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Feeling Broken, But Still On the Line


Bruce Shapiro of The Nation spoke about this Hartford Courant article on yesterday’s Laura Flander’s Show.  It is an amazing piece of journalism — full of heart, and anguish, and the sort of rich detail that you want in a story as painful as this one.

It seems the US military is going against its own internal regulations with regard to mentally unfit soldiers — and sending many of them back with their units into combat, under the day-to-day stress and strain of Iraq, despite these troops having reports of suicidal thoughts, post-traumatic stress, and other mental illness issues which should ordinarily require that they get help instead of another round of dodge the IED. 

It’s a compelling piece of journalism, all the more so given how many cuts to mental health and other medical programs have been made by the Republican Congress and the Bush Administration since the start of Bush’s war of choice in Iraq. 

According to LISA CHEDEKEL And MATTHEW KAUFFMAN of the Courant (who ought to be in contention for an award on this piece — it’s truly that good):

Despite a congressional order that the military assess the mental health of all deploying troops, fewer than 1 in 300 service members see a mental health professional before shipping out.

Once at war, some unstable troops are kept on the front lines while on potent antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs, with little or no counseling or medical monitoring.

And some troops who developed post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq are being sent back to the war zone, increasing the risk to their mental health.

These practices, which have received little public scrutiny and in some cases violate the military’s own policies, have helped to fuel an increase in the suicide rate among troops serving in Iraq, which reached an all-time high in 2005 when 22 soldiers killed themselves – accounting for nearly one in five of all Army non-combat deaths.

The Courant’s investigation found that at least 11 service members who committed suicide in Iraq in 2004 and 2005 were kept on duty despite exhibiting signs of significant psychological distress. In at least seven of the cases, superiors were aware of the problems, military investigative records and interviews with families indicate.

When you read the entire article, you’ll understand my gut level disgust and anger. And when you read it on the heels of the story that came out of Oregon about the recruiters who likely fudged paperwork to boost their numbers with an autistic high school boy as a recruit (ultimately, he was released, since it is against Army regs to recruit a kid who has obvious interaction and/or mental health and/or physical issues)…well, you start to get a sense of the very real strain on our nation’s military. 

I have been told by more than one retired military higher-up that they are afraid — and that friends who are current military are afraid — that our nation’s Army, Marines and national guard and reserves will be broken entirely by the piss poor planning coming out of Donald Rumsfeld’s pentagon and George Bush and Dick Cheney’s White House.

I have had and continue to have friends and family in and out of Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere in military service.  That their safety is so threatened by inept governmental policies is bad enough, let alone by fundamentalist hatred stoked even further by asanine, provocative public statements from our own President like "Bring them on" or "Axis of evil" only makes it worse.  But adding the stress of having to watch your back even more closely with comrades who might be ready to snap — but who are pushed back out on the line anyway — is horrible, for everyone involved.  On so many levels.

I don’t know how many of you have seen it, but HBO’s new series Baghdad ER presents an up front look at what our nation’s military is being asked to deal with, day in and day out, in Iraq.  I’m sure George Bush is hoping that most of us won’t bother to watch it — I’m hoping you will take some time to do so.  And then talk about it with your friends, your co-workers, with anyone that will listen.

The President is bad enough, but the fact is that he wouldn’t be able to keep making these asanine decisions without the rubber stamp approval of the Republican-controlled Congress.  Shame on them.  And shame on those propping up the Bush Administration, with no expectation of accountability for any of the mess that George Bush is making and will leave behind, most of all.

(I found this heartwrenching photograph on the SFGate website.  It seemed to sum up my mood perfectly, and I hope everyone will forgive me the painful visual in this instance.)

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com