Saturday, May 13, 2006

Iraq and Afghanistan veterans: file and forget

Everybody has their own notion of what it means to "Support our Troops." For us, it means packing them up and bringing them home ASAP. For the Pentagon, it apparently means, "File and forget."

I'm not an authority on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but I've seen plenty of combat veterans who were exposed to horrendous experiences in combat and suffered serious mental health consequences. As the Defense Department said in response to a General Accountability Office report that took them to task for failing to refer veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns for mental health evaluation:
. . . a negative reaction to the stress and trauma of combat is "just a part of human nature." (Reutershealth)
Well, yes. Agreed. And so is bleeding when shot or unconsciousness when concussed. The symptoms of a PTSD response don't just affect the patient (although that would be bad enough). They affect their families, co-workers and the general public:
Experts say the disorder's symptoms include irritability or outbursts of anger, sleep difficulties, trouble concentrating, extreme vigilance and an exaggerated startle response. A person may initially respond to the trauma with horror or helplessness, then may persistently relive the event.
The Pentagon medical brass have their own rationale for a policy that refers less than one in four veterans with PTSD symptoms for mental health evaluation: they don't want to medicalize "normal" reactions.
"If these normal reactions to an abnormal situation are immediately medicalized, the individual takes on a patient role and the symptoms that may dissipate with rest and restoration tend to persist," the Pentagon stated.
There is some superficial sense to this glibness. But failing to evaluate veterans with histories of extremely traumatic experiences who are having nightmares, feelings of detachment and emotional numbness and report they are trying not to think about what happened, are hypervigilant and jumpy seems not only like malpractice but cruel and callous.

The cogs in the military machine are human. They bleed and suffer and feel pain. But the military machine is just a machine and its levers are pulled by Rumsfeld types who take the lives of its human cogs for granted. All militaries are killing machines. Once the cogs have served their purpose they are of no more interest.

When will we ever learn?