Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day & PTSD

A sign of progress: on this Veterans Day the US is not fighting a war in Iraq. We are just assisting the Iraqi government now. There are no crosses placed on the Santa Monica beach to represent American lives lost there.

Our focus has shifted to Afghanistan--and President Obama is considering whether to bomb Yemen for the packages sent from there with bombs intended for a synagogue in Chicago.

Reuters reports, however, that the war in Iraq is "far from over":

George W Bush talked this week about the decisions he made in Iraq as if they were history, the insurgency had been defeated and the conflict, bar a few loose ends, over. Wrong on all counts. If American troops are not being attacked on a daily basis, Iraqis certainly are. Iraq Body Count says that an average of seven people die a day from suicide and bomb attacks, and that there are three deaths from gunfire or executions. Two months after Barack Obama hailed the end of US combat operations in Iraq, the conflict itself is far from over.

The most egregious attack was on a Christian church in Baghdad, killing 58 people attending worship on Sunday, Nov. 1. It was the worst attack on Christians in Iraq since the US invasion in 2003, which triggered killings of Christians.

The war is also far from over for those US veterans who returned with PTSD, some 30% according to a general interviewed in the new documentary Wartorn, released on HBO today. It tells the personal stories of soldiers from the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Vietnam War, and the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan.

I watched this documentary yesterday. A young man goes off to the Civil War "to fight for the stars and stripes." He's discharged two years later with severe PTSD and ends up shooting himself.

Jason Scheuerman, a soldier serving in Iraq, tries to get help for feeling suicidal. He's told that he's faking it: "Just be a man and go back to your unit." He's assigned to clean his weapon, and his buddies are told to stay away from him. He shoots himself. His father, a vet, lost his job training medics because of his recurring dream of working on a severely wounded soldier who turns out to be his son asking, "Why can't you help me?"

Nathan Damigo of San Jose is serving six years in jail for attacking a Middle Eastern taxi driver amidst a flashback of being at a checkpoint in Iraq--but what he thought was a drunken dream turned out to be real.

We watch another soldier trying to get through a trip to Walmart with his wife and daughter. He's confused, scared. "I've done some terrible things," he says, fighting off the sense that he deserves to die.

Not an easy film to watch. Here's a review from the Canadian Press:

Each year over 6,000 veterans take their own lives, about 18 per day, according to a Department of Defense report last January. That's 20% of the 30,000 suicides in the US per year.

Here's a report from CBS news in 2007:

Vietnam veteran advocates have estimated that suicide ultimately killed more of the soldiers who fought in that conflict than the actual war itself. The same trend is now surfacing among the veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Here are the total deaths not counting suicide:

Number of Americans killed in Iraq: 4,745

Estimated number of Iraqis killed: 107,707 as of November 10, 2010

Number of Americans killed in Afghanistan so far: 2,204.

It is fitting that we pause to remember everyone who fought in US wars--from Americans who died to Iraqis and Vietnamese who died, from those killed by roadside bombs to those struggling with PTSD today--especially the 18 who will take their own lives today.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Note: Veterans Day started out as Armistice Day, a commemoration of the end of World War I, "the war to end all wars." It became a national holiday in 1938.

After World War II, in 1954, the name was changed to Veterans Day. Unlike Memorial Day, it celebrates all veterans whether alive, dead, or missing.

In Britain, France, Australia, and Canada, it is observed as Remembrance Day.

No comments: