for decades. Both clawed their way out of the pit with the help of therapy and medication. And both fell back into it when the Iraq invasion began more than three years ago, with war scenes on television triggering nightmares and flashbacks.”It all came rushing back,” says Cameron, a sinewy 56-year-old who took a bullet in the spine in 1969 and went on to have more than 40 operations. When the depression got really bad, Cameron checked himself into a trauma clinic in 2004, where he spent nine weeks with other war veterans affected by Iraq. Kanke, by contrast, coped by shutting off TV news and occasionally reaching out for help from friends. In August of that year, Cameron got a call from Kanke, who wanted company on his boat.”I’d been on the road for two hours and couldn't drive anymore. I told him to go to sleep and I’d see him in the morning,” Cameron recalls. Instead, Kanke poured a can of gasoline over himself and lit a match, dying in a hospital three days later.

Psychologists have long known that new wars can reopen old wounds for veterans. When U.S. troops fought in Iraq in 1991, clinics of the government's Veterans Affairs (VA) administration were flooded with calls from distressed former soldiers. But some researchers now believe the current Iraq war is particularly vexing for Vietnam veterans because of the ways it is similar to the conflict they fought 40 years ago: the grinding guerrilla warfare, the constant brush with civilians and the political debate back home.

Max Cleland, the former senator and Vietnam War veteran, gave the phenomenon a public face when he disclosed last month that scenes from Iraq had made him depressed. His chief of staff told NEWSWEEK that Cleland has been getting trauma counseling at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington since the start of the war. He’s clearly not alone. In a small study conducted at Cleveland State University earlier this year, half of the Vietnam veterans surveyed said they felt emotional distress over Iraq. And figures put out by the VA show a 36 percent rise since 2003 in the number of Vietnam vets seeking help for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Veterans and their therapists say watching coverage of Iraq or reading about it can make some former soldiers feel like they're back in battle, and can trigger some of the old sensations—the deep anxiety and the hypervigilance. Jim Doyle, of Fresno, Calif., says his anxieties are set off by news of the casualties in Iraq. “When I see a headline—two Marines killed, three soldiers wounded—I see the faces of the guys I was with 36 years ago.”

Some therapists have been coaching veterans to tune out. Thomas Bennett, who counsels former soldiers at a VA center on Martha’s Vineyard, says watching TV “becomes over-stimulating for them and then they have trouble sleeping.” Bennett says some of his patients have required more medication to cope with Iraq-related stress. The VA has also adopted the switch-it-off treatment. Earlier this summer the VA explicitly told veterans suffering from PTSD not to watch “Baghdad ER,” a documentary that follows the wrenching events in an American combat-support hospital in Iraq.

Kanke, the Duluth veteran, had been a Marine photographer, which meant he was regularly taking shots of bodies and battle zones. After the war, doctors diagnosed him as 100 percent disabled due to PTSD. His widow, Carol, says her husband suffered from depression long before Iraq but had been improving. The war put him off course. He grew distant from loved ones, including his children and grandchildren, and he dropped weight, she says.

On the night of his suicide, after talking by phone to Cameron, Kanke roused Carol and pushed her out of the house before setting himself on fire. She says she watched the fire from the outside, then tried to douse her husband with a garden hose. “We had a wonderful life. But when the war started, he just got more and more depressed. He didn't handle things going wrong very well,” she says. Now she's hoping her husband's story will help other veterans spot the symptoms and avoid his fate.


Forget Nam

Ratshit and the Weasel and I are behind this paddy dike, and Victor Charlie's giving us what for.
And Ratshit, he lifts his head, just a little, but just enough for the round to go in one brown eye,
and I swear to Christ, out the other.
And he starts thrashing, and bleeding, and screaming, and trying to get the top of his head to stay on,
But we have to keep shooting.

A B-40 tunnels into the dike and blows the Weasel against me.
He doesn't get the chance to decide if he should give up and die.
Now I'm crying
and I'm screaming, Medic,!
But I have to keep shooting.

At this point, I always wake, and big, black Jerome and little white William, my brothers are not dying beside me even though I can still smell their blood, even though I can still see them lying there.
You see, these two, they've been taking turns dying on me, Again and again and again for all these long years, and still people tell me, Forget Nam. [I go back every day no matter how I try not to!]

by David Connolly Lets take care of our own!


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