Cut and Run Republicans, Part 2

Sunday, June 25, 2006

In addition to underequipping troops deployed to the bloody Iraqi theater, the Bush Administration is also failing to support them when they return. It may seem a little unfair to single this Administration out on this, as this country has never done right by its veterans, but the disconnect between rhetoric and reality is too pronounced to ignore. Bush has claimed the mantle of "war time president," and has parlayed that title into carte blanche authority to unwrite our civil liberties. He makes many of his speeches before the captive audiences of military bases and academies, where our people in uniform are compelled by the UCMJ to show unwavering support for the Commander in Chief. He adopts pseudo-military regalia like some stunted version of a third world generalissimo. No other President in US history has adopted military trappings, including the former 5 star General Eisenhower, who always appeared in civilian attire. But Bush routinely coopts martial glory like it's cool.

This morning I read that many of our veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are returning to the US to live in the streets. This is not new, certainly, but at a time when Republicans are labeling multiply decorated Marine John Murtha, who served in two wars, as a "cut and run" Democrat, it underscores a tremendous audacity. The Republican Party has held both houses of Congress for the better part of both the Clinton and Bush Administrations. Is this the best they can do by the warriors they so love to lionize when it suits their purposes?

Thousands of veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan are facing a new nightmare -- the risk of homelessness. The government estimates that several hundred vets who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan are homeless on any given night around the country, although the exact number is unknown.

The reasons that contribute to this new wave of homelessness are many: Some are unable to cope with life after daily encounters with insurgent attacks and roadside bombs; some can't navigate the government red tape; others simply don't have enough money to afford a house or apartment.

Homelessness is one of the many problems a tragically underfunded VA is saddled with. Another is the underlying cause of a good deal of that homelessness; post traumatic stress disorder.

About one-fourth of all homeless adults in America have served in the military -- most of them minority veterans.

There are now about 200,000 homeless vets in the United States, according to government figures.

"In recent years, we've tried to reach out sooner to new veterans who are having problems with post-traumatic stress, depression or substance abuse, after seeing combat," said Dougherty. "These are the veterans who most often end up homeless."

Earlier this week Knight Ridder reported that combat stress cases are well above anticipated numbers and the VA cannot cope.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is on a pace to see nearly 20,000 new cases of post-combat stress this year among service members who've served in Iraq or Afghanistan, more than six times the number of cases that officials had expected.

The reason for such high numbers is not mysterious.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been particularly stressful because they involve urban warfare amid civilians who are hard to distinguish from the enemy. There are no front lines or safe areas, and the enemy uses improvised bombs and ambushes.

Remember those heady days when we were told our troops would be greeted with flowers by the Iraqi people? Our troops are paying the price for that total lack of foresight, both here and at home, and without the support they need from the government that dispensed them into that nightmare.

A statement from the Democratic members of the House VA Committee said that even as the number of post-traumatic stress disorder cases increased, the VA had cut back the number of PTSD therapy sessions for veterans by 25 percent in the past 10 years.

In a related issue, the Government Accountability Office recently found that the Pentagon didn't seek further mental-health treatment for eight out of 10 soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan who showed signs of post-combat stress.

William Winkenwerder Jr., the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, responded that the GAO report was "flawed."

Well that flawed report seems to have forced the hand of the DOD which subsequently announced it will form a Mental Health Task Force. I'll withhold judgment until I see what remedies are prescribed by said task force, but the recent history of the Republican run executive and legislative branches gives little reason for optimism.

This country has a long history of treating our fighting men and women like so much disposable flesh. But the cynicism of a "war time president" who cuts back on services for veterans at the precise time it is creating so many of them is hard to overstate.

Republicans love to slap magnetic yellow ribbons on their SUVs and scold the left for not "supporting the troops" but as a party they can be counted on to "cut and run" when our troops need them most.


Anonymous said...

Combine urban combat, multiple tours of duty, an active guerrilla resistance force that is indistinguishable from the civilian population, and you have the perfect recipe to produce men and women suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

As always, the official numbers are suspect and much lower than the actual number of cases. Those who suffer from PTSD all too often deny that they have it, or else are undiagnosed (either deliberately or through neglect).

I have already seen veterans of Iraq War II receiving handouts at food pantries and homeless shelters. Their mental and physical health has been broken. These veterans are tossed aside; they must be kept invisible, for they are an inconvenience.

We will not realize the full extent of the damage done to the 150,000+ men and women who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters until long after Mr. Bush has "retired" to his "ranch" in Crawford. The thousands, and possibly tens of thousands, of PTSD-sufferers, along with those who have lost limbs or eyesight, will have to struggle with those problems the rest of their lives.

The Iraq/Afghanistan Wars that Bush started will never really be over. The children of the veterans will have their fathers' and mothers' troubles passed along in the form of child abuse and neglect, alcoholism and drug abuse, and a host of other problems.

A writer far more gifted than I once put these words on paper: "War does not end with a peace treaty for the men who fought it; it goes on as long as they are alive."

The bumper sticker, "Support the Troops" should be changed to: "Support the Troops going to fight, as long as they don't ask for proper gear and weapons, or complain about President Bush and the Congress and the Veterans Administration once they come home, or return from their service with physical, mental, or emotional problems that will be expensive to treat."

Sure, that's a long bumper sticker, but it should fit on most of the SUVs Republican "troop supporters" seem to favor so heavily...with room to spare.