Sending Mentally Ill Soldiers Into Combat

From CNN Report: Mentally ill troops forced into combat

The paper reported that some service members who committed suicide in 2004 or 2005 were kept on duty despite clear signs of mental distress, sometimes after being prescribed antidepressants with little or no mental health counseling or monitoring. Those findings conflict with regulations adopted last year by the Army that caution against the use of antidepressants for “extended deployments.”

I believe it’s been like that in most wars. Has our culture stopped evolving? Certainly a large block of Americans, most of whom voted for Bush, fight evolution tooth and nail. I guess fear of change goes very deep in some folks.

I seem to recall an interview with a fellow who was a doctor in WWII. He told about how when soldiers came in shell-shocked (severely traumatized), they’d keep them in the field hospital, dope them into oblivion for a period of time to let the worst of it pass, then take them off the drugs and send them right back out to their unit. I forget how long they kept them, just a few days I think. The doctor was pretty sure that these poor fellows were going to be completely unable to take care of themselves, much less engage in combat. He was pretty sure he was sending them back to die. It seemed that it had been haunting him for the last 50 years. You can bet that this war isn’t going to haunt Bush and Rummy, not even for a minute.
In WWII we were facing an aggressor who had already swept across Europe. He had a face, Hitler’s face. And we didn’t go in until every friend of ours except Britain had fallen. What is our symbol in this war? Saddam Hussein? Hey, we got him. Osama Bin Laden? We aren’t even *thinking* about him any more. The World Trade Center and its 3000 deaths? Iraq had nothing to do with that – it was perpetrated by Saudis protesting our continued presence in Saudi Arabia. What the hell *is* this war about?
The aggressor is just beginning to sweep across the Middle East. It’s not clear to our soldiers who they are fighting. Many of them feel as if they are little more than bodyguards for civilian contractors. They drive Halliburton employees and other civilians back and forth from the green zone to the airport through a well-established corridor, like ducks in a shooting gallery. And in between trips they sit in tents in a big maze of Jersey barriers waiting for one of the locals to slip in and set off a bomb.
The word that the suicide rate is high in this war came out a couple of years ago. Every war has suicides. Yes, even The Big One, WWII. But when you are supporting the war, as just about everyone did during WWII, suicides make bad press so you don’t cover them. You want to show newsreels of Axis bombs and dead foreign children, not films of mentally ill American soldiers – hardly more than children themselves – committing suicide.
One interesting difference in this war is that at the beginning of the war, if you check the numbers, the casualties were mostly older people with families and well-paid jobs back home. These are folks whose lives back home are being systematically disassembled by their extended absence. You join the Army Reserves with the understanding that you will serve as a stop-gap until the military can muster and train enough recruits to step in, maybe six months and certainly not two years. You join the National Guard with the understanding that your job is to protect the people here at home in during emergencies. Something got really screwed up here.
Oh, this is a good line. This fellow makes it sound as if every soldier is a time bomb waiting to go off.

“Ritchie insisted the military works hard to prevent suicides, but it is a challenge because every soldier has access to a weapon.”

I lost count. Have we killed more Iraqis than Saddam Hussein yet?

But I digress… the war in Iraq isn’t a desperate struggle against a madman with intentions of World Domination: quite the contrary. From the beginning we haven’t even attempted to be sure to have enough men and materiel to successfully complete our mission against this most nebulous enemy, Terror, either.
Finally, and most importantly, in the 21st century you’d think that our species would be sensitive to each other’s psychological needs. When did we lose our ability to empathize? We have taken huge steps back in so many areas – environment, new energy sources, “Civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights: it’s all wrong” – and I want to know why this is.
Who are these people who want to ignore the hard lessons of the last 60 years and go back to an idyllic past that never was?
I think it’s time for me to read up on exactly what this NeoCon movement is about.

[Lyric above is from Gil Scott Heron’s excellent invective against Ronald Reagan, B Movie, from his 1981 album Reflections.]

One Response to Sending Mentally Ill Soldiers Into Combat

  1. Right on! This post was really interesting.

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