Saturday, May 24, 2008

How our vets are suffering

Please read all the way to the end of this excerpt from an article by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship called "Honoring Our Veterans":

There has been a flurry of allegations concerning neglect, malpractice and corner cutting at the Veterans Administration especially for those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder — PTSD — or major depression, brought on by combat.

A report released by the Rand Corporation last month indicates that approximately 300,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffer PTSD or major depression. That’s one of every five military men and women who have served over there.

Last Friday’s Washington Post reported the contents of an e-mail sent to staff at a VA hospital in Temple, Texas. A psychologist wrote, “Given that we are having more and more compensation seeking veterans, I’d like to suggest that you refrain from giving a diagnosis of PTSD straight out.” She further suggested that a diagnosis of a less serious Adjustment Disorder be made instead, especially as she and her colleagues “really don’t… have time to do the extensive testing that should be done to determine PTSD.”

Now PTSD is not a diagnosis arrived at without careful, thorough examination. But to possibly misdiagnose such a volatile and harmful disorder for the sake of saving time or money is reprehensible.

Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake immediately said the psychologist’s statement had been “repudiated at the highest level of our health care organization.” Nonetheless, there’s plenty of other evidence to raise concern.

The rate of attempted and successful suicides is so scary, the head of the VA’s mental health division, Dr. Ira Katz, wondered in a February e-mail how it should be spun. “Shh!” he wrote. “Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among the veterans we see in our medical facilities. Is this something we should (carefully) address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?”

That is simply an appalling number. As far as I'm concerned, this should be treated as a national emergency. If we can pay outrageous salaries to mercenaries because our volunteer armed forces are so small, we can certainly pay for more mental health professionals to treat returning veterans.

UPDATE: I found another article about this same subject that is very illuminating called Heal the Warrior, Heal the Country by Edward Tick. Here are a couple of brief passages:

War poisons the spirit, and warriors return tainted. This is why, among Native American, Zulu, Buddhist, ancient Israeli, and other traditional cultures, returning warriors were put through significant rituals of purification before re-entering their families and communities. Traditional cultures recognized that unpurified warriors could, in fact, be dangerous. The absence of these rituals in modern society helps explain why suicide, homicide, and other destructive acts are common among veterans.
In traditional cultures, warrior cleansing was often guided by shamans, and particular shamans presided over “warrior medicine.” Among his many offices and honors, for example, Sitting Bull served as Medicine Chief of the Hunkpapa Warrior Society, responsible for overseeing the spiritual lives and well-being of the society’s warriors. Sitting Bull considered this to be the most important of all the offices he held.

This is fascinating. And, it strikes me, really, really important.

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