A National Disgrace: Each Day 18 American Servicemen And Women Commit Suicide

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, 18 returning American service men and women commit suicide each day. The situation is so severe that a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, issued an order of the court last week to the VA instructing them to immediately institute the Mental Health Strategic Plan it drafted in 2004 to overhaul its mental care system.

From the article:

“There comes a time when the political branches have so completely and chronically failed to respect the People’s constitutional rights that the courts must be willing to enforce them. We have reached that unfortunate point with respect to veterans who are suffering from the hidden, or not hidden, wounds of war,” said the ruling written by Judge Stephen Reinhardt and joined by Senior Judge Procter Hug Jr., both appointees of President Carter.

“The VA’s unchecked incompetence has gone on long enough; no more veterans should be compelled to agonize or perish while the government fails to perform its obligations,” the ruling said.

Incredibly, according to a report by the VA Office of the Inspector General in 2007, there were no suicide prevention officers at any of the VA’s 800 community-based outpatient clinics where most veterans receive their medical care. None.

“PTSD is a leading mental health disorder diagnosis for those veterans,” the appeals panel said, citing a Rand Institute study in 2008 estimating that 300,000 returning war veterans currently suffer from PTSD or major depression.

The VA is obliged to provide a mental health assessment within 30 days for any veteran requesting help, but many applications languish for months or years, and tens of thousands of those deemed in need of care are relegated to waiting lists because of chronic shortages, the judges noted.”

A soldier crying. From the VA’s National Center for PTSD. Click on the image to find out more about PTSD.

I have never served in the armed forces so I cannot personally speak to the mental health issues particular to veterans. But I have fought a life-long battle against depression and anxiety and against PTSD from losing my parents and grandparents by the time I was 16. And I can tell you that depression is an illness. It isn’t “all in your head.” It’s a physical illness and lots of people have it. If you don’t know what it is like then imagine you have a black wall an inch in front of your nose. The wall is so high you can’t see over it and so wide you can’t see around it. That’s depression.

We Americans were so eager to send our young men and women off to war in Iraq and Afghanistan yet somehow when they come back wounded in the flesh or the spirit, we don’t really care very much. We did the same thing to the Vietnam veterans. It makes me want to puke. I don’t care whose fault it is. I just care that it get fixed. Congress can find the money somewhere and if they can’t then they can damn well raise taxes to take care of men and women that we ordered to go overseas and fight.

[Images courtesy of US Department of Veteran Affairs National Center for PTSD.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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