War Comes Home.
U.S. veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are planning to descend on Washington from Mar. 13-16 to testify about war crimes they committed or personally witnessed in those countries.
“The war in Iraq is not covered to its potential because of how dangerous it is for reporters to cover it,” said Liam Madden, a former Marine and member of the group Iraq Veterans Against the War. “That’s left a lot of misconceptions in the minds of the American public about what the true nature of military occupation looks like.” Continue reading
When young American men and women sign up to serve in US military, our government makes a basic promise to them: that if they are wounded in the line of duty they will get the care they need. Unfortunately, for tens of thousands of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, that’s a promise that only exists on paper.
On Feb. 18, 2007, the headline “Soldiers Face Neglect, Frustration at Army’s Top Medical Facility” splashed across the front page of one of the nation’s premier newspapers, the Washington Post. The article, which described unsafe conditions and substandard care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, began with the story of Army Specialist Jeremy Duncan, who was airlifted out of Iraq in February 2006 with a broken neck and a shredded left ear, “nearly dead from blood loss.”
“Behind the door of Army Spec. Jeremy Duncan’s room, part of the wall is torn and hangs in the air, weighted down with black mold,” the article read. “When the wounded combat engineer stands in his shower and looks up, he can see the bathtub on the floor above through a rotted hole. The entire building, constructed between the world wars, often smells like greasy carry-out. Signs of neglect are everywhere: mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses.”
The Washington Post‘s coverage of the Scandal at Walter Reed sparked outrage and finger-pointing across official Washington, but the controversy did not solve the problem of substandard care. Eight months later, in September, Sergeant GJ Cassidy died while receiving treatment for blast injuries at Fort Knox. A GAO report released at the time of his death showed half of the military’s Warrior Transition Units had “significant shortfalls” of doctors, nurses and other caregivers who to treat wounded soldiers.
It’s not known how many other soldiers have died the way GJ Cassidy did – alone while allegedly seeking medical care from their government. But what we do know that increasingly veterans of the Iraq war are taking their own lives, when the Pentagon and the VA fail to provide adequate medical care.
A CBS news investigation in November found that 120 veterans kill themselves every week; or over 6,000 per year. CBS asked all 50 states for their suicide data, based on death records for veterans and non-veterans, and found that veterans were twice as likely to commit suicide, Among those taking their own lives was Sergeant Brian Jason Rand, who served two tours in Iraq. On February 20, 2007, the Clarksville, Tennessee police department found his body lying facedown under an entertainment pavilion on the banks of the Cumberland River, with a shotgun beside it.
Then there are those who become homeless because of government inaction. On any given night 200,000 veterans sleep homeless on the street. Increasingly those veterans are younger folks who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
People like Specialist James Eggemeyer, who ended up homeless just a few months after returning home from Iraq with a severe case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder brought on by loading the bodies of dead Iraqis into a Blackhawk helicopter. The VA took so long to process Eggemeyer’s disability claim that he had to live out of his truck while he waited. The average wait time for a veteran’s disability claim to be decided is now 183 days. More than 600,000 disabled vets are waiting.
Tens of thousands more veterans are being totally denied medical care and disability benefits they were promised after serving abroad.
The numbers are staggering: 11,407 U.S. soldiers have been discharged for drug abuse after serving in Iraq or Afghanistan; 6,159 have been kicked out for “discreditable incidents”; 6,436 have been discharged for “commission of a serious offense”; 2,246 have been discharged for “the good of the service”; and 3,365 have been discharged for “personality disorder,” according to Pentagon data I obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. Among those dishonorably discharged after honorably serving in Iraq is Specialist Shaun Manuel who returned from a tour in Iraq to find his newborn son dead of a rare genetic disease called Muscular Spinal Atrophy. Manuel said the situation was made even more painful when his superiors ordered him to begin training for a second tour in Iraq.
“My son passed away,” he told me. “You gonna’ send an emotionally distressed soldier to Iraq – who knows what he’s going to do? I’m ready to just blow the whole world up because I didn’t see my son being born and then he just passed away on me with no warning.”
Manuel never filed paperwork to medically excuse him from the deployment. Instead, he withdrew and buried himself in alcohol. He estimates he drank three fifths of liquor a day. At one point, his wife had to call the police during a domestic disturbance. So the military expelled him with dishonorable discharge and now bars him from getting health care and disability benefits.
Even those who haven’t seen combat can be in for a fight. Private Durrell Michael threw out his back loading generators on a US military base in South Korea. He could barely walk or stand upright, but the Army tried to deploy him to Iraq anyway. When he fought back, they gave him a dishonorable discharge. Now, he’s in another fight: with the VA for medical care.
Independent journalist Aaron Glantz has visited Iraq three times during the U.S. occupation and has also reported from more than a dozen countries across Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. He is the author of How America Lost Iraq. More information is available at his Web site.
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Mon., Aug. 20, 2007
SAINT LOUIS, Aug 20 (OneWorld) – Members of a leading Iraq war veterans’ organization voted this weekend to launch a campaign encouraging U.S. troops to refuse to fight.
The decision was made at the group’s annual membership meeting, held this weekend in Saint Louis, Missouri alongside the annual convention of the Veterans for Peace organization.
“Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) decided to make support of war resisters a major part of what we do,” said Garrett Rappenhagen, a former U.S. Army sniper who served in Iraq from February 2004 to February 2005.
“There’s a misconception that they’re cowards,” Rappenhagen said. “Most war resisters have already gone on a tour in Iraq. They’ve seen the war firsthand and have come to the conclusion that it’s morally wrong. This is something we all should support. So to break that timidness of how we view war resisters in America, IVAW decided to embrace them.”
FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. This material is distributed without profit.
By Aaron Glantz
SAN FRANCISCO, Jul 6 (IPS)
Cody Miranda joined the U.S. Marine Corps when he was 17 years old. He loved the military and hoped to spend his entire career in the service.
Miranda has served more than 16 years in the Marine Corps. Over the years, he’s been deployed to the Middle East six times, including stints in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
But when he returned from a tour in Iraq in 2003, his stepmother Jodie Stewart says, he was a changed man.
“He always used to be over focused on time as the military trains you to be,” she said as an example. “He’s never on time for anything anymore. I don’t know how to explain it to you. How do you explain it when a man who used to behave one way has gone abstractly and profoundly different?”
After returning from Iraq, Cody Miranda divorced his wife and pulled away from his son. He started drinking too much and was found in possession of cocaine.
“He never received any of the post-deployment questionnaires that now are mandatory for all troops,” said Amanda Newman, a licensed family therapist who’s been seeing Miranda on a pro-bono basis for the past few weeks. “He couldn’t understand why all of a sudden his life was falling apart.”
In 2005, Miranda went Absent Without Leave from Camp Pendleton in California for nearly a year and lived homeless on the street.
When he returned to the Marine Corps, military doctors diagnosed him with severe post-traumatic stress disorder; an anxiety illness that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. A person having a flashback may lose touch with reality and believe that the traumatic incident is happening all over again.
Military doctors also diagnosed Miranda with bipolar disorder, insomnia and sleep apnea.
But rather than give him treatment for his illness, the Marine Corps lowered his rank to private from staff sergeant, threw him in the brig multiple times (most recently for being five minutes late for a hearing), and began court martial proceedings that can lead to a dishonourable discharge — which would have denied the medical benefits Miranda needs to get his life right again.
Newman said Miranda needs inpatient psychiatric care, which he is not receiving, and complained that her attempts to see him while in the brig were delayed as a result of military orders.
“I asked immediately to see him in the brig and was told that it was not possible,” Newman wrote to Miranda’s military lawyer on Jun.29. “This is absolutely unacceptable: if a Marine was experiencing a medical emergency and had cut an artery and was bleeding profusely, he surely would not be denied treatment simply because he was in the brig.”
“In fact I would assume and hope that he would be transferred to the hospital for appropriate treatment. There is no difference regarding the severity and crisis nature of Pvt Miranda’s psychiatric condition and that of a medical condition: both are life threatening,” she wrote.
Officials at Camp Pendleton did not respond to multiple telephone and e-mail inquiries by deadline. Thirty-six hours after receiving a written request for information, a public affairs representative of the base told IPS: “I still don’t have anything for you.”
But public attention did appear to have an effect, however.
On Tuesday, after veterans’ groups helped Miranda file formal complaints with California Congressman Ken Calvert and Senator Barbara Boxer, Camp Pendleton’s commander, Col. James B. Seaton, abandoned plans for a court martial.
According to military defence lawyer Captain Bart Slabbekorn, Miranda was brought before the base commander Jul. 3 and given “non-judicial punishment.”
“As a result of today’s proceedings, Pvt Miranda may be retained in the Marine Corps or he may ultimately leave active duty,” Slabbekorn wrote in a letter to supporters. “Either way, at this point, he will be looking at a discharge making him eligible for VA (Veterans Affairs) treatment down the road.”
If Miranda does remain in the military, it’s likely he will be assigned to the Wounded Warrior Battalion, where he would work with other soldiers facing similar issues.
“The future is up to Miranda,” Slabbekorn said.
But Cody Miranda is not alone.
The Department of Defence’s most recent mental health survey found about 20 percent of soldiers met screening criteria for a mental health problem and that there was a “linear relationship” between combat exposure and subsequent mental health problems. Nearly one-third of troops who had seen “high combat” met criteria for a mental health problem.
Slabbekorn told San Diego’s KSUI television between 10 to 20 percent of soldiers imprisoned in Camp Pendleton’s brig suffer from some kind of combat-related mental illness.
In the first four years of the Iraq war, 1,019 Marines were dismissed with less-than-honourable discharges for misconduct committed after overseas deployments. Navy Capt. William Nash, who coordinates the Marines’ combat stress programme, told USA Today this week that at least 326 of the discharged Marines showed evidence of mental health problems, possibly from combat stress, according to the Marines story.
Nash told the paper he hoped that “any Marine or sailor who commits particularly uncharacteristic misconduct following deployment…be aggressively screened for stress disorders and treated.”
“If a Marine who was previously a good, solid Marine — never got in trouble — commits misconduct after deployment and turns out they have PTSD, and because of justice they lose their benefits, that may not be justice,” Nash said.
The Marine Corps has yet to follow up on Nash’s recommendations.