Thursday, May 01, 2008

Be all that you can be

And when that is not enough to win our stupid war, kill yourself. This country doesn't want to deal with psychologically damaged veterans. It doesn't want to face the fact that it owes something to vets who have gotten seriously messed up being told they are the good guys and the fight is a good fight and then finding they have to go berserk or park their conscience while they pretty much shoot anything that moves. As a nation, the US, not just some hippies or some liberals, but the whole damn lot of us, wanted to forget the war in Viet Nam by forgetting the men who came back. Its clear we are set to do it turn our backs on the long tail of consequences of our dumb decision to invade Iraq And we are starting with the immediate worst consequence: tens of thousands of wounded and PTSD cases on the doorstep of a negligent Veterans Administration. Now Iraq vets will start to replace the Viet Nam vets in shelters for homeless, haunted men who could never fit back in to society. The VA makes a good political football to throw at the heads of the most hypocritical hawks that ever ran a country. Are there actually enough voters pressing for effective and fair rehab for vets to get us beyond mere finger pointing? How do you feel about the veterans you run into? Did any of them come home to the welcome John McCain recieved? Do you ask them how welcomed they feel?

McCain felt vindicated for his enduring. Even now, even I have to admire his toughness and courage as a POW in sticking to what he thought was right. But I have to wonder at the selective way he deploys that courage and what, if anything these days, he holds to be true. Before he was against lobbying, he was a lobbyist.

To do right by these men and women would require admitting that the real cost of the war dwarfs the minor expenses and hardships portrayed to us by a lying president and Secretary of Defense. To take full responsibility for our obligation would require noting the broken men in our midst, their lost ability to control rage and their confusion in returning from the harrowing mayhem and daily uncertainties to a Disneyesque PR blitz that passes as our understanding of that war by the average American. How uncomfortable when news of these vet suicides intrudes on our practiced unawareness of the one reality of that war that is in our face: its victims among us? And how soon can we change the channel, pick up the funnies, go back to worrying about our credit card balance?

I say this from time to time, but looks like not often enough: Don't go numb to the soldier. Don't let your silence be taken as blaming them for a loss that our own stupidity and the arrogance of our leaders doomed us to endure. I recognize that there could come a time when we do need to send men to fight some real enemy. But I also recognize there is no glory in the deed but our talking otherwise is a vital salve to our consciences. I recognize that to have to risk death and to kill not only are unnatural conditions. Some of us can survive messed up childhoods and go on to great success. Some of us are unaffected by stress and others made mad by it. War could bake the given rationales for fighting to a diamond hardness or it could turn them all to gray areas and nuances such as plagued a mind like John Kerry's. That ideological side of PTSD is what puts some men in the VFW halls and Veterans day parades and other in Veterans for Peace.

The numbers who have ideological PTSD are large but less than the total number of vets. For Iraq, the numbers with actual PTSD are estimated between 1 out of 5 and 2 out of 3. That is staggering. And the longer tours and duty forced on national guardsmen who never expected to effectively be used like regular combat units all add to the stress. And now, we find that the numbers who are driven to kill themselves have been hidden from us.

UPDATE: Jude points to a crisis hot line that has been set up for veterans.

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