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Saturday, May 31, 2008
Survivor’s guilt, hypervigilance, depression, divorce, alcoholism — we’re killing our best 1 percent
By now, most Americans recognize that military veterans have been badly served by the United States’ invasion and occupation of Iraq. Stories over the past week have highlighted the soaring numbers of post-traumatic stress diagnoses, as well as the increased rate of suicides among veterans. Earlier reports have highlighted the many shortcomings of the medical care services available to vets, from atrocious conditions at Walter Reed hospital to bureaucratic barriers that keep deserving vets from getting the attention they need.
Such stories have become tragically common, as an overwhelmed military and veterans care system grapples with the growing numbers of damaged veterans. But what still shocks the conscience is the level of denial among the very people charged with doing something about it.
Take the e-mail sent to her staffers this month by Norma Perez, a psychologist at Veterans Administration hospital in Temple, Texas: “Given that we are having more and more compensation-seeking veterans, I’d like to suggest that you refrain from giving a diagnosis of PTSD straight out. Consider a diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder, (ruling out) PTSD. Additionally, we really don’t . . . have time to do the extensive testing that should be done to determine PTSD.”
The e-mail hit the Internet, caused an uproar, and the VA relocated Perez and declared huffily that she doesn’t speak for the agency.
Or consider the comments of VA Secretary James Peake in Fairbanks, Alaska, this month, when he visited a veterans group with Sen. Ted Stevens. First he argued that veterans’ suicides are overblown by the media, and then, when speaking of vets with emotional problems, wondered aloud if PTSD was being overdiagnosed. “I worry about labeling all these kids coming back,” he said, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. “Just because someone might need a little counseling when they get back, doesn’t mean they need the PTSD label their whole lives.”
Or take the stories and complaints that roll into The Oregonian with regularity, such as the Baker City woman who said this week her husband was told he couldn’t get an appointment with a VA counselor unless he started taking antidepressants first. “We just wanted to talk to someone,” she said.
This is the human toll of a war that drags on, requiring 1 percent of the population who serve in the military to leave home and return repeatedly to danger zones. This is a cost that the Bush administration apparently didn’t reckon with when it launched its second war, in Iraq.
Yet this is another bitter legacy of the president who says he supports the troops, even as he threatens to veto the GI Bill. The wreckage of the war he unleashed in Iraq extends to every state in the union — to every place where a veteran is in pain.