Thursday, March 20, 2008

March 19 Blogswarm, Part Three

Updated [This and the next post were supposed to go up yesterday as part of my contribution to the March 19 Blogswarm. I got interrupted and they didn't make it. So consider today March 19 B-Day + 1.]

The costs of a war can be measured in any number of ways beyond the obvious deaths and dollars. The deaths can be expanded beyond those killed in the fighting to deaths from illnesses and accidents and then to those who died indirectly from the fighting, died because of the loss of health care or food supplies or safe drinking water. The costs can include reconstruction (or perhaps reparations), costs of care for the wounded, the maimed, the disabled, and beyond that to intangibles like lost economic productivity.

Yet there is still another kind of cost, one not measured in dollars, another kind of wound, one that draws no blood and leaves no visible scar. A cost, a wound, that those who have experienced war, even those who appear healthy, can carry inside themselves.
Garry Naipo, a grandfather of three, went to Iraq - boomeranging from cul-de-sac to combat and back in 15 months, a journey that would change his life - and that of his family - in subtle, corrosive ways.

Naipo, 51, is one of thousands of National Guard citizen soldiers who have left established jobs and families to answer a call and come back altered men and women. On the outside, they look fine, the same even. They blend in at work, in the grocery line, at their children's soccer games. People tell them they're lucky. They're not dead.

They don't bear the grim signatures of combat.... Their wounds, though, are as insidious as they are invisible. Many return with brains and psyches damaged by chronic exposure to the hammering of blast waves and the afterimages left by bodies blown apart.

They come home, but not back to themselves.
Garry Naipo suffers ringing in his ears. He is going deaf, has memory lapses, difficulty retrieving words, and problems concentrating. He suffers anxiety attacks from things as small as a soda can rolling out of his garage or by going under a bridge. He has become prone to angry, profanity-laden outbursts at small annoyances like a car slowing traffic. Walking in a mall, he keeps one shoulder to the wall and even at home sits with his back to the wall.
Veterans Affairs doctors estimate 60 percent to 65 percent of soldiers have experienced a significant explosion, or multiple detonations, by the time they leave the service. ...

That, in turn, has likely left many with undiagnosed mild to moderate brain injuries, a prognosis that some fear is setting a long fuse that could eventually swamp the system with disabilities as they emerge in the months and years to come.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is not new, but the extent of traumatic brain injury from chronic exposure to explosions in this war is, said psychiatrist Evan Kanter, an assistant clinical professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine, who is also a PTSD expert with the VA Puget Sound.
Naipo is getting some treatment for PTSD but has yet to be medically evaluated for concussive brain injury. Whatever the cause, the one thing his family knows for sure is that the man who left for Iraq is not the same man who returned.

The evidence for hidden damage, suppressed where not ignored, denied where not dodged, has even so built beyond the point where it can be dismissed: Among the wounds of war are the kind that can't be left on the battlefield, repaired in a hospital, or cured by physical therapy and which will not heal themselves. The psychic wounds. And the rate of psychic wounds among US veterans of our latest wars of choice are shocking. A summary of a report from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America says that
[a]s early as the Civil War, terms like “soldier’s heart” and “nostalgia” were used to describe the psychological injuries incurred by combat veterans. In later wars, “shell shock” and “battle fatigue” described a similar array of symptoms. It was only in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, however, that veterans’ mental health injuries were examined scientifically. ...

Rates of mental health problems among new veterans are high and rising. The best evidence to date suggests that about one in three Iraq veterans will face a serious psychological injury, such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD. About 1.5 million people have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, so approximately half a million troops are returning with combat-related psychological wounds. And problems are likely to worsen. Multiple tours and inadequate time between deployments increase rates of combat stress by 50 percent.
The cost can be high: divorce, drug and alcohol abuse - and suicide.
[A] five-month CBS News investigation discovered data that shows a startling rate of suicide [among those who have served in the military], what some call a hidden epidemic....

[L]ittle information exists about how widespread suicides are among these who have served in the military. There have been some studies, but no one has ever counted the numbers nationwide. ...

CBS News’ investigative unit wanted the numbers, so it submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Defense asking for the numbers of suicides among all service members for the past 12 years.

Four months later, they sent CBS News a document, showing that between 1995 and 2007, there were almost 2,200 suicides. That’s 188 last year alone. But these numbers included only “active duty” soldiers. ...

So CBS News did an investigation - asking all 50 states for their suicide data, based on death records, for veterans and non-veterans, dating back to 1995. Forty-five states sent what turned out to be a mountain of information.

And what it revealed was stunning. ...

Dr. Steve Rathbun is the acting head of the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Department at the University of Georgia. CBS News asked him to run a detailed analysis of the raw numbers that we obtained from state authorities for 2004 and 2005.

It found that veterans were more than twice as likely to commit suicide in 2005 than non-vets. ...

One age group stood out. Veterans aged 20 through 24, those who have served during the war on terror. They had the highest suicide rate among all veterans, estimated between two and four times higher than civilians the same age.
Paul Sullivan, a former VA analyst now with Veterans For Common Sense, called the figures "devastating."

And where that violence is not turned inward, it can be turned outward.
The New York Times found 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war. In many of those cases, combat trauma and the stress of deployment - along with alcohol abuse, family discord and other attendant problems - appear to have set the stage for a tragedy that was part destruction, part self-destruction. ...

This reporting most likely uncovered only the minimum number of such cases, given that not all killings, especially in big cities and on military bases, are reported publicly or in detail. Also, it was often not possible to determine the deployment history of other service members arrested on homicide charges.

The Times used the same methods to research homicides involving all active-duty military personnel and new veterans for the six years before and after the present wartime period began with the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

This showed an 89 percent increase during the present wartime period, to 349 cases from 184, about three-quarters of which involved Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. The increase occurred even though there have been fewer troops stationed in the United States in the last six years and the American homicide rate has been, on average, lower. ...

What is clear is that experiences on the streets of Baghdad and Falluja shadowed these men back to places like Longview, Tex., and Edwardsville, Ill.

“He came back different” is the shared refrain of the defendants’ family members, who mention irritability, detachment, volatility, sleeplessness, excessive drinking or drug use, and keeping a gun at hand. ...

[M]ilitary health care officials are seeing a spectrum of psychological issues, with an estimated half of the returning National Guard members, 38 percent of soldiers and 31 percent of marines reporting mental health problems, according to a Pentagon task force.

Decades of studies on the problems of Vietnam veterans have established links between combat trauma and higher rates of unemployment, homelessness, gun ownership, child abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse - and criminality. ...

The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study, considered the most thorough analysis of this population, found that 15 percent of the male veterans still suffered from full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder more than a decade after the war ended. Half of the veterans with active PTSD had been arrested or in jail at least once, and 34.2 percent more than once. ... In the mid-1980s, with so many Vietnam veterans behind bars that Vietnam Veterans of America created chapters in prisons, veterans made up a fifth of the nation’s inmate population.
We, we as a society, as a culture, have done this to them. In our militarism, our "hero" worship, our wars, our glorification of masculinity defined by machismo and strength defined by stoicism; we send young (and not so young) men and women into a soul-shredding world that tears psychically as well as physically and hold them up as icons rather then individuals, as symbols rather than someones, when they return; we deliberately, consciously, purposefully, seek to train their consciences out of existence and undermine their moral authority - and then pretend that none of this carries over when the shooting stops and the roads they travel are no longer lined with IEDs and even within the left we excoriate those who "smear the troops" by daring to suggest we may be creating our own ticking time bombs.

I have said before that I do not "support the troops." And I don't. "The troops" are the invaders, the occupiers; the ones who smash down doors of innocent homes in the night;

the ones who shoot the wounded; the ones who get off on tormenting prisoners; the ones who enjoy tomenting animals. But I do support, embrace, celebrate, the human being inside the uniform, the one existing apart from the role of "troop." That human being deserves all the concern, compassion, and care they need to be whole.

Foonote: I tried to follow old links I had to videos on YouTube showing some of the wrongs mentioned in the preceding paragraph only to find they have been removed for "terms of service violations." I find the removal of videos that make troops look bad while soaring scenes of sun-glinted fighter-bombers remain unintentionally revealing.

Updated with more information about the situation of Garry Naipo.

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