America lets veterans down again

Editorial: America lets veterans down again

By: M.J. Editorial Board

Posted: 1/15/08

A New York Times piece this week revealed 121 murders committed in the United States by veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Three-quarters of these were still enlisted when they committed their crimes, which included the murders of spouses, children and fellow soldiers, as well as strangers.

Post Viet Nam, Americans became aware of the high rates of homelessness, substance abuse and suicide among veterans. Their continuing misery should have long since sounded a warning to both the military and the American public that the mental health issues of veterans have not been sufficiently addressed. The warning, however, seems to have gone unheeded. Just as Viet Nam veterans were failed by the country they served, today's veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are being just as ruthlessly discarded, left with few resources to manage the emotional trauma of the bloodbath in which they participated.

As the military runs out of fresh bodies for its adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, recruitment standards are lowered and reports abound of shady practices by recruiters themselves that allow people ill-suited to combat to enlist. With the stresses of war enough to tax the mental resources of even the most well-adjusted recruit, those who suffer from preexisting mental and emotional conditions are almost guaranteed to break down in one way or another upon their return to the U.S.

As harmful as the recruiters who nudge through soldiers who don't meet enlistment standards and officials who turn a blind eye to their dishonesty, is the military's nefarious practice of forcing soldiers into repeated and extended tours, in essence, working them until they break.

Although the military makes a great to-do about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder screening for those about to be discharged, the reality is that many go untreated. Those suffering from stress-induced mental illnesses are often undiagnosed, or misdiagnosed with some more innocuous-and less expensive-disorder. Add to this a military culture that treats mental illness as a sign of weakness; a thing to be hidden and ignored, and it's easy enough to see how those who enlisted with dreams of patriotic glory returned home murderers.

The military and the country as a whole have failed these veterans twice. First, by sending them to fight an unjust and unnecessary war, and again, when we leave those who return alone with the demons we gave them.

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