Saturday, October 02, 2010

What War Hath Wrought

Like Poop from the Pope, I wrote this piece on May 14, 2010 for another blog but it never made it to this one. Also like Poop, it fits Worm's "Believe It or Not" perfectly because it's a disgrace.

* * *

No Suicides Allowed

"Thousands of soldiers, their bald eagle shoulder patches lined up row upon row across the grassy field, stood at rigid attention to hear a stern message from their commander.

"Brig[adier] Gen[eral] Stephen Townsend addressed the 101st Airborne Division with military brusqueness: Suicides at the post had spiked after soldiers started returning home from war, and this was unacceptable.

" 'It's bad for soldiers, it's bad for families, bad for your units, bad for this division and our Army and our country and it's [sic] got to stop now,' he insisted. 'Suicides on Fort Campbell [Kentucky] have to stop now.' "
I quote from an article written on April 24, 2010 by Kristen M. Hall of the Associated Press. She goes on to tell the story of twenty-one-year-old Adam Kuligowski upon his return from Afghanistan. Adam loved the Army and his job, but he became increasingly depressed and angry. Finally,
"Adam wrote a note telling his dad, [Mike], 'Sorry to be a disappointment.' Then he shot himself inside a bathroom stall with his rifle.

"When the Army closed their investigation into the soldier's suicide, his father said an investigator told him that Adam's problem was that he was unable to conform to a military lifestyle. Mike Kuligowski did receive a personal note from the general who was commanding the division at the time: 'We don't know why this happened,' he wrote.

"Kuligowski was not appeased. 'It reminds me that officers know absolutely nothing about the plights of the soldiers who are under their command,' he said. 'What kind of leadership is that?' "
What kind of leadership is that? Off the top of my head and in one word I would say, typical.

The plight of these soldiers was called "shell shock" in WWI. In WWII and Korea, it was called "battle fatigue." Since Vietnam, the psychiatric diagnosis is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. But disregarding the labels, the symptoms are the same. For military leaders and investigators to scratch their heads over the increase in suicides is ludicrous, and General Townsend's proclamation "to stop now" is way beyond asinine.

According to Hall's article, Fort Campbell is responding to the crisis.
"The number of patients being treated at the behavioral health clinic has increased by 60 percent, from 25,400 in 2008 to nearly 40,000 in 2009. To handle the expanded need, they've also increased the number of counselors in that clinic to 60 last year, compared to 36 in 2008. In all, Fort Campbell has about 100 counselors, some of whom work in areas like social work, family advocacy, substance abuse and children's behavioral health."
40,000 patients and 60 counselors equals a caseload of 667 to 1. It cannot be done. Furthermore, who is writing psych med scripts and monitoring 40,000 people?

We train our soldiers to defend our country from a hostile invasion. We train them in all types of weaponry, to kill to protect the civilian populace. And then we send them to fourth-world countries like Korea and Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan that don't want them there in the first place, and our soldiers kill to protect themselves from an enemy they cannot distinguish from a non-enemy. Amid the chaos they see atrocities no human should ever have to witness, including the bombing of innocent children and infants.

Eventually the soldiers come home and are discharged from service. Most of them adjust to their old lives again, but many don't—the ones who need help.

As someone whom I can't remember said, "We make them into killing machines, but unfortunately there is no 'off' switch." Yes, yes there is: it's called suicide, a very effective off switch. But not at Fort Campbell, Kentucky because suicides are not allowed.


Djanstewart said...

Yes, that is a very effective "off" switch, but then nobody deals with the problem except the victim. This sucks, Charlie. I wish there was some way to tell these people that we are doing something to help, but we can't, because we aren't. So very very sad...

Faysoflife said...

This is such a flipping disgrace. I thought public mental health clients were the most forgotten people, but evidently our veterans are more disposable even than they.

Robert the Skeptic said...

I have a lot of buddies who are Vietnam vets. The only people who I recall were rotated back to SE Asia were the ones who wanted to go. Most did their one tour and came home... if they lived.

The soldiers today are in the "forgotten" war. Unlike Vietnam that was in the news nightly, Afghanistan and Iraq hardly make mention in the nightly news. I read an article that said most people shrug it off if they don't have a loved one in the fight. Nest to suicides the army also now has a huge AWOL problem with guys refusing to show up for their third or fourth deployment.

I can see how these soldiers may come back thinking they survived, only to be sent back over there again and again and again until their odds are up.

You know, if the Republicans grab the congress, which they might, I think I will hold them to their lip-services about the budget deficit -- the war is expensive and we can't afford it. Bring 'em all home until you have a budget surplus again.. then you can wage war.

Jerry@Gently Said said...

The multiple rotations into the war zone has to rip the soul out these kids. So the problem is on the front end as well as the back.

Pat said...

I'm glad you posted this Charlie. Some time ago over here (UK) there was a shocking period when young recruits were committing suicide. There was a public investigation and things seem to have improved and there is much more openness about conditions now.
Also with the establishing of 'Help for Heroes' much more is being done to help the families of the service men and women who have lost their lives and also the wounded and the mentally affected. People are being made much more aware of the problems and of how much we all owe to these brave men and women.
Certainly here in Somerset we honour our boys and girls out in Afghanistan and mourn their losses.

Kim Ayres said...

We all know that those who commit crimes or anti-social behaviour have a higher percentage of coming from a background of having done these things before. Most criminals and thugs are not one-time-only offenders. Therefore, if you have a message to put across, you will have a higher hit rate if you target those who have already offended in the past.

So Brigadier General Stephen Townsend really ought to be address those who have already committed suicide in order to stop them re-offending...

TechnoBabe said...

Hi Charlie, this is a very good post and gets people discussing some of the consequences of training our soldiers to kill and sending them to invade other countries. It must be the most obscene and atrocious sights in places like Iraq and the soldiers who live through that fighting and killing have to live those sights again and again unless they are helped to deal with that type of terror. The fact that this issue is not addressed adequately will someday be one more cause of shame for this nation.

Peter Stewart said...

Charlie, when my wife and I lived on worked on the road we met a couple who we saw many times on the motorcycle rally circuit. His name was Bill. He was Army Special Forces in Vietnam. He was "secretly" in Cambodia – "I'm not supposed to admit to that but god-dammit, I was there, and I killed a lot of people in Cambodia." He talked at length at various times about how he was specially trained to be a "killing machine," and how difficult it was to leave Cambodia, climb aboard a plane, come home and then just act normal. His head was really screwed up and his wife told us he would often wake during the night, screaming different battle cries, and how on two occasions she awoke when he was astride her, trying to strangle her. This was in the mid-90s and he still had terrible nightmares.

Madame DeFarge said...

A powerful post Charlie. There is so much that we forget about how we should take care of people.

lisleman said...

I just looked up a bio on the General. He was commissioned in the Infantry from North Georgia College in 1982 with a degree in psychology. Maybe he forgot everything from the psych courses. Charlie you didn't mention if you have served or not. I do believe the military has changed much since the time I served in 70-80's. Also, I was never subjected to surviving a war zone.
Your post offers plenty to discuss or argue but I'll just add my two cents on two things.
1. The military and it's members that go into war should be from a good cross section of society but that's not the case today.
2. More effort and money should be planned for the returning injured (physical and mentally) than currently is. Maybe we should understand the true "cost" of war.

Tiffin said...

Charlie, I can't even speak to this it gets me so mad.

Eryl said...

I am reminded of this scene I witnessed in a supermarker some years ago: a child was running around happily when she bumped into a shelf and dislodged its contents, her mother, evidently stressed and tired told her off and slapped her, the child cried, and cried, and cried. The mother told her that if she didn't stop crying 'right now!' she would slap her again. The child tried to speak but couldn't because she was crying, and so began to shake with sobs. The mother, true to her word, slapped her. The child cried louder. The mother looked bewildered and walked off, the, by now, hysterical child trailed after her. Everyone, including me, looked uncomfortable but said nothing.

Thanks for saying something, Charlie, if we don't talk about this it will never be resolved.

barbara said...

No one ever raised a child with the thought that they would become cannon fodder, but sadly, if just keeps happening. I am quite disturbed to see the ads on American tv stations, for military recruitment. They have moved away from the rah rah shoot em up adventure tone to a let's sit down and talk about what a great career this it. But nothing really changes.

Tiffin said...

I wonder how many Amurcans know that the military is the biggest employer in their country and how many upper level politicians have their finger(s) in that pie, owning the industries which support it? There can be no impetus to change this as long as so many people's wealth is tied up in it. These "wars" are the justification for this industry...and when there isn't one happening, one gets started for some pretty specious reasons.

Meg said...

The treatment our soldiers receive is a complete outrage. When I was just a plain old civilian I thought the military was a grand institution full of heroes who wore honor and integrity like the symbols on their sleeves. Being married to one of these men has changed my view. There is enough injustice in the world without our country treating the men and women who sign a blank check to the government for up to and including their lives like pieces in a chess game. I understand the need for a military, but I don't understand why they are treated so poorly as if they don't matter a bit. I have met a few good people who have dedicated their lives to helping these soldiers who need mental help. I just wish there were more of them.

Joni said...

Bravo, these points need to be out there, in the concerned portion of the public's veiw.

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Syd said...

A sad thing to go off to war and see so many horrible things and then come home not being able to forget those things that you saw. And not able to really get any help, mostly surrounded by those who don't care or are too busy. Take a number and have a seat. War sucks. It always has and the casualties are many more than those who go into combat.