May 22, 2013
We ‘Support’ the Troops by Burdening Them More
Posted on Dec 2, 2009
By T.L. Caswell
Sinclair returned from Iraq a captain—and a man tortured in body and mind. He was at times deeply distressed, and prescription drugs became an important part of his effort to survive. In 2006 he threatened to shoot himself, and later cut his wrist with a knife.
The following year, the Army ruled that Sinclair—who had been in hospitals and under various treatments—was suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder. He had told his Army examiners, in part: “I had a good, solid career. I was moving up. Everything was great. And now, you know, I can’t even pick up a book and read it and I’m scared. I’m afraid to go outside.”
At one point after leaving the Army the former captain expressed worry about becoming addicted to the prescribed morphine, oxycodone and Valium he was taking.
Sinclair fell in love with a schoolteacher and talked of marriage; perhaps brighter days lay ahead. But last year Peter Courtney Sinclair, a child of sunny Southern California, died in a dark cloud wrought by bodily and mental devils. The official finding: morphine intoxication, accidental.
* * *
More PTSD, More Suicides, More Divorces
Sinclair’s story is sad by almost any measure, but sadder still is the fact that he must be counted among thousands of U.S. military people taken down, often fatally, by post-traumatic stress disorder, sometimes in conjunction with physical medical conditions incurred in the military or aggravated by wartime service.
Veterans for Common Sense, an aid organization, has said that as of last Dec. 15 the Department of Veterans Affairs had diagnosed PTSD in 115,000 U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Last year a study by the Army surgeon general found that an appalling percentage of soldiers on their third or fourth tours had experienced emotional illnesses. USA Today, citing the Army report, wrote:
One simple but incisive insight into the problem stands out: “People aren’t designed to be exposed to the horrors of combat repeatedly, and it wears on them.” The originator of that 2008 quotation was not some timid, pacifist lefty; it was a man who well knows war’s violence and soldiers—Gen. George Casey, Army chief of staff.
The increasing strain on America’s thinly stretched fighting forces and the effects of that pressure have long been evident, and much has been said about the issue. Apart from the growing incidence of PTSD, suicide among soldiers has become a source of grave concern in the Army, which in January reported that the problem was the worst it had been in 28 years of tracking. Last month, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army’s vice chief of staff, told the Pentagon: “We are almost certainly going to end [this] year higher [in suicides] than last year. … This is horrible. …”
And just last Friday it was disclosed that the divorce rate in Army families is up in 2009. The Associated Press wrote: “The toll for a nation long at war is evident in military homes: The divorce rate in the armed forces edged up again in the past year despite many programs to help struggling couples. …” Still another sign of the psychic damage being suffered by the men and women of America’s armed forces.
Perhaps the best judges of the condition of today’s U.S. armed services are the officers themselves. In February of 2008, a survey of officers, both current and retired, found nine in 10 saying the Iraq war had stretched the American military “dangerously thin” (although a majority maintained that morale remained high). An article on the survey stated: “Gen. Casey has warned that the military was deploying at unsustainable rates, and was in danger of crossing a ‘red line’ beyond which it would take a generation to rebuild.”
In the face of this ever-growing mound of evidence that individual soldiers and the Army overall are under dangerous tensions, it’s hard to argue that things are just fine in the U.S. military. So, we support the troops by finding ways to ease their burdens, don’t we? No, that would only be too sane. In an era with no draft, we have now chosen to support the troops by heaping upon them more responsibility, more work, more war, more physical and psychological trauma. Thirty thousand more troops for fighting in Afghanistan? Sure, why not? It’s not as though there are any human costs to be paid (and this is to say nothing of the astronomical financial costs).
Besides, it’s not as though we are fighting in Afghanistan without unstinting help from our international allies. According to a report in April by Britain’s Times, in response to “an impassioned plea” for troops for Afghanistan that President Obama made on a visit to Europe, “[British Prime Minister] Gordon Brown was the only one to offer substantial help. … Just two other allies made firm offers of troops. Belgium offered to send 35 military trainers and Spain offered 12. Mr Obama’s host, [French President] Nicolas Sarkozy, refused his request.”
Thirty-five from Belgium? Twelve from Spain? Zero from France? Is it possible that our friends know something we don’t?
[Editor’s note: After this was written, the U.S. ambassador to NATO said he expected NATO allies to send 5,000 more troops to Afghanistan next year. He also said he could not report yet which countries would dispatch the troops and how many each would deploy. In another new report, NATO estimated the alliance’s coming deployment at 7,000. The articles suggested that France and some other NATO countries might decline to send personnel; some others would not commit to any deployment numbers. And, as the Los Angeles Times reported Dec. 4, “The new troop commitment, announced at a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels, includes about 2,500 soldiers who are already in the Central Asian nation. … [M]any … put limits on their soldiers’ participation in combat, making them less valuable from the American perspective.” (Truthdig article continues on Page 5.)]
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