Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May (May 31 in 2010). Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates U.S. men and women who died while in the military service. But that memorial is just the tip of the iceberg for those who die after entering the service of their country.
Problems with the treatment of veterans after our many wars extend back to the Revolution and the Continental Army. But time has closed the books on those who served to set our country free. For this Memorial Day let us look at more current disgraces.
Nearly endless wars in the past half century have created millions of veterans, hundreds of thousands of whom are disabled, often homeless, frequently in trouble with the justice system, too often incarcerated, and lacking adequate or competent medical care.
Since World War II the United States seems to seek out conflicts and thinks nothing of bombing and invading sovereign nations without bothering with the nicety of a declaration of war. The Christian, and before that the Roman concept is that only wars that are just should be fought. None of our recent wars stand up to those criteria. Coleman references the concept of themis in the effect such wars have on our troops when the primal laws of justice and morality are violated.
3.4 million men served in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam conflict. Of those only about 700,000 are still alive today though the average age of these veterans is now only in their 60's. Only 58,260 men are known to have died in battle, were MIA, or from wounds as tabulated on The Wall. Perhaps a million Vietnam veterans have died of disease or accidents in the nearly 40 years since that war. But with a current average life expectancy for men of about 75 years why have more than a million other veterans died prematurely? And why isn't their sacrifice recognized equally on this Memorial Day?
We only have estimates but it is certain that many more men than were killed in battle committed suicide after returning home from Vietnam. Another 500,000 Vietnam veterans are estimated to have attempted suicide since returning home. Of course suicides are not memorialized even though it is clear the stress of combat drove them to it. For a review of the causes I suggest Penny Coleman's brilliant book Flashback: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide, and the Lessons of War.
For the incidence of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) we have the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study. That broad and rigorous study found that 31%, or nearly 1 million Vietnam Theater veterans, were projected to have a lifetime prevalence of PTSD following the war. Another 23% were found to have "Partial PTSD," i.e., symptoms and related functional impairment associated with PTSD.
Since being wounded in action is a predictor of PTSD we might assume that the 300,000-odd wounded are mostly among these statistics, and have higher mortality and suicide rates than other veterans. But being killed or wounded in combat wasn't the only hazard our troops faced.
Many veterans claim the Veterans Administration (VA) waits until most of the sufferers from a war are dead before recognizing the problem. Vietnam veterans skepticism certainly seems to be justified as far as the multitudinous problems with the widely used herbicide Agent Orange. The VA fought vigorously to avoid paying any claims for the numerous cancers and other associated diseases, as well as the many birth defects that occurred in children of exposed veterans. It wasn't until Congress forced their hand with the Agent Orange Act of 1991 that their claims were finally recognized. And even then Congress had to add the Agent Orange Equity Act in 2009.
Then there is the other side of the story. According to Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to Agent Orange, resulting in 400,000 deaths and disabilities, and 500,000 children born with birth defects. And according to conservative estimates, about 4 million Vietnamese on all sides were killed, wounded, or missing during the 1965-1975 time period. But what the hell, they are just "gooks" so why should we care about them? And if we do start remembering them we might have to ask why, for reasons no one can now explain, we bombed them with everything short of nuclear weapons, sprayed them, and sent in 3 million of our best and brightest young men to fight and die against them until our own troops revolted.
The Persian Gulf War, or Gulf War I was of short duration and American troops suffered relatively few combat casualties. So we don't hear much about PTSD cases from that conflict. But after the troops came home they began to be afflicted with a variety of physical illnesses that came to be categorized under the term Gulf War Syndrome. Of the 580,400 troops who served in the Persian Gulf during this conflict more than 11,000 have since died of various afflictions associated with the Gulf War Syndrome.
These troops simply had the bad luck to have been given a nerve gas antidote, exposed to pesticides, chemical weapons, and depleted uranium, all of which were generally imposed on them by "friendly" forces and their ammunition. But since we don't hear about these dead troops as part of the cost of that war, we don't honor them in speeches or other oratory. Only their loved ones still grieve for them and this butcher's bill is largely the result of "friendly" actions.
By the end of the 20 th Century the United States seems to have become enamored of or addicted to invading and bombing distant countries on any pretext, mostly lies or, more politely, "faulty intelligence." After Gulf War I came Somalia in 1992-1993, and we lost that one. Invaded Haiti in 1994, not for the first or likely the last time. Then in 1995-1996 we intervened in Bosnia and Herzegovina, call that a draw. In 1998 we launched some cruise missiles into Afghanistan and others at a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan. All the while we maintained a no-fly zone over Iraq and would occasionally bomb them. And by 2004 we were routinely bombing Pakistan, a nominal ally and nuclear power, with unmanned drones under the direction of the CIA, whose blunders quite obviously gets the United States into most of these wars.
For reasons incomprehensible to the government of the United States, all that bombing seems to have made some people in the Middle East mad. On September 11, 2001, several suicide attacks, mainly by Saudi Arabians, were launched against the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York and the Pentagon. One of the four attacks failed but 2,995 people were killed. For reasons not yet explained only two buildings at the WTC were hit by aircraft but three buildings collapsed.
The identities and nationalities of the nineteen hijackers was established by September 27, 2001. Fifteen of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates, one from Egypt, and one from Lebanon.
Having been attacked by terrorists primarily from Saudi Arabia the United States invaded the far-away country of Afghanistan, supposedly where the terrorists trained. Questions about US intelligence on that remain.
Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) was launched in October 2001 and the Taliban regime was quickly ousted before the first U.S. soldier was killed. Rather than calling OEF a success and pulling out with a warning not to harbor terrorists again, our less-than-brilliant leaders decided to occupy the country, an historically-impossible task.
But the stubborn Afghan people simply refused to recognize the virtues of American occupation and continue to resist. It is of historical interest to note that landlocked Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires. And there are no well-defined objectives or reasons for our continued occupation.
The U.S. war against the Afghan people is now nearly nine years old and combat deaths now exceed 1,000 and U.S. wounded exceed 5,700. Since Marines and Army troops, particularly Special Forces, have, and will endure multiple tours of combat in Afghanistan it is reasonable to predict PTSD rates as high as, or higher than in Vietnam although we have learned some lessons on how to minimize this disorder.
There is certainly no shortage of drugs in Afghanistan and it is virtually certain that troops and support personnel will use them for stress relief, just as they did in Vietnam. While I have heard no reports of fragging in Afghanistan, as the war drags on such incidents are likely as troops are well aware that the justification, or themis of the war doesn't exist. Whether "ghosting" (inventing an excuse to be sent to the rear) or "sandbagging" (calling in false coordinates while taking a nap in a safer place) have been reinvented in Afghanistan is unknown but almost certainly variants exist.
The press has not yet documented any open refusals to advance against the enemy but one can be sure commanders are taking utmost caution as the number of collateral, i.e., civilian casualties, is extraordinary. It is much easier and safer to call in an air strike or a drone than to get your people to advance against enemies hidden in mountainous terrain. And while desertions are no where near Vietnam levels, the military makes little effort to capture or punish those who do desert.
So when we do give up and leave Afghanistan with our tails between our legs it is reasonable to predict tens of thousands of physical and psychiatric casualties from OEF who will need lifetime disability care, although their lives are likely to be considerably shortened by suicide and other diseases resulting from the war.
It is of interest to note that none of the suicide attackers on 9/11 were from either Afghanistan or Iraq. And it isn't likely Saudi Arabia will help pay for our veterans care with reparations for the participation of their citizens in 9/11.
None of the reasons given for that invasion have stood up but we are still occupying that country seven years later even after ousting and killing its ruler. And 4,400 Americans have had their lives taken by this invasion, more than 30,000 have been wounded, and more than 1.5 million men and women have served in OIF where there is no rear area as guerilla warfare has increased.
It is already clear that the multiple combat tours American troops are enduring is having severe psychological effects on both men and women. However, since Vietnam we have learned a great deal about PTSD and how to minimize its effects. Troops are now trained in what to expect, pulled back out of combat and given time to shower and rest at reasonable intervals when possible, unit cohesion is maintained, and extensive debriefing is provided. Psychoactive drugs are also extensively used, and sometimes overused, to help relieve combat stress.
But every human has a breaking point beyond which additional stress cannot be endured and that point may be reached in a single incident or a cumulative result of repeated stressors such as combat. Also, with modern medicine and protective gear troops are routinely surviving explosions and wounds that would certainly have been fatal in previous wars. I've met soldiers who have been blown up 10 to 12 times and are outwardly normal. But their brains have been damaged by the trauma and that may lead to what is called traumatic brain injury (TBI). TBI and PTSD very frequently cooccur.
The net result is that PTSD in OIF/OEF troops is at roughly the same levels as in Vietnam despite all the advances and preventive measures. Estimates are that 400,000 to 500,000 will suffer chronic, lifetime effects of this disorder. And it is already clear that suicide rates among these veterans will be very high and those that don't suicide are likely to live shortened lives.
As we've come to expect, many casualties are the result of "friendly" actions. In OEF/OIF troops the anti-malaria drug Lariam has had numerous disastrous side effects. Also combinations of prescribed medications that included Paxil, Seroquel, and Klonopin have proven deadly in well over 100 cases. Anthrax vaccinations were also the source of considerable controversy and the Pentagon documented some 20,000 cases where troops were hospitalized following anthrax vaccinations although direct cause and effect often could not be established.
Ah, but our society hasn't been content to throwing away the lives of best and brightest in police actions. Naw, if they come back crippled and broken we now insist they be treated as criminals and jailed.
Since Vietnam legislators have been busily passing new laws based on ideology and using extremes as examples as though they were the norm. Draconian laws regarding domestic violence (DV) and abuse were enacted in which every lover's quarrel is presumed to be abuse and every disagreement the man's fault and his arrest is mandatory. In addition veterans are now labeled as "trained killers" while in court.
The military also started cracking down on drinking, and President Nixon, unable to win in Vietnam, began a War on Drugs. He lost that one as well but thousands upon thousands of veterans suffered and suicided under the draconian provisions.
Former Marine Gordon Duff describes it as Promoting Veteran Suicides:
"It all began as a Bush era program, promoted by Dr. Sally Satel, the famed PTSD denialist putting thousands of soldiers at risk and pushing hundreds to suicide. Thousands of veterans lost all benefits, GI Bill, medical care and more through Army discharge scam, part of a neo-con 'cost saving program.'
How did it work? Simple. A very large percentage of combat vets with PTSD are problem drinkers, self medicating in the only way they can and, in the process, getting worse and worse. Redeployments of soldiers needing treatment only adds to the problem. When vets with severe PTSD demonstrate severe symptoms, including alcohol abuse, they are put in short and unproven 'quit' programs with an extremely high failure rate. This is all part of a game, one invented to trap soldiers and cut costs.
Step 2 in the game, the Army 'orders' the soldier not to drink, knowing the order itself is absurd. Real treatment for PTSD is denied. When the soldier drinks, and they always do, the soldier is arrested, jailed and charged, now get this, with disobeying a direct order, Article 34 and disrespect to an officer or noncom.
Sometimes even more charges are piled on. In the end, the deal is the same. Leave the army with nothing but years of honorable service now labeled as 'dishonorable' or 'bad conduct' and face civilian life crushed and abandoned by the country you risked your life to serve.
The Army learned the game from the VA. The VA denied PTSD diagnoses to Vietnam veterans who drank or used alcohol, claiming they couldn't be diagnosed. Problem is, almost all PTSD vets use alcohol or drugs as self medication. End result, tens of thousands of Vietnam vets were denied diagnosis, treatment and compensation for decades with thousand dying as a result."
Overall prison populations in the United States exploded until we now make Stalin's gulags look like amateurs and Communist China a piker. And veterans with PTSD, TBI, or other mental issues from their wartime service were prime targets.
The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study (NVVRS), surveyed a large and representative sample of Vietnam veterans. This study found that 11% of all surveyed had been convicted of a felony, while 34% had been arrested for a misdemeanor offense. Though it was not released publicly until 2000, the Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (DOJ-BJS) report, Veterans in Prison or Jail noted that in 1985, 21% of all men in prison were veterans a total of 154,600 while only 12% of the general population are veterans.
Anyone at all familiar with PTSD sufferers, and the manifestations of this disorder, is aware that their behavior is almost certain to lead to trouble with law enforcement. Dr. Tudor recently tabulated how prison correction officers expressed PTSD symptoms. Provoking fights, driving too fast or erratically, irrational rages, excessive drinking or drug use, and hypervigilance (can sure look a lot like power and control issues to a DV ideologue) are all common expressions of PTSD victims. And these are but a few of the problems.
On Memorial Day 2007 we presented a cop's eye view of domestic violence and the military to illustrate that side of this problem. Or, without understanding the problems, law enforcement puts together a SWAT team and kills the veteran. Hardly an ideal outcome!
In January 2008 a Buffalo, New York judge, Robert Russell, introduced a specialized court to deal with the many veterans who repeatedly came through his courtroom and were sinking ever deeper into the justice system. Veteran court initiatives were born from a broad national recognition that we inappropriately responded to large numbers of veterans during the Vietnam era in a punitive or reactive manner (the criminal justice system) when a set of supportive and preventative responses (a public health approach) would have proven far more effective. By now focusing on the public health approach, the hope and expectation is that we will not generate large numbers of veterans who tumble through multiple systems for decades, facing not only incarceration but homelessness, poverty, social isolation, and suicide.
I am embarrassed now to relate that the Equal Justice Foundation was involved from early July 2008 with attempting to set up a trauma/veteran court in Colorado Springs, the first in the state.
Here is what went wrong: The federal Dept. of Health and Human Services (DHHS) GAINS Center recognized the potential, possibly even the need for veterans courts early and quickly organized a conference in May 2008. By October 2008 DHHS SAMSHA had given a $2 million grant to the Colorado Dept. of Human Services (CO DHS) to develop a diversion program for veterans in Denver to keep them out of jail. Unfortunately, in Colorado Springs the many military bases and separate police departments mandated that the earliest intercept point was the county jail, as it is common to all the agencies. A group from Colorado Springs then met with CO DHS and DHHS SAMSHA representatives in November 2008 and convinced them the work needed to be done in Colorado Springs. We even had the support of a district judge who is a retired Army major general. So far, so good.
Those of you who have worked with their state's department of human services, or equivalent, are aware that their child protective services (CPS) have evolved into legal kidnapping agencies and are running adoption rings. To do this they grab children from their parents and place them into foster homes or otherwise place the kids under DHS/CPS protection. It is worth emphasizing that more Colorado children have died since 2003 under DHS/CPS protection than Coloradoans have been killed in combat in Iraq. In Colorado the DHS supports slavery as well as the Equal Justice Foundation reported on in a twelve part series beginning in 2006. In summary, this agency is the Colorado equivalent of the Waffen SS.
But DHHS primarily provides money to state DHS agencies, bureaucrats feeding bureaucrats, and so the same with veteran court funding. Naturally the money was used to fund more bureaucracy. And even though there was a judge ready and willing to hear cases it took over a year to get even the first cases heard and the program didn't get officially announced until February 2010.
Guy Gambill, the de facto national coordinator veteran courts, recently reviewed the problems. First, and foremost, it is essential to establish whether a man or woman are veterans as early as possible when they become involved with the justice system. Ideally that would occur with the frontline investigating officers. But at the latest it needs to be determined when they are booked into jail and before they bond out. That hasn't proven possible, again due to bureaucracy.
Then even larger problems loom. Even the arrest will often negatively impact the veterans career and may well cause them to lose their jobs, and make it difficult in the future for them to find employment.
Those problems are magnified if the veteran is convicted or stupidly takes a plea bargain. For example, under current Colorado and federal laws a veteran convicted of domestic violence (DV), and a plea bargain is a conviction, will face the following penalties:
They will be barred from holding a job, denied a security clearance, unable to rent an apartment, forbidden from obtaining school loans, unable to hold any professional licenses, unable to get or hold a teachers certificate, cannot obtain credit or a financial bond, unable to become police officers or firefighters, cannot hold a commercial drivers license, unable to obtain medical insurance, cannot work with hazardous materials or explosives, will often have their children taken from them and cannot get custody in a divorce, subjected to federal felony charges if they are even around a weapon or ammunition, and discharged from the service under less than honorable conditions and often lose all benefits, retirement, bonuses, and medical care.
But what do the feminist ideologues insist on for veteran courts? Only nonviolent crimes can be dealt with in a veteran court! Lets see, we enlist aggressive men and women to fight our wars, we spend enormous sums of money training them to kill and inflict deadly violence, then when they come back home if they have a family fight we, in effect, drive them to suicide or into jail. These men and women are not pussycats who can be brought home, declawed, and turned loose on society without further adjustment.
In Colorado Springs we've tried the catch, convict, release approach for years now. Commonly the veterans then commit even more violent crimes. In their November 6, 2009, issue Rolling Stone magazine documented at least 11 murders committed here by Iraqi veterans who had previously been through our court system. How many of the thousands of veterans caught, convicted, and released in Colorado Springs have moved on to commit crimes of violence elsewhere is unknown but, predictably, it is a large number.
Knowing that a conviction for domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault or abuse, or any felony is the equivalent of a death sentence for a disabled veteran, what do the DHHS/DHS dimwits do? They model the veteran courts on drug courts and a guilty plea is required before any treatment or diversion can begin. That is stupidity of a high order!
Only if veteran courts can determine and verify the status and known or potential medical conditions quickly after an arrest or encounter with law enforcement, ensure that treatment is undertaken on the first arrest and a conviction is foregone pending the outcome of treatment for the veteran's conditions, and charges dismissed if treatment is successful, can veteran courts possibly work with any effectiveness.
Experience has shown that if a veteran demands a jury trial, and manages to get a competent criminal defense attorney, the odds are vanishingly small that they will be convicted. In most such cases the DA will dismiss the case before trial.
Let us expand Memorial Day to respect and remember all veterans who have died after serving their country. Only a comparative few die while in military service and it is obvious that military service has a fatal outcome for many more, who also deserve our remembrance and gratitude.
Dr. Corry holds a Ph.D. in geophysics from Texas A&M and is a Senior Fellow of the Geological Society of America. He is a widely-published and internationally-known earth scientist whose biography has appeared in Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in America, Who's Who in Science and Engineering, among others, for over the past decade.
After service with 1 st Marines he became involved with the early space program in 1960, doing preflight testing and failure analysis on Atlas and Centaur missiles, including all the Project Mercury birds. In 1965 he switched to oceanography and did research at both Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod. He has also taught geophysics at university and worked as a research manager for a Fortune 500 company.
Dr. Corry has climbed high mountains, been shipwrecked and marooned on an unexplored desert island, ridden horseback through Utah, Arizona, and Colorado, among other adventures during his career.