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The Forgotten Living Casualties of War

I’m certain there have been an astounding number of articles on Syria from the time I write this in its draft to the time I release this article. However, from reading all of the great and not-so-great articles on Syria, I can’t help but think of the one of the casualties of war that walk around us today — veterans.

Right now, there are arguments being made whether or not Syria should be bombed as a result of alleged chemical weapon usage. My confusion is whether it would appropriate to finance another war when we already have a significant problem with veterans here at home who deserve as much attention as we give to the story on Syria, even more I would argue.

United States of America, Department of Veterans Affairs badge at Calverton National Cemetery main entrance

Department of Veterans Affairs

The United States has not had time to recover from its Iraq and Afghanistan War quagmires, yet is interested on whether or not to go to war in Syria. It’s ridiculous and continues to avoid individuals here at home that at least deserve our attention.

I can’t help but remember a letter that US veteran Daniel Somers wrote before he committed suicide. He touched the hearts of many who understood there was a continuing problem that needed to be address. Re-reading it right now, I am confused as to why these individuals shouldn’t get quality treatment for anything free of charge:

My body has become nothing but a cage, a source of pain and constant problems. The illness I have has caused me pain that not even the strongest medicines could dull, and there is no cure. All day, every day a screaming agony in every nerve ending in my body. It is nothing short of torture. My mind is a wasteland, filled with visions of incredible horror, unceasing depression, and crippling anxiety, even with all of the medications the doctors dare give. Simple things that everyone else takes for granted are nearly impossible for me. I can not laugh or cry. I can barely leave the house. I derive no pleasure from any activity. Everything simply comes down to passing time until I can sleep again. Now, to sleep forever seems to be the most merciful thing.

Additionally, Somers wrote that he was “made to participate” in “crimes against humanity.” He then added:

To force me to do these things and then participate in the ensuing coverup is more than any government has the right to demand. Then, the same government has turned around and abandoned me. They offer no help, and actively block the pursuit of gaining outside help via their corrupt agents at the DEA. Any blame rests with them.

Since 2001, more than 3,000 “active-duty troops” have committed suicide and, according to a 2012 Department of Veteran’s Affairs report, 8,000 veterans committed suicide last year. That means that there were 22 veterans who committed suicide every day. Still, the government advocates on behalf of war since the world has become a battlefield.

Despite the government’s aggressive action to help them, veterans still do not feel the government is helping them out. Even worse, as Huffington Post’s David Wood points out, suicide rates for military ranks are now going to past civilian rates, which is an unusual occurrence.

2013 survey of members in the organization known as the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found figures that further merits discussion on the issue. The studies features a few figures which I have highlighted:

80% of respondents believe the Congress does not listen enough to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans
66% of respondents believe the President does not listen enough to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans
16% of respondents are unemployed
45% of those unemployed have been so for more than one year
63% of respondents feel their veteran friends require care for their mental health
30% thought of taking their own lives
45% know someone who has
80% of respondents do not feel veterans are “getting the care they need for mental health injuries”

Tom Tarantino, a “chief policy officer” of IAVA, talked to USA Today reporter Gregg Zoroya about the study and its significance regarding mental health:

“The fact that so many of our members know someone that has tried to commit suicide or that had mental health issues really underscores the seriousness of this problem,”

When there are calls for action to be taken without reviewing the consequences of such a war, it would be more than a mistake. It would be just plain wrong to suggest it as evident through Slate Magazine reporter William Saletan’s recent piece for a strike in Syria:

Pain isn’t a feel-good policy. It doesn’t have the glamor of liberating Iraq or ending the oppression of Afghan girls. But it’s achievable. Its unintended consequences, like its ambitions, are relatively modest. And it’s essential to civilization. If your neighborhood doesn’t have armed police who are willing to kill, thugs will take over.

Aside from the paragraph (and article) having numerous errors, the idea that it is “essential” to any civilization brings up an interesting question. Why is this more essential than solving the aftermaths of war? As author Ernest Hemingway once placed it,

Never think that war, no matter how necessary, no matter how justified, is not a crime.

The crime here is we feel it is necessary to play a game of “cops and individuals who cross red lines” rather than focusing our efforts into questioning why we need another war for two sides that are failures to their own people.

When President Obama spoke on August 31st about action in Syria, he was cautious as to not act so gung-ho about military action with numerous events across the world working against his favor. Rather, he played it safe:

And finally, let me say this to the American people: I know well that we are weary of war. We’ve ended one war in Iraq. We’re ending another in Afghanistan. And the American people have the good sense to know we cannot resolve the underlying conflict in Syria with our military. In that part of the world, there are ancient sectarian differences, and the hopes of the Arab Spring have unleashed forces of change that are going to take many years to resolve. And that’s why we’re not contemplating putting our troops in the middle of someone else’s war.

What was interesting in Obama’s speech was one line that caught my attention:

In a world with many dangers, this menace must be confronted.

The problem is when we confront these dangers we allow our larger problems to go under the rug. That is not to say that helping Syrians isn’t as important as helping veteran troops (they are equally important). Though, the rationale that we should bomb for a particular group of individuals for a particular monetary and power gain to confront the menace is not the greatest of solutions and defeats the purpose of being “humanitarian.”

Now, the issue stands as to whether more menaces should be confronted. I don’t believe there is the same spirit in reigning down other menaces here and abroad as there is for Syria.

Nay, the question now stands as to whether our admiration for war will go as far as to help those who return home. The future is not bright for soldiers who do return. As Fred Gusman, a PTSD expert who worked in the Department of Veterans Affairs, stated in Aftershock:

“The problem in this country is that we haven’t accepted the hard reality that we can train people to be in a war. … But we can’t train somebody in how they’re going to respond.”

We have veterans living on our street, the living representations of what happens when we allow our leaders to decide policies that benefit their friends and power. I could go on to talk about the other forgotten living casualties overseas that we produce with our bombings, but I do not feel I have the qualifications to give the story the justice it deserves.

The more I think about it, the more I suddenly realize that the world is really a battlefield. Whether an external battlefield or an internal battlefield, we have come to realize that our society broils down to one where it is insane to live in the status quo.

When Somers wrote that he was frustrated with the President (doesn’t specify who) on not standing with the families of veterans who commit suicide, he gave an answer that is difficult to swallow for our military and civilian leaders.

Is it any wonder then that the latest figures show 22 veterans killing themselves each day? That is more veterans than children killed at Sandy Hook, every single day. Where are the huge policy initiatives? Why isn’t the president standing with those families at the state of the union? Perhaps because we were not killed by a single lunatic, but rather by his own system of dehumanization, neglect, and indifference.

Perhaps the gravest danger we face is what Somers wrote afterward:

It leaves us to where all we have to look forward to is constant pain, misery, poverty, and dishonor. I assure you that, when the numbers do finally drop, it will merely be because those who were pushed the farthest are all already dead.

If we ever face that point, where those who faced the war head on committed suicide, it will be by far one of the greatest failures of the government and the public in the United States to not to challenge those in power. Forget about your poker games, we’ve gambled with the lives of troops here and civilians overseas and the government has acted nonchalant about it.

Our nation has cities criminalizing those who are homeless. Columbia, South Carolina, who originally wanted to either force them into shelters or place them in jail, were forced to back down from a public outcry on the event. Tampa, Florida had those sleeping in the streets eligible to be arrested, while feeding those who are homeless in North Carolina can get you arrested.

Is it likely that those, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, 62,619 veterans (conservative estimate) on a given night are on the thoughts of our beloved leaders? How about those 1.4 million veterans, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, who are at risk of homelessness?

For the media not to ask the serious questions merits discussion as to whether our society is failing us. Personally, I believe that it has already failed as represented through the treatment of these individuals.

It’s time the war cheerleaders pay back those who went overseas or be recognized as failures for the rest of their lives. If nothing happens, it is our responsibility, as seen through anti-bombing protests for instance, to make a stand against such injustices. As Martin Luther King Junior once remarked,

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

The threats are real and they are serious. When Jon Stewart has a piece on this subject, then it only serves as testimony that the effect of war on this country is not gone.

Photo from Ryan Janek Wolowski licensed under Creative Commons

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Brandon Jordan

Brandon Jordan

Brandon Jordan is a freelance journalist in Queens, NY and written for publications such as The Nation, In These Times, Truthout and more.