May 23, 2008
We honor our war dead this Memorial Day weekend. The greatest respect we could pay them would be to pledge no more wars for erroneous and misleading reasons; no more killing and wounding except for the defense of our country and our freedoms. We could also honor our dead by caring for the living, and do better at it than we are right now…
You may have followed the flurry of allegations concerning neglect, malpractice, and corner cutting at the Veterans Administration, especially for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - PTSD - or major depression, brought on by combat.
The Rand Corporation has released a study indicating that approximately 300,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD - or major depression, that's one of every five soldiers who have served over there.
Last Friday's WASHINGTON POST reported an e-mail sent to staff at a VA hospital in Temple, Texas, by a psychologist who wrote: "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."
Now, PTSD is not a diagnosis arrived at without careful, thorough examination. But to possibly misdiagnose such a volatile and harmful disorder for the sake of saving time or money is reprehensible.
The VA's director - James Peake - immediately said the psychologist's statement had been "repudiated at the highest level." There's plenty of other evidence to raise concern.
The rate of attempted or successful soldier suicides is so scary the head of the VA's mental health division wondered in a February e-mail how it should be spun. "Shhhh," he wrote. "Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1000 suicide attempts per month among the veterans we see in our medical facilities. Is this something we should carefully address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?"
REP. BOB FILNER:
The hearing today is entitled "The Truth About Veteran Suicides."
This apparent cover-up prompted the House Veterans Committee to raise the question of criminal negligence.
REP. BOB FILNER:
If we do not admit, if we do not assume, if we do not know what the problem is, then the problem will continue and people die. If that's not criminal negligence I don't know what is.
You can glimpse what's going on here by reading a front page story in last Sunday's HOUSTON CHRONICLE - published now on our site at pbs.org - about just one of the suicides. Bronze star recipient Nils Aron Andersson of the 82nd Airborne division… an army recruiter, served two tours of duty in Iraq before he sat behind the wheel of his new pick-up - within 24 hours of his wedding - and fired a single round from a .22 caliber semi-automatic into his right temple. He was 25 years old.
Only about half of those service members diagnosed with PTSD or major depression have sought treatment and about half of those received what the Rand study describes as "minimally adequate treatment." Let me repeat that: "minimally adequate treatment," for what could be a matter of life or death.
Once upon a time kids asked their fathers, "What did you do in the war, daddy?" It's a question the next generation could ask all of us, who stood by as our government invaded Iraq to start a war whose purpose and rationale keep shifting and whose end is nowhere in sight, and who look now with nonchalance upon the unseen scars of those who are fighting it.
That's it for THE JOURNAL. We'll be back next week.
I'm Bill Moyers.