Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A thought for Veterans' Day

Today is Veterans Day, a day when we should all give thanks to those that, as Colonel Nathan Jessup might say, pick up weapons and stand post on the wall, allowing the rest of us to sleep under the blanket of freedom. So, to all those that have manned a post...on behalf of the BTPC, we salute you.

Because this is a day to honor our veterans, I thought I'd share a concern that I have about our veterans going forward. Everyone knows the stress our armed forces have undergone over the last 8 years. We've all heard the stories about the stop-losses and how Uncle Sam has asked more and more of this current generation of combat vets. In addition to that, you have the added burden of a lot of these troops being asked to serve in an urban combat environment. I can't begin to fathom the stress it puts on these kids to be in the middle of a city or village, surrounded by people, that for safety sake you have to assume are the enemy, but for mission sake you have to try to win over. It has got to be absolutely nerve-racking.

I truly feel like this generation of combat troops is going to have a tougher readjustment than any before. That's why I have followed some of the reports and studies about the increase in violent behavior with returning troops with great concern (see here for an example). This summer, the American Journal of Public Health released this press release:

Mental health diagnoses increased substantially after the start of the Iraq War
among specific subgroups of returned veterans entering Veterans’ Administration
(VA) health care, reports a new study.

Researchers determined the prevalence and correlates of mental health diagnoses among 289,328 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans entering VA health care from 2002 to 2008 using national VA data. Of those, 106,726 veterans received mental health diagnoses, including 62,929 who were diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and 50,432 who were diagnosed with depression. Women were at higher risk for depression than were men; yet men had over twice the risk for drug use disorders.

The researchers suggest, “Targeted screening and early intervention with evidence-based treatments tailored to the problems of particular subgroups of veterans may be the best defense against chronic mental health and social and occupational problems.” [From: “Trends and Risk Factors for Mental Health Diagnoses Among Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Using Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care,

In the past week, two members of our military family have made the news and not in a good way.

Major Nidal Hasan walked into the Solider Readiness Center at Ft. Hood in Kileen, Texas and opened fire, killing 13 people and wounding another 30.

John Allen Muhammad, aka the DC Sniper, was executed last night at 9:11 pm by the State of Virginia. Muhammad was a former sergeant in the US Army, having served active duty during the Gulf War. When the US Supreme Court refused to get involved in Muhammad's case, one of his attorney's, John Sheldon, issued this statement:

"In its effort to race John Allen Muhammad to his death before his appeals could be pursued, the state of Virginia will execute a severely mentally ill man who also suffered from Gulf War Syndrome the day before Veterans Day."

Now...before anyone gets all worked up saying the victims did not get any appeal, perhaps you should take a look at this article. As Sheldon points out, "It's not about him; it's about us."

I have no personal knowledge of either of these two men. I do not know what caused them to do the horrific things they did. But I can't help but think that we owe not just to their victims, but to the potential future victims of other disturbed or broken American soldiers to find out what caused them to do what they did. I think we have a responsibility to learn as much as possible about it, and use that knowledge to try to make sure we do everything possible to limit these episodes from being repeated.

Those that do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I hope we are smarter than that.

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