Let me ask you something…

(Considering how many of our servicemen and women are from Colorado, if this doesn’t deserve a promo, what does?   – promoted by Middle of the Road)

Suppose that you’re watching a major network news show, and they air a report about a outbreak of disease that’s killed thousands of people. It strikes across ethnic and geographical lines, and has reached epidemic proportions in a matter of a few years.

So, if the reporter told you that the media was barely covering the outbreak, would you be surprised? And if the reporter told you that the Government had been caught trying to cover up the outbreak, would you be angry? And if the reporter told you that the Government had neglected to help the victims of this disease for years, and was only starting to acknowledge there was a problem now, would you demand prosecution for those who took part in the coverup?

This has all happened – it’s not a report on “60 Minutes.” It’s what’s been happening to Combat vets with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. And it’s an epidemic that’s cutting down a generation of Americans.

I normally wage my war against this disease with a different audience….but something happened that makes me want to get this out here.  Over the weekend, a soldier suffering both visible and invisible wounds took his life at the entrance of the same VHA facility that had just denied him care:

http://www.daytondailynews.com…

If this had been someone who had been denied care because of no health insurance, I’m sure it would’ve been front page news. But since it was just another crazy Iraq vet, I have yet to see any sort of coverage in the mainstream media. The vet community has passed this around our blogosphere, and the reaction is a mixture of anger and resignation. There’s no surprise that it happened – just that it doesn’t happen more often.

I’m sure that there’s someone who will say it’s “not that bad.” The numbers aren’t in the thousands, so there’s not really a problem. Let me put it in perspective – since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the US military has lost 761 soldiers in combat. But 817  military personnel have taken their lives in the same time period. Every year for the last five years military suicide rates have gone up – sometimes DOUBLED from the year before. Last year, 160 active-duty soldiers killed themselves, up from 140 in 2008 and 77 in 2003. This is an epidemic, esp when compared to the civilian suicide rate, which has stayed flat during the same time period.

And we have those numbers (grudgingly) from the Department of Defense. The VA is so overwhelmed with patients & claims that they can’t even keep up with the current pace of patients asking for help. Complete statistics only are current thru 2008, and the VA only started tracking Veterans Suicide in 2007.

And once they started, the VHA starting HIDING those statistics as best they could – except CBS News broke the story: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories…

(BTW, Ira Katz, the Deputy Chief Patient Care Services Officer of the VHA still has his job, even after he’s been caught numerous times lying about the extent of the problem. I’m trying to figure out why.)

The numbers? 18 Veterans kill themselves every day. That adds up to about 6500 veterans a year. Since then, the numbers have gotten worse – at a conference this January, VA Sec’y Shinseki estimated that of the 30,000 suicides in the US each year, 20% are veterans. You do the math.

Which takes me back to Jesse Huff….did he finally realize his soul was so wounded that he need immediate help last Saturday night, and went to the place that was supposed to provide it? Why did the VA ER turn him away – because they had no space in the inpatient PTSD clinic? (There’s only 7 in the country.) Was it because he was already taking a avalanche of meds for his conditions, and they wrongly assumed he wanted more? (All the vets I mentor complain they want off their meds, not more.) Did someone just forget where the hell they worked, and gave a typical government employee answer?

I fear that we will never know – the VHA is already declining comment, and the only thing the press has reported was how many pills he was taking. Even in death, when he tried to make a statement, his sacrifice is seeming more hollow with each press release.

We’re doing the same old shit to try and correct this problem – spend money. But nothing is going to change if the problem is invisible. America stopped caring a long time ago about what happened to the average Joe/Jane in The Suck. One quote I hear a lot from OIF/OIF vets is “The Military is at War. American is at the Mall.” And worse, we don’t really care about what happens to our vets when they somehow survive one, two, FIVE rotations in Iraq.

If 6500 people died a year from some messy, contagious disease, it’d lead on the evening news every night. Why is 6500 veterans dying by their own hands so easy to ignore?

OIF/OEF Statistics from the blogspot of Ilona Meagher, author of “Moving a Nation to Care: PTSD and America’s Returning Troops.”

http://ptsdcombat.blogspot.com…

TruthOut.org investigation on the Mental Heath Crisis of Returning Veterans:

http://www.truthout.org/1202095

The Veteran’s Administration’s Mental Health Website (which includes live chat for anyone thinking about suicide (and their family members or friends who know someone in danger)):

http://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/

Time Magazine article on the US Army’s struggle with Suicide:

http://www.time.com/time/natio…

VetVoice.org statement on Jesse Huff’s suicide:

http://www.vetvoice.com/showDi…

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12 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. ModerateGal says:

    It should.

  2. Job discrimination (20%) unemployment, stigmatizes mental health issues, and basically leaving men trained to kill while living with the horrors in their minds of what they’ve seen without little or no assistance is wrong.

  3. Duke Coxdukeco1 says:

    are startling, Dan. I knew it was a problem, but I didn’t know it was this big. I will make a commitment today to elevate this issue in my conciousness and that of all around me.

    I know some elected officials and I will make a point of bringing this issue to their attention and to keep on doing so. Our callous treatment of these honorable men and women is a national disgrace.

    Thanks for being a champion for our vets. Keep up the great work.

  4. allyncooper says:

    have to run off to work, but will read it when I get home tonight.

    It’s a disgrace how we care for those who have borne the battle. Last year I had a friend die from cancer (early 60’s)who had served as a Marine in Vietnam and was repeatedly exposed to agent orange. His family was convinced his cancer was caused by that, but the government never acknowledged it. He was a good family man, a man who loved his country and as a Marine fought for his country, but in the end his country would not honor his sacrifice by facing the truth.

    Every time Congress votes funds for a war, it should be law that they also have to vote for the funds at that time to pay for those who will be damaged by that war. A fiscal note that recognizes the real cost of war.  

  5. SSG_Dan says:

    Veteran’s brother: Suicide not VA’s fault

    DAYTON – The oldest brother of the Iraq war veteran who committed suicide at the Dayton VA Medical Center Friday said he is satisfied with the care Jesse Huff received hours before his death.

    Charles Huff, 37, of Dayton – a nurse at the VA and a staff sergeant in the Army Reserve – said Monday, April 19, that he and his father met with Dayton VA Director Guy Richardson on Sunday to review his brother’s medical records, specifically focusing on the events of his last visit to the emergency room.

    “Jesse was not denied care,” Charles Huff said. “In fact, I am impressed with the actions of the medical staff that evening. Without going into detail, to protect Jesse’s privacy, I can say as a fellow Iraq war veteran, as a medical professional and as his brother, I am in agreement with the decisions made by the hospital staff during Jesse’s last visit to the ER.”

    Huff, 27, of Dayton, entered the center’s emergency room about 1 a.m. Friday. About 5:45 a.m., he reappeared at the center’s entrance, put a military-style rifle to his head and shot himself, police said.

    He will be buried with full military honors in the Dayton National Cemetery at the VA campus during a private ceremony. Huff had been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and received treatment at the Dayton VA for that and a back injury he suffered when he was hit by shrapnel from a blast in Iraq, his brother said. He completed a PTSD residency program in West Virginia around January.

    http://www.daytondailynews.com

  6. The realistThe realist says:

    It reminds of the interview three years ago on PBS about the growing recognition of the problem of traumatic brain injury for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Here’s a link to the transcript:

    http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb

    I will never forget then-Secretary of the VA Jim Nicholson appearing to be either clueless or in denial about the size of the problem, even when confronted with substantial information and data about the numbers of affected soldiers.

    It seems to me that the U.S. military does what polluting and dangerous industries do — try to move as much of the costs of their operations off the books as they can.  Pay soldiers less than they’re worth, ignore or minimize the physical and mental injuries they can return with, find ways to deny care (for example, a new diagnosis of PD – personality disorder), and minimize the problem you address – suicides.  And the fact that these issues don’t get full coverage in the news is just as bad.  

  7. Pam Bennett says:

    I am just starting the PTSD program here at the Denver VA hospital.  The people want to help but as I have seen from my first appointment at the hospital they are hampered by lack of funding for almost everything. That first day was in early 1977.

    It took a long time to get into the PTSD program, and I got in only because I happened to be in the right place at the right time. Otherwise I would have had to wait for the next or the next or . . . program.

    There is a long waiting list. Which is important to realize because so many of us are recognizing we need help to take care of the problem.

    The whole system is overwhelmed and Congress is not up to the task of doing.  It has been this way since before my Great-Uncle came back from France, WWI, with nightmares and other symptoms of PTSD.  Great guy but he suffered up to his death when he was in his 60’s (he died early).

    But, as I keep reiterating, the Denver VA care providers do what they can with what they have. I am proud of what they do for us vets.

    • SSG_Dan says:

      …there’s still only SEVEN full-time PTSD inpatient clinics in the VA. SEVEN!

      After more than a year of working in the Vet community in Colorado, I’m convinced the only reason we keep going is each other. It’s not the State of Colorado, it’s barely the VA, and it’s certainly not the city programs.

      It’s the fact that four OIF/OEF vets know that they can call me anytime, and I listen to their fears, their hopes and their bitter memories. It’s because Vets4Vets meets in the shadows, and vets can come and talk about their rawest of emotions to their brothers & sisters in arms about anything.

      And in the words of Love & Rockets, “And the Band Played On…”

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