Honoring Our Veterans—Bill Moyers and Michael Winship—Bill Moyers Journal

From Bill Moyers Journal:

Honoring Our Veterans

In
honor of Memorial Day, JOURNAL writers Bill Moyers and Michael Winship
wrote the following essay on how to best honor our veterans.

Memorial Day

We honor our war dead this Memorial Day weekend. The greatest
respect we could pay them would be to pledge no more wars for erroneous
and misleading reasons; no more killing and wounding except for the
defense of our country and our freedoms.

We also could honor our dead by caring for the living, and do better at it than we are right now.

There has been a flurry of allegations concerning neglect,
malpractice and corner cutting at the Veterans Administration
especially for those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder –
PTSD – or major depression, brought on by combat.

A report released by the Rand Corporation last month indicates that
approximately 300,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffer PTSD or
major depression. That’s one of every five military men and women who
have served over there.

Last Friday’s Washington Post reported the contents of an e-mail
sent to staff at a VA hospital in Temple, Texas. A psychologist wrote,
“Given that we are having more and more compensation seeking veterans,
I’d like to suggest that you refrain from giving a diagnosis of PTSD
straight out.” She further suggested that a diagnosis of a less serious
Adjustment Disorder be made instead, especially as she and her
colleagues “really don’t… have time to do the extensive testing that
should be done to determine PTSD.”

Now PTSD is not a diagnosis arrived at without careful, thorough
examination. But to possibly misdiagnose such a volatile and harmful
disorder for the sake of saving time or money is reprehensible.

Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake immediately said the
psychologist’s statement had been “repudiated at the highest level of
our health care organization.” Nonetheless, there’s plenty of other
evidence to raise concern.

The rate of attempted and successful suicides is so scary, the head
of the VA’s mental health division, Dr. Ira Katz, wondered in a
February e-mail how it should be spun. “Shh!” he wrote. “Our suicide
prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts
per month among the veterans we see in our medical facilities. Is this
something we should (carefully) address ourselves in some sort of
release before someone stumbles on it?”

This apparent cover-up prompted the House Veterans Committee to
hold hearings earlier this month. Congressman Bob Filner, committee
chairman, questioned Dr. Katz and Veterans Affairs Secretary Peake.
“What we see is a pattern that reveals a culture of bureaucracy,”
Filner angrily said. “The pattern is deny, deny, deny and when that
fails, it’s cover up, cover up, cover up — there is clear evidence of a
bureaucratic cover-up here…

Rep. Filner raised the question of criminal negligence. “We should
all be angry about what has gone on here,” he declared. “This is a
matter of life and death for the veterans that we are responsible for
and I think there was criminal negligence in the way this was handled.
If we do not admit, assume or know, then the problem will continue and
people will die. If that’s not criminal negligence, I don’t know what
is.”

Secretary Peake said, “I can appreciate that the number of 1000
suicide attempts a month might be shocking but in a system as large as
ours… and consistent with the literature, we might well expect a larger
number of attempts than that.”

The front page of Sunday’s Houston Chronicle
featured an in-depth study of just one of the suicides — Bronze Star
recipient Nils Aron Andersson of the 82nd Airborne Division. “A victim
of the war within,” reads the Chronicle headline.

Andersson returned home from two tours in Iraq and was reassigned
to duty as an Army recruiter. “Did he come back different?” his father
asked. “I don’t think there’s anybody who goes over there and fights on
the front lines who ever comes back the same.”

In March 2007, Andersson sat behind the wheel of his new Ford pick
up – less than 24 hours after his wedding – and fired a single round
from a .22 caliber semi-automatic into his right temple. He was 25
years old.

“I don’t think Aron let the Army down,” his father said. “I think
the Army let him down. I think the care wasn’t there that he really
needed.”

Only about half of those service members diagnosed with PTSD or
depression have sought treatment and about half of those received what
the RAND study describes as “minimally adequate treatment.” Minimally
adequate treatment for what could be a matter of life and death.

Once upon a time, kids asked their fathers, “What did you do in the
war, daddy?” It’s a question the next generation could ask all of us
who stood by as our government invaded Iraq to start a war whose
purpose and rationale keep shifting and whose end is nowhere in sight,
and who look now with nonchalance upon the unseen scars of those who
are fighting it.

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