Americans who served in the U.S. military post-9/11 have had a higher chance of suffering a disability — an astonishing 43% — than any other service cohort. That’s higher than the disability rate among Vietnam and Gulf War vets and higher than the historic rates of the World War II and Korean War era.  There are myriad obvious reasons. State-of-the-art body armor coupled with faster evacuation from the battlefield and more effective emergency treatment has allowed soldiers to survive catastrophic injuries that were once death sentences. More soldiers survive, but they are maimed, disabled, left with lifelong struggles.

At the same time, people in the U.S. military are killing themselves in record numbers. Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, there have been more than 30,100 suicides among active-duty service members and veterans of post-9/11 conflicts. By contrast, U.S. military operations during the roughly 20 years since 9/11 claimed the lives of less than 7,100 personnel. Think about that: The death rate by self-destruction is more than four times the rate of death on the battlefield. 

The USO reported in September that suicides among active-duty military members were “at an all-time high since record-keeping began after 9/11 and have been increasing over the past five years at an alarmingly steady pace.” According to the USO, some branches of the armed forces have been experiencing the highest rate of suicides since before World War II.

Think about that: The death rate by self-destruction is more than four times the rate of death on the battlefield. 

Enter the group Veterans Exploring Treatment Solutions, or VETS, and its “gala to end veteran suicide,” which Truthdig’s Russell Hausfeld reported on for his investigative series published during the last year.   VETS saw opportunity in the use of psychedelic drugs — MDMA, psilocybin, LSD —  to treat trauma in service members, and perhaps alleviate the psychic pain that drives so many of them to self-annihilation.  “Our veterans urgently need access to more meaningful healing options,” said the group in a social media post.  “At VETS, we are honored to have assisted hundreds of U.S. Special Operations veterans receive a critical lifeline to healing through psychedelic therapy.”

Behind the altruistic intent there were less savory aspects of the turn towards psychedelics for alleviating PTSD in soldiers. Hausfeld discovered that veterans were deployed as “public relations mascots” to gain public sympathy for psychedelic “pharmaceutical agendas.” His reporting in the Dig series “The Ecstasy of Agony,” which included an investigation of the nonprofit psychedelics research group Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), found that veterans recruited by MAPS had been manipulated by the groups’ researchers. Hausfeld also looked into LSD microdosing in the Marine Corps and the clinical trials now being conducted at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs into the use of MDMA and psilocybin for the treatment of concussion headache, migraines, depression, methamphetamine addiction and PTSD. The fact that the VA facilities are now being used for psychedelic clinical trials,” said Hausfeld, “marks a huge turning point in the general perception of psychedelic drugs.”

Veterans affairs is not a subject new to us at Truthdig. In 2006, not long after our founding a year earlier, we ran one of the finest essays we’d ever publish on the physical and psychic wounds of war. The focus was the tens of thousands of servicemen and women coming home from Iraq. The writer was Ron Kovic, Vietnam War veteran and author of the classic memoir “Born on the Fourth of July.” Confined to a wheelchair from bullets that pierced his spine during combat in Vietnam, Kovic addressed himself to the newly wounded from yet another senseless war. “There is the long flight home packed with the wounded all around you, every conceivable and horrifying wound you could imagine,” he wrote. “The frustrations, anger and rage, insomnia, nightmares, anxiety attacks, terrible restlessness and desperate need to keep moving will come later, but for now we are so thankful to have just made it out of that place, so grateful to be alive.” 

That same year, Kevin Tillman wrote a prose poem for Truthdig about his brother, the NFL star Pat Tillman, whose death by friendly fire in Iraq became the subject of deception and manipulation by a Pentagon eager to capitalize on his celebrity. “Somehow,” he wrote, “American leadership…has been allowed to steal the courage, virtue and honor of its soldiers on the ground.”

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