Monday, January 14, 2008

89% - Wonder what that's all about.....

This is a pretty disturbing piece about an increase in violent crimes committed by veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The second piece is the distillation of the numbers in the New York Times piece.

The piece said that

"At least 121 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have committed a killing or been charged in one in the United States after returning from combat"

It also said (when referring to "349 homicides involving all active-duty military personnel and new veterans in the six years since military action began in Afghanistan, and later Iraq."):

"That represents an 89-percent increase over the previous six-year period"

To which, the Pentagon said:

"the apparent increase in homicides involving military personnel and veterans in the wartime period might reflect only "an increase in awareness of military service by reporters since 9/11."

Right. We're supposed to believe that "awareness" explains away an 89 percent increase?

On the other hand, the New York Times piece (and it is a pretty long piece) does bring up questions by one of the victims families about using the war and PTSD as an excuse for violence and mayhem.

One of the family members talks about veterans of previous wars and how it "didn't affect them":

"Thomas Tiffany Varney IV, the victim’s father, expressed skepticism about Mr. Strasburg’s PTSD and the disorder in general, saying, “His grandfather, my dad, a lot of people been there, done that, and it didn’t affect them,” Mr. Varney said. “They’re trying to brush it away, ‘Well, he murdered someone, it’s just post-traumatic stress.’ ”

I think these are legitimate questions that should be debated. Of course, what we'll actually get are polarized viewpoints. Those of a more conservative bent will say that it's just a few bad apples bringing dishonor on the brave Americans who fought for their country, came home and started a normal life. To those rabidly against the war, this is just more "proof" of the violence and insanity of the system, and ultimately the wrongness of the war.

I believe the truth is somewhere in between.

I do ask myself the same questions (and these are questions we should ALL be asking). Why do more veterans seem to have trouble adjusting than their "Greatest Generation" grandfathers and fathers who fought in World War II.

I do know that my own World War II veteran father suffered trauma, nightmares, depression and bouts with alcohol right up to his death at age 83. I also know from anecdotal information from people I've known over the years that his experiences were not at all unusual.

There are all kinds of explanations as there were for the problems after Vietnam. Very few have been systematically proven - no more than hunches really. Different kind of war. Different kind of upbringing. Different kind of training. Different kind of society now. Different kind of family structures. Different recruitment standards (more willing to take those who've already committed crimes), Different attitude of the country, etc.

After all that I've written here, I still have extremely mixed emotions about this, and I'm no clearer than I was when I started. Except to say that I think there is a problem.

I do not believe you can use PTSD as the sole excuse for violence. It certainly can be a causative and an extenuating factor. But I also believe that we really need to get underneath these problems. I believe we are really looking, to use a cliche, at the tip of the iceberg, or the stirrings of a tidal wave. I believe that all of these things, the suicide, the crime, the violence, the drug and alcohol abuse, the homelessness are really the start of a long term problem that has the potential to be worse than the Vietnam era.

I also believe there are those who are working very hard to assimilate back into society, and working very hard to stay away from these traps. They are working their chosen programs, working with their families and friends and the people who help them. THOSE people should be studied, and their methods of recovery should be replicated as much as possible.

Also, we should give support (both financial and moral) to those who are working to help these vets. Revolutionary ideas and therapies should be tried (see post on this blog called Change or Die, October 28 2007)

To close, I think the story of Matthew Sepi is illustrative of those who are outside of the system.

The piece says that "Matthew Sepi withdrew into himself on his return from Iraq."

The piece goes on to say: "Feeling lost after his discharge “with a few little medals,” he ended up moving to Las Vegas, a city that he did not know, with the friend of a friend. Broke, Mr. Sepi settled in the Naked City, which is named for the showgirls who used to sunbathe topless there. After renting a roach-infested hole in the wall with an actual hole in the wall, he found jobs doing roadwork and making plastic juice bottles in a factory. Alone and lonely, he started feeling the effects of his combat experiences."

Being alone certainly doomed Mr. Sepi to failure in his bid to adjust to life outside Iraq.

Now, maybe some hope for him:

"In Las Vegas, Mr. Sepi’s alcohol counselor took him under his wing, recognizing war-related PTSD in his extreme jumpiness, adrenaline rushes, nightmares and need to drink himself into unconsciousness.
The counselor directed him to seek specialized help from a Veterans Affairs hospital. Mr. Sepi said he called the V.A. and was told to report in person. But working 12-hour shifts at a bottling plant, he failed to do so (emphasis mine)."

Mr. Sepi only got some help AFTER he murdered two people.

Over the next several years, we need to figure out how to reach some of these guys (and gals) BEFORE something bad happens.

1 comment:

Vince Patton said...

Nicely written Ralph... Keep up the great work!