Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Disposable Heroes: The GOP's Contempt for Wounded Soldiers

Huffington Post
RJ Eskow
Disposable Heroes: The GOP's Contempt for Wounded Soldiers

Any American who honors our military heroes - and I hope that's all Americans - should be outraged at the GOP's mistreatment of them. The practice of forcing psychologically scarred soldiers back into battle is yet another example of Republicans treating our fighting men and women like used parts. Oh, and one other thing - it's a lousy way to run a war, too.

Let's make one thing clear from the start: There's a word for soldiers who return from battle with post-traumatic stress disorder or other psychological problems. That word is - hero.

The stigma associated with mental disorders should become a thing of the past. Even the strongest body may react to intense stress and shock by changing biochemically, and the bravest personality may react to trauma in unexpected ways.

These soldiers, just like those who have suffered physical injury, have made a sacrifice on behalf of their country. They should be honored and respected, not denigrated. They deserve all the medical care they require, and should receive a hero's welcome when they come home.

Here's what happens instead when soldiers like Bryce Syverson fall victim to PTSD.

"It ended up they just took his weapon away from him and said he was non-deployable and couldn't have a weapon," says his father, Larry Syverson. "He was on suicide watch in a lockdown."

The CBS report continues:

That was last August. This August, he was deployed to Ramadi, in the heart of the Sunni triangle -- and he had a weapon.

Under pressure to maintain troop levels, military doctors tell CBS News it's become a "common practice" to recycle soldiers with mental disorders back into combat. The military's actions were first reported by the Hartford Courant newspaper.

"It's flat-out not a good idea," says Dr. John Wilson, an expert in combat trauma.

Dr. Wilson is undoubtedly a good man to have in your corner if you're experiencing a wave of panic, given his gift for understatement.

These soldiers risk being scarred for life by this re-exposure to the trauma that wounded them in the first place. They're also a danger to their fellow soldiers, and to innocent civilians.

They're only there because the Republicans failed to plan adequately for this war. Rather than admit their failure, the Administration recycles these casualties to conceal their own mistakes.

Here's an email Sgt. Syverson sent his family after his redeployment:

"Head about to explode from the blood swelling inside, the lightning storm that happened inside my head."

The Sergeant is being destroyed slowly in pursuit of a foolish policy.

There's no question we're putting other lives at risk with this strategy, too. Drug or alcohol abuse is a common symptom of PTSD. Another is the sensation that the world around you is "strange and unreal," to quote the Defense Department's own website. Numbness, strange physical sensations, and a sense of disconnectedness from people and places around you are also part of the package.

Here are some other potential PTSD symptoms, taken from the DSM manual used for diagnosing mental illness:

1. difficulty falling or staying asleep
2. irritability or outbursts of anger
3. difficulty concentrating
4. hyper-vigilance
5. exaggerated startle response

The overall profile isn't what you'd want to find in the person riding point or covering your back, if you're a soldier ... or doing a door-to-door search of your neighborhood if you're a civilian. In fact, the only person who benefits from having troops on the ground with this disorder is the insurgent. He's facing an enemy who's exhausted, jumpy, and unfocused.

Oh, there's one other party who benefits: the Republican. He's the guy who doesn't want you to know that his party started a war on false pretenses and failed to plan adequately. He doesn't want you to know that his party has broken down the combat readiness of our military, to the point that we're incapable of adequately securing Afghanistan or confronting threats in other parts of the world. He benefits, too, just like the insurgent.

It should come as no surprise that the Administration that kept hiding our fallen heroes' flag-draped coffins is sending already-wounded soldiers out to suffer, creating extra risk to their lives and others in the bargain.

And for those who object to my characterizing this abuse as "GOP contempt," and not just "Rumsfeld" or "Bush" mismanagement, an observation: John McCain and Chuck Hagel worked hard to re-elect this Administration. They bear responsibility. As for Lindsay Graham, he's taken to pretending that he doesn't know who's in charge (hint: it's where "the buck stops," and with the people who put that guy there).

When it comes to protecting our troops, these men have been AWOL. Why? Because politics and Republican partisanship are more important to them than fair treatment for our fighting men and women. Shame on them. Shame on all of them. Shame on their entire political party.

And to those who will argue that I'm "politicizing" the suffering and sacrifice of these heroes, my answer is: Damn right I am. That's what we do in America. When a political party is so cynical and corrupt that it will even mistreat soldiers in harm's way to pursue its selfish interest, you do your best to make sure they get voted out of power. That's what you do in this country. You do it out of a sense of justice. You do it to right a wrong.

You do it for the heroes.