Do We Support Our Troops?
Recent news reports have challenged the notion that we "support our troops".
[Right off the bat, let me say that this post has nothing to do with being pro- or against- the war in Iraq. Please do not read it with that frame of mind.]
Specialist Robert Loria of Middletown lost his arm in Iraq, but instead of a farewell paycheck from the U.S. Army he got a bill for nearly $1,800. Local politicians helped solve the problem, but only after some bad publicity.
A soldier confronted Donald Rumsfeld and America was forced to ask, are we giving our troops the tools they need to win? Days later, Rumsfeld was chided for his "cavalier" attitude towards them.
The Washington Times, of all news outlets, broke the story that Iraq war veterans have been showing up at homeless shelters. Quoting a recent vet saying:
"It is all about numbers. Instead of getting quality care, they were trying to get everybody demobilized during a certain time frame. If you had a problem, they said, 'Let the (Department of Veterans Affairs) take care of it.'"
This week has not been a good one when it comes to our government's support of the troops. But my headline's question isn't about our elected officials -- it's out us.
When it comes down to it, do we, and will we support our troops?
According to the July 1 New England Journal of Medicine, almost 20 percent of U.S. soldiers returning from combat duty in Iraq have signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and one veterans group predicts the numbers will increase.
The journal article found that:
The percentage of study subjects whose responses met the screening criteria for major depression, PTSD, or alcohol misuse was significantly higher among soldiers after deployment than before deployment, particularly with regard to PTSD. The linear relationship between the prevalence of PTSD and the number of firefights in which a soldier had been engaged was remarkably similar among soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, suggesting that differences in the prevalence according to location were largely a function of the greater frequency and intensity of combat in Iraq.
The article continues that the rate of PTSD is much higher than those of average Americans (3-4%) or the first Gulf War veterans (5%).
According to the National Center for PTSD, the return home after a deployment can be a stressful time as well, with problems that can linger on for years:
At time of return to civilian life, soldiers can face a variety of challenges in re-entering their families, and the contrast between the fantasies and realities of homecoming (Yerkes & Holloway, 1996) can be distressing. Families themselves have been stressed and experienced problems as a result of the deployment (Norwood, Fullerton, & Hagen, 1996; Jensen & Shaw, 1996). Partners have made role adjustments while the soldier was away, and these need to be renegotiated, especially given the possible irritability and tension of the veteran (Kirkland, 1995).
This can lead to veterans who are unable to function at work or adjust to being back at home, leading to problems such as alcohol and drug abuse. These problems could lead to larger issues, like long term mental illness and homelessness.
In other words, while we may win the war in a relatively short time, we will be waging it for decades to come in our hospitals, our workplaces, our homes, and our street corners.
When a blue-state anti-war protestor meets an Iraqi war veteran at a Memorial Day parade a few years from now, will they call them fascists, as hippies in the 60s called Vietnam veterans?
When a red-state pro-war patriot runs into a homeless veteran a few years from now, will he show him some compassion, or walk on by, calling for cuts in healthcare and shelter funding in the name of "smaller government?"
When it comes down to it, will we be there for our troops?
Like it or not, they are coming, and they will need us.
Links of Interest:
My Q&A with Sgt. Sapper, as well as links to websites where you can show your support for troops abroad.
The National Center of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome webpage for the Iraq War.
An article saying that Vietnam-war PTSD is over-stated.
The Rebel Rouser, and Iraqi War veteran, has a fantastic post stating that the troops have what they need, responding to e-mails sent to him recently.
An e-mail going around the web says you can buy phone cards for the troops.
GRAPHIC photos of war wounds from Iraq (here so that you may see some of what our soliders are seeing and experiencing).
UPDATE (12/19/04): Mental health an issue for Fullajah vets.
Steven Hirsch's photos in the December 10th, 2004 edition of the New York Post are chilling images of the cost of war.