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Honoring Our Veterans

In honor of Memorial Day, JOURNAL writers Bill Moyers and Michael Winship wrote the following essay on how to best honor our veterans.

Memorial Day

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 also could honor our dead by caring for the living, and do better at it than we are right now.

There has been a flurry of allegations concerning neglect, malpractice and corner cutting at the Veterans Administration especially for those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder – PTSD – or major depression, brought on by combat.

A report released by the Rand Corporation last month indicates that approximately 300,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffer PTSD or major depression. That’s one of every five military men and women who have served over there.

Last Friday’s Washington Post reported the contents of an e-mail sent to staff at a VA hospital in Temple, Texas. A psychologist 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.” She further suggested that a diagnosis of a less serious Adjustment Disorder be made instead, especially as she and her colleagues “really don’t… have time to do the extensive testing that should be done to determine PTSD.”

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.

Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake immediately said the psychologist’s statement had been “repudiated at the highest level of our health care organization.” Nonetheless, there’s plenty of other evidence to raise concern.

The rate of attempted and successful suicides is so scary, the head of the VA’s mental health division, Dr. Ira Katz, wondered in a February e-mail how it should be spun. “Shh!” he wrote. “Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 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?”

This apparent cover-up prompted the House Veterans Committee to hold hearings earlier this month. Congressman Bob Filner, committee chairman, questioned Dr. Katz and Veterans Affairs Secretary Peake. “What we see is a pattern that reveals a culture of bureaucracy,” Filner angrily said. “The pattern is deny, deny, deny and when that fails, it’s cover up, cover up, cover up — there is clear evidence of a bureaucratic cover-up here…

Rep. Filner raised the question of criminal negligence. “We should all be angry about what has gone on here,” he declared. “This is a matter of life and death for the veterans that we are responsible for and I think there was criminal negligence in the way this was handled. If we do not admit, assume or know, then the problem will continue and people will die. If that’s not criminal negligence, I don’t know what is.”

Secretary Peake said, “I can appreciate that the number of 1000 suicide attempts a month might be shocking but in a system as large as ours… and consistent with the literature, we might well expect a larger number of attempts than that.”

The front page of Sunday’s Houston Chronicle featured an in-depth study of just one of the suicides -- Bronze Star recipient Nils Aron Andersson of the 82nd Airborne Division. “A victim of the war within,” reads the Chronicle headline.

Andersson returned home from two tours in Iraq and was reassigned to duty as an Army recruiter. “Did he come back different?” his father asked. “I don’t think there’s anybody who goes over there and fights on the front lines who ever comes back the same.”

In March 2007, Andersson sat behind the wheel of his new Ford pick up – less than 24 hours after his wedding – and fired a single round from a .22 caliber semi-automatic into his right temple. He was 25 years old.

“I don’t think Aron let the Army down,” his father said. “I think the Army let him down. I think the care wasn’t there that he really needed.”

Only about half of those service members diagnosed with PTSD or depression have sought treatment and about half of those received what the RAND study describes as “minimally adequate treatment.” Minimally adequate treatment for what could be a matter of life and 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.

We welcome your comments below.


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Comments

I think that we should pull back are troops from the war in Afganistan.

a P.S. to the reference Posted by: NGail on May 27 -

"...but I am disgusted by men who served in the military out of harm's way and yet want to steal..."

I immediately think of the expression 'leading by example'...and since 'Jr.' was given the golden ticket to 'jump over' tens of thousands of other (well funded-connected) draft-dodgers in order to avoid the possibility of being involved in the Vietnam War (and 'look better' than hiding in momma's apron...reportedly, all it took wa$ a phone call from daddy to ensure he'd have 'a reserved spot in the reserve'...Even in those days, costing taxpayers millions of dollars for his reserve training, he 'allegedly' didn't show up for the 'amusement-park version' of the war...Now that takes a certain quality in a person...whether it be a quality you want in the leader of the free world, well I guess you can decide for yourselves, as so many did with their vote nearly 8 long years ago...

The worst offender (by leaps & bounds) to your comment: "...disgusted by men who served in the military out of harm's way and yet want to steal...", is the person that is supposed to be 'leading Our Country!'...How can we expect anyone to behave ethically, when our own president never has...yet still be rewarded in such grand fashion (ie. flight suit)..

I've gotten to the point where I wonder who he's really working for...It's become pretty obvious that 'the demise of Our Country' can be the only viable explanation of his irresponsible, narcissistic behavior ...Directly responsible for the continuing and (seemingly unending) deaths of thousands of our armed forces, he's also responsible for the uncounted (million or more???) civilian deaths...ALL OF IT BASED ON LIES, DECEIT, PROPAGANDA...AND OF COURSE MO-MONEY!, MORE!, MORE!...(and just a bit curious): 'IS ANYONE ELSE CURIOUS ABOUT WHAT KIND OF MONEY THAT VP HAS PROFITED FROM THIS INSANE WAR??? (regardless of the method...directly, indirectly, sideways, osmosis?, etc, etc)...Regardless, I feel ANY PROFITS MADE ON THIS WAR (ESPECIALLY BY ANYONE ASSOCIATED WITH THIS ADMINISTRATION), SHOULD BE PAID TO THE FAMILIES OF THOSE WHO'VE SACRIFICED...

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8187301869971500776

ALTHOUGH SHE'S WORKED WITH THOUSANDS OF VETERANS AT THE VA HOSPITAL FOR NEARLY 40
YEARS, SHE STILL STRUGGLES EACH MONTH TO PAY HER 'FRUGAL' BILLS FROM HER SMALL PAYCHECK.
AS PRICES ON EVERYTHING HAVE GONE UP & UP, HER PAYCHECK HAS NOT...
AT 86 YEARS OLD, WORKING 50 HRS WEEKLY (WITH VETERANS OF ALL AGES), SHE IS STILL HIT WITH
ENORMOUS TAXATION...WHILE THE RICH RECEIVE TAX CREDITS...
TO THINK OF ALL THE SACRIFICES THIS WOMAN AND HER FAMILY (HER LATE HUSBAND, WHO SPENT
200-CONSECUTIVE DAYS ON THE FRONT LINE IN THE TIMBERWOLF INFANTRY DIVISION WINNING THE
WAR IN EUROPE, THEN AN ADDTL. 36 YEARS AS A N.C.STATE TROOPER, RETIRING WITH AN
UNPRECEDENTED 19 MONTHS OF SICK LEAVE AND NEVER MISSED A DAY'S WORK)...
THIS WOMAN ALWAYS (STILL) HAS A SMILE, A HUG (AND OFTEN A 'JITTERBUG DANCE' FOR RETURNING
VETERANS). YET AT 86 YRS OLD, SHE FINDS HERSELF HAVING TO MAKE DECISIONS AT THE GROCERY
STORE (BASED ON PRICE) & OFTEN DOING WITHOUT MANY THINGS IN ORDER TO FEED HER LITTLE DOG
AND COMPANION AND BUY GASOLINE (TO DRIVE TO WORK)...NEITHER 'MORALLY OR ETHICALLY
RIGHT'...A MIRROR IMAGE OF THIS ADMINISTRATION, THIS COUNTRY NEEDS A (COMPLETE) OVERHAUL
(MUCH LIKE THE ONE THE CLINTONS FACED AFTER THE LAST BUSH ADMINISTRATION, ONLY THIS ONE IS A TRILLION-FOLD WORSE...AND GLOBAL...THE MAJOR ISSUES WITH VETERAN'S CARE IS THE LACK OF IT...I WOULD ASK ANYONE TO GO TO YOUR NEAREST 'TAXPAYER FUNDED' VETERAN'S HOSPITAL AND SEE FOR YOURSELF...THE PROBLEMS ARE TOO NUMEROUS TO LIST AND THEY START AT THE TOP...THE BOTTOM LINE? WE SHOULDN'T BE IN A WAR THAT BUSH CREATED BY OUTRIGHT LIES AND HIS ADMINISTRATION'S PROPAGANDA...BUT WE SHOULDN'T HAVE A PRESIDENT THAT DIDN'T WIN THE ELECTION EITHER...WHAT'S BEEN ALLOWED TO TRANSPIRE IN THE LAST 7+ YEARS IS AN INSULT TO AMERICA AND EVERY AMERICAN.
I HOPE EVERYONE WILL TAKE THE TIME TO WATCH THE GREG PALAST' VIDEO LISTED HERE, TO SEE WHAT MONEY AND GREED CAN GET YOU IN TODAY'S AMERICA...INCLUDING THOUSANDS OF NEW VETERAN GRAVESITES...GOD BLESS THOSE SOULS AND THEIR FAMILIES, BUT DON'T LOOK TO THIS ADMINISTRATION FOR ANY GRATITUDE FOR YOUR TRAGIC SACRIFICES (OTHER THAN MORE EMPTY LIPSERVICE).

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8187301869971500776


Seven years into the Bush administration, it is accepted that the failings of our media have played a significant role in the failed policies to which the nation is currently witness. Perhaps an important way to honor our fallen soldiers in memorial is to demand more from our media. Specifically, the media should be held to account for its failure to challenge the relevance of rebuilding Germany and Japan to the rebuilding of Iraq. The media has repeated this idea for years every time the Bush administration proclaims it.

Americans felt reassured by this historical reference, both before our invasion of Iraq, and during its aftermath. It is true that we assisted in the successful rebuilding of these nations after World War II. Moreover, our goals in Iraq are less ambitious as we do not need to transform Iraq into one of the worlds dominate economies like Japan’s or Germany’s.

However, this historical reference is misleading. We engaged Germany and Japan conventional military conflict where huge armies fought each other over many years. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers were killed, and we killed many more civilians than we did soldiers. Although we dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, the real weapon of civilian mass destruction was napalm. Allied fire bombings of cities in Germany and Japan each took more civilian life than did the atomic bombs, killing hundreds of thousands of men, women and children in both countries.

In WW II we were not concerned with human rights, much less collateral damage. We were concerned with winning the war. Talk to anyone still alive from that age, and they can assure you the United States in 1940 was in a total war with technological equals that it could only hope to win.

It is horrible to remember these things, but it is more horrible to forget them. When we forget, leaders can manipulate us into pretending that spending a few weeks launching laser guided bombs into a technologically primitive state like Iraq will produce surrender with something in common to surrender of Germany or Japan 50 years ago.

At the onset of WW II, Germany and Japan both were both technological and industrial world leaders, so after the war they presented economies to rebuild. Neither Germany nor Japan was composed of three or more ethnically divided tribes steeped in religious fanaticism, with centuries of spilled blood between them.

So along comes 2002. Political leaders in the U.S., who almost to a person never served in the military, tell us that if we lob some laser guided bombs into Iraq, it will allow us to build a democratic nation in the Middle East, -you know, like we already did with Germany and Japan. The news media should not have allowed the public be so horribly misled.

Now it’s 2008, - an election year. Again we are told that we are still rebuilding just like in Germany and Japan. If this administration has shown skill at anything, it is twisting around ideas to inflame public fears and passions in order to create support for its policies. Since our national media has never debunked the relevance of the Germany-Japan analogy, this election year this historical reference has mutated to -“if you don’t support staying in Iraq, it shows you would have lacked the courage to confront Hitler”.

The media has fallen down. I would like to see it get up. I would like to see a factual analysis of this idea that our WW II history with Germany and Japan is relevant to Iraq. I would like to see investigative reporting on the motives behind these claims. Are they the result of sincere ignorance or conscious efforts to mislead the public by distorting history? Media silence regarding such erroneous ideas is a real factor why they are a few thousand more was dead for us to remember on this Memorial Day.

I live in Northeast OH and I lost sound just after the vets/PSTD story started, only to have it start up right after when the credits began...no explanation...was it censored?

Being married to a combat Veteran, I've seen a lot. I've been in the VA with my husband and heard men talk about what to say to 'get money' even though they never saw combat. I am very sad that we live daily with the fall out from Veit Nam induced PTSD and Agent Orange but I am disgusted by men who served in the military out of harm;s way and yet want to steal medical benefits. My husband was making from 175,000 to 300,000 as an Executive and lost all of his career capabilities and now is unemployable due to the compounde affects of PTSD and Agent Orange, sure he gets a small sum to compensate- but nothing like what he earned and enjoyed earning while he was able to work.
For those who try to scam an already broken system, I believe criminal chagres ought to be brought against them because their lies penalize those combat Veterans who REALLY NEED the help.
My husband is my hero, a Marine who fought for an America that does not look after its own- yet he never complains and was proud to do what he did.
Semper Fi

Bill and Michael, you say that "to possibly misdiagnose such a volatile and harmful disorder for the sake of saving time or money is reprehensible." Maybe so, but let's do the math:

Time = money.

VA budgets get cut.

Budgets = money.

Money to operate the VA comes from taxes.

Americans want their taxes cut.

Tax cuts = budget cuts.

VA budget cuts = staffing cuts.

VA staffing cuts = fewer psychologists.

Fewer psychologists = less time to adequately test, diagnose and treat patients.

War = more VA patients.

More VA patients = more time needed to adequately test, diagnose and treat.

Patients have the right to VA services.

More patients and less staff = staff trying to find ways to serve all.

What's a VA psychologist to do?

Rob is correct. I lost sound on most of the PTSD story here south of Cleveland as well. No apology or explanation by PBS either. Sound came back just after Bill finished - in time for the credits

We honor our vets by putting those who killed them and maimed them on trial.

Each and every vet who has died in this war on terror, each and every vet who has lost a limb, each and every vet who is facing emotional and mental disability, is a victim of a fake war on terror.

I am not only talking about Iraq war vets since it is the war that most see as illegal, I am talking about Afghanistan vets since that war is even more illegal than the Iraq war.

Feel free to read “The Crime behind the Criminal Wars!” found at
http://www.mydemocracy.net/war_crimes/crime_criminal_wars_bush_blair.htm
Other articles can be found at http://www.mydemocracy.net

Best,
Maher Osseiran

I thought Memorial Day was for those who died defending our country and Veterans Day in November was for those who survived? Anyway, Mr. Ira Jinkins (10:18pm), thanks to you and your daughter. I and some others here in Dallas, N.C. are eager to join you in protests, probably at the Presidential Inauguration in January in Washington. Lets tell the new guy what we want, and that the profiteering traitors should not escape punishment.
And for heaven's sake, if a soldier has the symptoms, s/he has PTSD, even if years have passed. Only a sadist would yank away the safety net from a person with the courage to face such an awful problem. I have seen the angry and self-medicating veterans taking dangerous chances for many years. Let's remove the stigma so we can all be safer. I also wonder about traumatized people in the private sector (CACI, Blackwater, Dimecorps...) they produce domestic jeopardy too.

for Marilyn: could you be referring to McClatchy news service?

Bill, I think your story on vets and PTSD was either censored or lost audio in Cleveland.

I wish to comment on your dismissal of the suggestion about PTSD diagnosis by the Texas psychologist.

The issues of PTSD and of compensation-motivated-distress are BOTH legitimate and BOTH complicated.

I am a psychologist, so I am deeply concerned about the very real mental suffering of troops and all who see war up close.

But, remember the first topic you discussed tonight and the book by Paul Light that talks about people "tripped up by conflicts of interest, corruption, or incompetence." In the VA system, there are definitely cases of malingering. How could there not be? Is it unpatriotic to raise this subject?

I googled the Washington Post article and this is the quote about the Texas psychologist: ""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," Norma Perez wrote in a March 20 e-mail to mental-health specialists and social workers at the Department of Veterans Affairs' Olin E. Teague Veterans' Center in Temple, Tex"

It is quite possible, it seems to me, based on my experience in NY, that Norma Perez was in fact seeing more and more "compensation-seeking veterans." This idea would offend veterans' groups, of course, but she may have been correctly using her professional judgement.

The good thing about disability compensation is that it provides support to someone who needs treatment. The problem with disability compensation is that it can reward staying sick. This is an enduring problem for the VA and it seems to me you did a disservice by ridiculing the possibility that there might be something to research and discuss in this topic.

Thank you for your program. My daugther is returning to Iraq, for a third tour. As if one tour is not enough, sure, let's just continue throwing our military community, in this mess. If we are not taking care of our veterans, we are neglecting our spouses and children, even more. And I am a desert storm, combat infantry veteran. What can we do America??? You Decide, Because, we have and are allowing this death and destruction to continue with our approval,under the guise of our American Flag and Constitution!! Where are the protest? Where are the sit-ins? Oh yes, WE DO NOT HAVE A MILITARY DRAFT NOR HAVE WE DEMANDED IMPEACHMENT PROCEDURES! What a disgrace, and my opinions, are, as we say, bought and paid for, by the sacrifices of me, my family members and my military community!!

You mentioned the name of "one of the finest news services," something like McKethean but didn't note it at the time. Could you please provide the name. Thank you. Marilyn

We should honor the Iraq war dead by ensuring that a full investigation, including public hearings, is conducted into the the events that led us into the war, and the real reasons behind why this war was waged. Those that engineered this war should be held accountable. Until that occurs, we will all bear the guilt associated with the terrible consequences of this blunder, and the part that we all played in allowing it to happen.

I spent 18 months in Vietnam.

The only thing I was provided was group sessions for Vets usually run by a college kid w/ a degree in social work or psychology.

Even that was something.

I am totally embittered at the lack of VA support for Vietnam, Iraq and Afghan veterans.

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