Monday, December 04, 2006

Regarding Patterns Of Misconduct

Today, National Public Radio (NPR) ran a chilling story describing how American soldiers trying to seek professional help to cope with the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are routinely disciplined and dishonorably discharged from an American Army base near Colorado Springs, Colorado.

According to the story, very senior leadership in the military, are on record supporting programs designed to help veterans obtain assistance with any mental disorders. That's all well and theory. But, if NPR's story is accurate, the practice at Fort Carlson describes a very different and disturbing practice.

I encourage you to review the original story, especially the audio portion. Be warned that the audio portion of the story is more detailed and contains parts that may be difficult to hear. These young men do not pull punches in describing what they've gone through and how it affects them.

To me, one of the most excruciating moments of the story occurred when three different soldiers described sleeping problems after returning from their tours in Iraq. Each one spoke of waking in the middle of the night to find they had their hands around the throats of their respective wives, girlfriends, or partners. Three different men, each responding to horrific experiences, responding with violence to the violent memories their subconscious minds were attempting to deal with. This violence was directed toward innocents, the very people these men promised...and protect.

Each man recognized a need for counseling and sought such help...and each was hampered and actively discouraged from obtaining help. According to the story, military leaders at Fort Carlson are going so far as to drum up ways to dishonorably discharge these soldiers, soldiers who seek counseling.

To me, the behavior of these leaders is unacceptable and should not stand. It's tragically unfair to people who have experienced unimagined horrors while trying to serve their country and do their duty. Senior military leaders claim to provide all necessary support and should be held accountable for subordinates who actively interfere with those seeking that aid.

PTSD is not new; we now know it affected nearly one in ten Vietnam veterans.

Now, before you roast me with your comments, let me make a few things quite clear.

I do not support this war. I've consistently criticized policies of the current Administration and stand by those statements. I do not believe this is a just war and I do not believe we (the citizens of the world) have been told the truth regarding the reasons underlying the war. I do not defend this war.

Nor am I trying to ignore the fact that some American soldiers have committed hideous crimes during this war. Whether bad apples or bad orders, I do not defend prisoner abuse or other violations of the Geneva Conventions. Criminal behavior should be dealt with directly and swiftly.

Nor am I attempting to defend, in any way shape or form, personal acts of violence.

However, I do know that rational people, when exposed to extreme circumstances, can do irrational things, things that can only be understood...and healed...with professional care. I do defend and actively support the right of people to freely use medical benefits that have been promised to them, without fear of retribution or retaliation. Indeed, I personally find it a sign of integrity and nobility that these people are aware enough...and brave ask for help when they need it. Indeed, they should be applauded for taking very difficult steps.

And they should be supported in their attempts to heal.

By the way, it looks like we're not the only ones dealing with these issues. The BBC recently reported similar difficulties for British soldiers. And I expect that other countries are seeing similar issues.

Regardless of the genesis of this war, we should provide the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan a far better "thank-you" than was given to those who served in Vietnam a generation ago.

(Tonight's photo has been borrowed from the LA Times, by way of Details here.)


Blogger Jane Poe (aka Deborah) said...

Brilliant post, love. Thank you for sharing this with us. Infinite amounts of love, JP

11:27 PM  
Blogger Chulita said...

Ditto to JP's comment about the brilliantness of this post! I am going to direct my son to this blog. He is contemplating joining the Army Reserves.....Heaven forbid that he does! He is too brilliant and sensitive a young man to have to go through something as horrible as this war, but then again so are all the many other young men and women over there. May Heaven help them all since our government refuses to do so.

10:59 PM  
Blogger Footpad said...

Thank you, both!

Chulita, yes, it is a horrible war. I have an enormous respect for those doing their best to serve with honor and integrity.

I hope my words are able to help facilitate the conversations you need to have with your son to help you both learn where his future and destiny lies.

Personally, I hope it doesn't lead to service to an unjust and selfish war. Potential and Talent should not be sacrificed to serve those unwilling to put their own tails on the line, nor should it be wasted serving those that already have more than they deserve.

With respect and peace!

-- f

11:28 PM  
Blogger THE Michael said...

It is the history of our military to sweep the consequences of conflict under the rug. Our "code" of the warrior has always been that you tough it out, keep your mouth shut, and go home when you are no longer a functioning killing machine. We train our warriors to kill, not to return to civilian life and forget the horrors they've encountered.

Yet we do not question the concept of patriotism until our government returns our sons and daughters to us damaged goods, mad, mangled, or dead.

3:04 PM  
Blogger paris parfait said...

Such an important story needs all the airing possible. Thanks for this.

1:41 PM  

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