The ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have produced a steady stream of veterans that are afflicted with the twin specters of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PYSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). One is an emotional injury brought about by the horrors of combat, the other a physical injury caused by a severe blow to the head, most often in the form of an Improvised Explosive Device, or IED. Both conditions have insidious long-term effects and require extended care. And as has been the case since the Vietnam War, the victims are being neglected by the Veteran’s Administration. In what has become typical of a corrupt and uncaring White House, resources for these returning veterans are criminally inadequate.

Not only is the military and VA completely unprepared to care for these troops, but the soldiers are often singled out and harassed if they seek help.

“Mental health issues are stigmatized, not only in the military but in society as a whole. The military has a ‘suck it up’ mentality,” according to Amy Fairweather, Director of the Iraq Veterans Project at “Swords to Plowshares,” a veterans advocacy group based in San Francisco.

That “suck it up” attitude combined with the military’s desperation to maintain the unrealistic troop levels demanded by the Bush administration often results in soldiers being singled out for abuse if they seek treatment for anything but an obvious physical injury. They are often sent back into combat even though they are obviously unable to function.

As much as the Bush Administration would like to ignore these soldiers and hope that they just go away, PTSD and TBI only get worse with neglect. They not only affect soldiers but destroy families as well. PTSD/TBI patients become less functional with time. Listlessness, mood swings – which can become violent – and the inability to focus one’s thoughts are among the most common symptoms. Maintaining a normal family life or even staying employed can become extremely problematic with these challenges.

“Iraq/Afghanistan veterans are at significant risk of homelessness and chronic homelessness and are becoming homeless sooner then their predecessors,” according a report issued by “Swords To Plowshares.” While it generally took 9-12 years for a Vietnam veteran’s situation to deteriorate to the point of homelessness, returning veterans of the Iraq/Afghanistan wars are seeking housing services just months after returning from deployment.

Transitional services are far from adequate and the demand is steadily rising. Adding to the problem is the reluctance of many soldiers to request any form of help whatsoever.

Troops complete a health survey form at the end of their deployments, but are often afraid to report symptoms of PTSD or TBI for fear of being put on “medical hold” or being tagged with other labels that can damage their careers. Sometimes their superiors advise them to lie on their forms, according to Fairweather.

Treatment after discharge is usually given on an outpatient basis through regional “Vet Centers” operated by the Veterans Administration. These centers are understaffed and underfunded. They also are under increasing stress as more soldiers in need of services return from deployment. Over 90 percent of returning veterans have experienced what would be considered a “traumatic event” during their tour.

One in three soldiers returning from duty in Iraq or Afghanistan will seek treatment for PTSD or TBI. The number has more than doubled between October 2005, and June 2006, according to a report to the U.S. House of Representatives Veterans Affairs Committee in October 2006. With soldiers being deployed often for a third and sometimes forth time, these numbers will only rise.

To receive help from the VA, a veteran must negotiate a complicated process of evaluations and file mountains of paperwork. Veterans in rural areas may have to travel great distances to find a center where they can file. Compounding the problem are the symptoms of the ailments itself. The listlessness and inability to focus inherent in PTSD and TBI limit an individual’s ability to concentrate on tasks. This is a real impediment when dealing with the labyrinth that is the VA. Vets who don’t receive assistance in navigating the process often fall through the cracks and get no help at all. These vets often become overwhelmed and disappear into the oblivion of homelessness and drug and alcohol addiction.

The Veterans Affairs Committee report suggests that half of the Vet Centers have reported that an increased workload has affected patient care. Some 40 per cent have reported that individual patients were referred to group therapy when individual therapy was appropriate. This is due to a lack of resources and staff.

“We are stretched very thin. We are on the verge of having to make significant cuts in quality of care. We have great people but they can only do so much. We need more resources,” said an unnamed vet center administrator quoted in the report. 

“Only one third of returning vets apply for benefits. If it jumps to 60 per cent, we are in trouble,” says Fairweather.

Twenty per cent of Vet Centers report having limited or no capacity for family counseling. When a soldier is wounded, emotionally or physically, the family is as well. The Army can wash their hands of a wounded warrior, but the families cannot. Families also represent the most important support system for a wounded vet and are vital to recovery.

The neglect of these returning soldiers and their families is a crime and it can be laid at the doorstep of the Bush/Cheney Regime. Not only have they embroiled us in an illegal and immoral war, but they also turn their backs on the young men and women who have sacrificed so much in an effort to do what they see as their patriotic duty.

You won’t see the sons and daughters of Bush and Cheney at the Vet Centers trying to piece their lives back together. And Rush Limbaugh, Lou Dobbs and company probably can’t even spell PTSD.

The wealthy sons and daughters of the men and women who control the Military Industrial Complex are mysteriously unrepresented in the TBI wards and VA clinics. The victims of this war are the common people in Iraq, Afghanistan and right here in the United States. The vast majority of U.S. soldiers are the sons and daughters of working people, including a very high percentage of Latinos and African Americans and other so-called “minorities.” Perhaps this is the Bush/Cheney Regime’s notion of bringing “democracy” to Iraq and Afghanistan. The blood of poor and working people is spilled, their lives are ruined and their needs go unmet by uncaring ignorant people safely ensconced in fortified dwellings in Washington, D.C. and Crawford, Texas. Our kids serve proudly and bravely in a brutal bloodbath for the benefit of parasites then are left to languish in dark lonely places. In solitude they try to fight off the demons that torture them, the emotional residue of the horrors of an unjust war fought on the orders of criminals.

May 16, 2007