I recently profiled a piece by Paul Rieckhoff, Executive Director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
His four points were:
1. Asking a troop just back from Iraq to fill out another form is not the same as screening them for PTSD.
2. Mental health issues are family issues.
3. National Guardsmen and Reservists are facing a special set of issues, and their concerns need to get heard.
4. Troops need more time to access to care.
This reminded me of a Newsweek piece I read several weeks back called Forgotten Heroes (http://www.newsweek.com/id/36601).
The article opens with the tale of Jonathan Schulze, a Marine Corps Iraq War Veteran (the article is fairly long and goes on to profile several more veterans and their struggles with "the system").
Schulze goes several months before he decides to get help from the VA. He is told that he can try group therapy. To me, this seems to be a variation on Point 1 from Paul's article - instead of filling out a form, he would be dumped into a group. So. now that the guy is in group therapy, he has been "evaluated". Never mind that he'll probably quit group therapy shortly after.
This may be a slightly better solution than nothing at all, but it doesn't seem to me too much better. Let's see. This guy has worked literally MONTHS to isolate himself. Now, you want to put him in a group where he knows no one (and trusts no one), and expect him to flourish? Maybe for some it might work. Maybe later in this guys recovery it might work.
The pain finally gets to be too much for him, and he checks himself in. He is asked if he feels suicidal. When he tells them yes, the intake person (who is probably a good person, but is working in a bad system, and is probably overworked and overwhelmed) keeps typing, then calls someone. The call reveals that no one is available to see him.
Again, as I mentioned in the previous blog, what is the point of asking if the person is suicidal if nothing is going to be done immediately?
The next day he finds out he is NUMBER 26 on a list. Several more weeks go by with Schulze calling and getting repeatedly pushed off. Finally, it seems, he loses hope, he gets drunk and hangs himself with an electrical cord.
At the end, Schulze is another tragic "statistic". Not a combat death. But to his family and friends, the pain is just as real as if he was killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.
I don't want to be too flippant here, but let's say that your car has a problem. Would you ever tolerate being told by your garage that you were number 26 on a list, then have to call back several times over the next few weeks to try to get it repaired? I don't think anyone would tolerate those circumstances and would find a different place to get their car worked on. So why, when we are dealing with matters of life and death, are we operating this way?
Unfortunately (except for groups that are trying to help like Give an Hour mentioned several times here in this blog: http://www.giveanhour.org/) unlike the case of getting your car fixed, THEY REALLY DON'T HAVE ANYWHERE ELSE TO GO.
Is Jonathan Schulze's case an anomaly or is it the rule. If it's the rule, are we making progress to make it not the rule?
I remember that Bob Dole and Donna Shalala were put on a blue ribbon commission to try to look at some of these problems (and Bill Lind has said that blue ribbon commissions were just kabuki to convince the rubes back home that something was actually happening, when in reality nothing was happening). I have seen sparse coverage on this subject.
Is that because they (the people who get to decide what gets put on the air) don't think we'll be interested, or is it that not much has been done?
We certainly have short memories don't we?