Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
Disclaimer: In accordance with title 17 u.s.c. section 107, this material is distributed without profit for research and educational purposes.
The Sir! No Sir! Blog has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is the Sir! No Sir! Blog endorsed or sponsored by the originator. Links are provided to allow for verification of authenticity.
This article, by Paul Reikoff, was published on the Iraq and Afghan Veterans of America website, October 1, 2009
Every year, Congress needs to pass 12 appropriations bills by October 1st to keep the federal government up and running. If lawmakers don’t meet this deadline, the government operates on temporary funding or shuts down.
And Congress rarely meets this deadline. In fact, 19 out of the last 22 years, Congress has failed to pass the VA budget on time. When the VA budget is late, the nation’s largest healthcare provider is forced to wait in limbo, relying on stop-gap funding measures. VA hospitals and clinics can’t plan for critical staffing and equipment needs, leading to long waits for appointments and rationed care. As a result, 6 million veterans who rely on the VA for health care pay the price for Congress’ bickering and inefficiency.
Despite repeated assurances that the VA budget would be passed on time this year, the September 30th deadline has come and gone. And the only thing that’s passed is another milestone: 20 out of the last 23 years, the veterans‘ health care budget is late. This year, the VA is not alone. The only budget that did pass on time was the one that funds salary checks for members of Congress. So Congress gets paid, and vets get stuck waiting. Again.
If Adam Vinatieri missed 20 out of his last 23 field goals, he’d be out of a job, and all of Indianapolis would be outraged. But Congress repeatedly misses the mark, gives itself a pay raise, and hardly anyone notices.
In the last two weeks especially, veterans have fallen victim to government inefficiency at its worst. First, it was thousands of late GI Bill payments and now it’s a late VA budget. Congress has spent months debating new government health care plans, and can’t even fund the ones we already have. Wait until Glenn Beck hears about this one. His head might actually explode.
With over half of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans still serving on active duty and poised to flood the VA system in the next few years, we cannot allow this ineffective funding process to continue.
The only way to ensure the highest quality of care our nation’s veterans deserve is to provide sufficient, timely, and predictable funding. In recent years, Congress has delivered record increases in VA funding. And when this year’s budget is approved, Congress will have increased VA funding by 15 percent over 2009 levels. But that can only happen if the budget is actually passed.
Ironically, the solution to chronic VA budget delays is wrapped up in this year’s proposed budget. “Advance appropriations,” or approving the VA health care budget one year in advance, is the top legislative priority for IAVA and many other leading veterans groups in 2009 and is included in the pending budget. Advanced appropriations would provide the VA with many more tools to prepare for the surge of veterans coming home and would put the years of tardy budgets behind us.
The men and women who have bravely served our country should not be forced to wait any longer for the care they have earned. If lawmakers aren’t pressured into passing the VA budget and advance appropriations and quickly, this trend will surely continue. And I’ll be writing a similar piece again this time next year. Veterans shouldn’t have to play this wait-and-see game, while Congress goes to the bank.
This video is a mix of the Army Strong video produced by the army to entice young women and men to join the military. The other video is produced by Displaced Films which is a series of films produced for the Iraq Veterans Against the War http://ivaw.org/wintersoldier
The series of films can also be seen here http://www.vimeo.com/5448532
You can make a donation to Jeriko Films here http://jerikofilms.wordpress.com/about/
The military has a budget of $459 million in advertising revenue which is the amount it spent in 2005. Please help us provide an honest picture of war by making a donation. Here is further information from, David Zeiger who requested we include the following information.
Hello Cindy and All
I am so happy that you used episodes from our series, This is Where We Take Our Stand, for your Army Strong video. It's incredibly powerful, and getting out to a lot of people. You did a great thing with it, and this is what the series is for.
I have a very important request, though. Please make it much more clear on your site and in the piece that the material is from the web series This is Where We Take Our Stand, and that the entire series can and should be seen at http://thisiswherewetakeourstand.com/ There are still two episodes that will be posted this monday and in two weeks, and then the entire series will be available as a single piece as well.
First of all, it's important that people see the whole series. But along with that, it's been a tremendous struggle to get the story made and told, and we are still in the midst of trying to get the funds to complete a television film as well. So it is crucial that both the name of the series and the people who made it be very prominent whenever it is used. It's also important to include that it is from the people who made Sir! No Sir! I'm sure you understand all of this.
We are linking Army Strong to http://thisiswherewetakeourstand.com/, and will do what we can to help get it out there.
This article, by Penny Coleman, was posted to AlterNet, August 12, 2009
Wayne McMahon was busted on gun charges six months after he got out of the Marines.
He was jumped by a gang of kids in his hometown of Albany, N.Y. , and he went for the assault rifle he kept in the back of his SUV.
He's serving "three flat, with two years of post-release" at Groveland Prison in upstate New York.
Maybe it's tempting to write McMahon off as just a screwed-up person who made the kinds of mistakes that should have landed him in jail, but maybe that's because his injuries don't show on the outside.
Unlike physical injuries, psychiatric injuries are invisible; the burden of proof lands on the soldier (or sailor or Marine), and such injuries are easy for the public to deny.
The diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder include a preoccupation with danger.
According to Jonathan Shay, a Veterans Administration psychiatrist and author of Achilles in Vietnam, hypervigilance in soldiers and veterans is expressed as the persistent mobilization of both body and mind to protect against lethal danger -- they act as though they were still in combat, even when the danger is no longer present.
That preoccupation leads to a cluster of symptoms, including sleeplessness, exaggerated startle responses, violent outbursts and a reliance on combat skills that are inappropriate, and very often illegal, in the civilian world.
When I asked McMahon what he was doing with an assault rifle in his car, he told me that since he got back from Afghanistan, he didn't feel safe without guns around.
"There was almost always a gun," he said. "In the apartment, there was guns everywhere.
"I was just over in combat, and you guys gave me an M-16 and a 9mm and let me walk around for eight months straight. And now I get back, and I get jumped by a bunch of people, and I can't have a gun?"
McMahon sits across from me in his prison greens, elbows on his knees, leaning into his story about the kid he was and the man he is hoping to become. His eagerness and optimism make it clear that he believes his mistakes are behind him.
His parents were teenagers when he was born, and they separated shortly after. He bounced around on the streets of Albany, and, like so many other young Americans with dreams of escaping dysfunctional families and lousy neighborhoods, he saw the military as a get-out-of-jail-free card.
He enlisted in the Marines right out of high school.
For the first time in his life, McMahon found himself in a meritocracy. He was promoted regularly and quickly, making sergeant by the time he got to Afghanistan.
Then two days before his five-year contract was up, he was caught drinking on the job, busted down to lance corporal and administratively discharged. He lost all his benefits.
McMahon was in the Marine Corps from 2001 until 2006. He spent his last year working as an aircraft mechanic on a flight line in Afghanistan that was under near-constant attack. It was also a transshipment point for injured American soldiers who were being evacuated to Germany.
For eight months, his days and nights were spent up close and personal with the visceral evidence of what the rockets, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades do to human bodies.
"We had a lot of explosions. Almost every day. And I seen guys coming out from convoy missions where their Humvees would have exploded," he told me matter-of-factly. "The first two months were pretty terrible. "
After that, even though "a lot of other people found it hard to deal with, it wasn't really too rough for me." A bit of Marine bravado, perhaps, but reinforced with a bit of liquid courage:
"We Marines, we're smart," he explained. "There was no alcohol provided, but I was making my own from fruit juice I got from the chow hall and yeast they gave us at the pizza shop. It was horrible, really horrible -- but two little 20-ounce water bottles, and you were good for the night. " It was the only way he got any sleep.
Jonathan Shay also notes the almost-universal reliance on alcohol or drugs by psychically injured veterans. They afford some temporary relief from intolerable memories and from the emotional and physical exhaustion of maintaining a constant state of vigilance.
McMahon came home from Afghanistan with a serious drinking problem, a hair-trigger temper and conditioned to rely on his combat skills for survival.
Both his marriage and his military career quickly unraveled, and then he was arrested. Nobody diagnosed his PTSD until he got to Groveland.
McMahon's obsession with safety and guns, and his compulsive drinking are both typical of a post-traumatic stress injury, but instead of diagnosis and treatment, he was left to his own compromised resources and promptly landed in jail.
In terms of the bottom line, it's a trifecta for the military when that happens. A damaged soldier is disappeared, the cost of treatment avoided and the evidence that would prove how often veterans find it impossible to readjust when they come home is erased.
Traumatized soldiers are not a military asset. They are unreliable, and can be dangerous to their fellow soldiers and to themselves. Their care can take years and be quite expensive. But because the macho culture of the military stigmatizes mental health issues, most soldiers won't ask for the help they need.
When they try to manage on their own and fail, when the entirely predictable symptoms of their injuries get them into trouble, their behavior is used to justify kicking them out of the service.
They lose all their health and disability benefits, and in the absence of treatment and support, the same behaviors that got them kicked out of the military land them in jail.
Once they enter the criminal justice system, their military service is irrelevant. Soldiers and veterans with psychiatric injuries who, like McMahon, end up in jail, are handed -- and in fact often accept -- the full burden of responsibility for their actions. And when that happens, the system gets off free.
That's what happened to McMahon, and though it's still too soon for meaningful statistics about incarceration rates among this new generation of veterans, the anecdotal evidence suggesting a predictive relationship between military experience, PTSD and trouble with the criminal justice system continues to mount .
And this is not a new phenomenon. The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study, published in 1990, found that more than a decade after the Vietnam conflict ended, 15 percent of male veterans still suffered from PTSD, and half of them had been arrested or in jail at least once.
Most Vietnam War veterans deployed for exactly one year. Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have experienced longer and repeated deployments, and top military psychiatrists acknowledge that veterans of these new wars may have an even harder time coming home.
And instead of improving, the situation is getting worse. In 2008, the Rand Corp. estimated that 300,000 soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan will suffer from post-traumatic stress issues, and 320,000 others will suffer traumatic brain injuries that express many of the same symptoms as PTSD.
And although most of them will not seek treatment, even when they try the VA has made such care extremely difficult to access.
For years, the Pentagon has chosen to ignore congressional directives to screen soldiers both pre- and post-deployment.
In May, the Hartford Courant reported that such screenings are still being administered in haphazard fashion. Only 1 percent of at-risk soldiers were referred to a mental health professional prior to deployment, and post-deployment screenings continue to be a laughably inadequate box to be checked on a form.
The Courant noted that the situation has remained unchanged since the paper reported on the issue in 2007.
And for veterans, the VA's claims backlog in May was approaching 1 million, a 14 percent rise since January.
By now, the anecdotal evidence associating combat-related PTSD with crime and incarceration ought to be part of the conventional wisdom. Its accumulation over the past century should have engendered enough concern to provoke some serious attention and study.
But the reality is that nobody knows the precise number of veterans who have ended up behind bars in the aftermath of America's wars.
There are more than a few reasons why military and government officials might want those numbers to remain hidden, but certainly among the most compelling is cost.
Large numbers of veterans in prison suggest a pattern, perhaps even a causal relationship between military service and behaviors that lead to incarceration, lending support to those who argue that such behaviors should be seen as possible symptoms of a service-connected injury deserving of treatment and support rather than punishment.
When the patterns are hidden -- the numbers unavailable -- it is easier for the military to pretend that the problem is with a given individual and not systemic.
In January 2008, when the New York Times reported that it had identified 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan had been charged with murder, the Pentagon declined to comment because it could not duplicate the newspaper's research.
A year later, the Army finally admitted that there might in fact be a connection between the violent behaviors of some returning service members and their combat experience. Pete Geren, Secretary of the Army, announced that in response to a spate of homicides at the Fort Carson Army base, he was “considering” conducting an Army-wide review of all soldiers involved in violent crimes since returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The report, which was finally published last week, does in fact “suggest a possible association between increasing levels of combat exposure and risk for negative behavioral outcomes."
And though it accuses the Army of denying necessary care to soldiers, and specifically blames commanders for proscribing access, Eric Schoomaker, the Army's surgeon general, calls it “preliminary,” and insists that no causality can be inferred from the findings.
Without causality, there is of course limited accountability.
Shoomaker pointed out that soldiers themselves should bear some responsibility for failing to seek help, ignoring the fact that half of the surveyed soldiers accused of violent behaviors had been sent back to Iraq “early,” and that many of them had documented suicide issues. Schoomaker also stressed that though many soldiers claimed to have witnessed war crimes, an Army probe did not substantiate those claims.
The results of this report might have been an invaluable contribution to the public conversation about what war does to soldiers and who should be responsible for their readjustment into society. Instead, once again, soldiers are blamed for violent behaviors that are clearly symptomatic of their injuries. When individuals take the rap, there is no interrogation of the pattern. Officials remain free to dismiss and deny how many ex-service members are ending up in jail. And as long as the bodies remain hidden, they get away with it. Vets Demonized; the System Gets Off the Hook
Ed Hart has a hard time accepting official denial of a connection that to him seems more than obvious.
Hart is an 87-year-old Marine, a veteran of World War II. He is also a former president of Veterans for Peace, a retired attorney and a deeply concerned citizen.
"People like me are upset about what they did to us -- and what they continue to do to the fuzzy-faced kids they haul off to boot camp," Hart said. "Too many of those kids never made it back into reality; they were found guilty of terrible crimes and sent off to spend years in prison -- maybe all the years left to them -- and we can't figure out what happened to them?"
Hart did in fact try to figure out what was happening in the late ‘80s, when Vietnam veterans began showing up in large numbers in the criminal justice system. Along with his pro bono legal work, he began interviewing large numbers of vets in prison.
What he discovered has been corroborated by every Bureau of Justice Statistics survey since: incarcerated veterans are better educated than their non-veteran counterparts; they are more likely to have been employed at the time of their arrest; and they are more likely to be in jail for a first offense -- all of which should be factors in their favor at sentencing.
But instead, they are more likely to get longer sentences than non-veterans -- on average, more than two years longer -- for the same crime.
Guy Gambill, director of research and policy at the Veterans Initiatives Center and Research Institute (VICTRI), attributes this to a "know better" syndrome.
"Judges and juries, ironically, place veterans in a higher category, one with heavy moral undertones. The thinking goes that they should know better and therefore should be held to a higher standard of conduct," he said.
Hart also recognized that moral judgment, but in his days as a practicing attorney, he saw an element of demonization in the dynamic as well.
"I've seen prosecuting attorneys in their final statements point to the bewildered man at the defense table and tell the jury, ‘Look at him! He's a trained killer! We need to get him off the streets and make them safe for our women and children.' "
Mike Thomas has experienced that prejudice firsthand. Thomas did three tours in Vietnam, was wounded twice, and earned all kinds of medals, but he's doing 25-to-life at Mule Creek Prison in Ione, Calif., for spewing some racist bile at an Asian man over the phone.
The day he got home from Vietnam, he beat up an Asian man in a bar, and he did it again the day they let him out of jail. He was sent to a military hospital for two years with a diagnosis of Adult Situational Reaction, a diagnostic precursor to PTSD.
The military declared him "fully recovered." For 25 years, he held down a job as a sales manager.
Then, one morning, in the midst of a flashback, Thomas lost his balance. Aside from hypervigilance, the symptoms of PTSD also include flashbacks. Flashbacks can be so convincingly real that the sufferer behaves as though he or she were actually in the remembered moment.
"Everybody who's lived at the brink of terror for some time has stored that place in his memory," Hart explains with empathy. "There's always the possibility that something will take him back sometime, give him that little push that will take his balance away.
"But there ain't much more you can do to a guy on the phone worse than yell at him."
Nonetheless, the prosecutor, noting Thomas's two priors, decided to interpret his phone rant as a terrorist threat -- hence the draconian sentence.
Some might argue that Thomas's antagonism towards Asians made him an accident waiting to happen, and they're not wrong. But dehumanization of the enemy is central to how military training enables soldiers to overcome their inherent resistance to killing other human beings.
Author Jonathan Shay describes how images of the enemy were drilled into his Vietnam-era patients as a "demonized adversary … evil, loathsome, deserving to be killed as the enemy of God, and as God-hated vermin, so inhuman as not really to care if he lives or dies."
It seems a distortion of justice to send a man to prison for life because in the course of his military training a switch got flipped, making him temporarily more useful to his government.
The practice continues. Bob Herbert, writing in the New York Times, described "the growing rage among coalition troops against all Iraqis (known derisively as 'hajis,' just as the Vietnamese were known as 'gooks')."
He quotes Sgt. Camilo Mejía, an Iraq war veteran, who explained, "You just sort of try to block out the fact that they are human beings and see them as enemies. You call them hajis, you know? You do all the things that make it easier to deal with killing them and mistreating them."
"The sacrifice that citizens make when they serve in their country's military," Shay reminds us, "is not simply the risk of death, dismemberment, disfigurement and paralysis -- as terrible as these realities are. They risk their peace of mind."
"When I went to boot camp," Thomas said, "I was a good Catholic boy who'd never shot so much as a squirrel. But I turned 20, 21 and 22 in Vietnam, and that became my identity. I tried to filter life through that prism of horror, pain and loss. Not good. A recipe for disaster."
Thomas once tried suicide to escape "the despair, grief, survivor guilt, nightmares, depression, the pain of hearing my mother say she wished I had died in Vietnam so her memories wouldn't be tainted."
More recently, he asked Veterans for Peace -- by mail -- to sponsor a nationwide program for incarcerated vets. His proposal was accepted and in May, VFP Incarcerated Chapter 001 was officially incorporated at Mule Creek Prison.
Wayne McMahon was luckier in that New York state still maintains residential therapeutic programs for veterans at three of its prisons. (In 1999, there were 19, boasting a recidivism rate of 9 percent after five years compared to 52 percent for non-veterans. Unfortunately for taxpayers, those programs were consolidated for the sake of "efficiency and effectiveness.") He has taken advantage of courses in anger and aggression management, interpersonal dynamics, and substance abuse, and he has completed his training as a group facilitator.
McMahon has a job waiting for him when he gets out; he wants to go back to school; and he is going to try for a discharge upgrade from the military based on his PTSD diagnosis. The Hidden Numbers
Since its first study of the issue in 1979, the Bureau of Justice Statistics has been the best source of information on the number of vets who have ended up behind bars.
According to the bureau's most recent survey, in 2004, there were 140,000 veterans in the nation's prisons -- or about 10 percent of the total prison population. By 2007, that number had risen to156,100, but the prison population overall had increased, so the relative share of vets in the population remained unchanged.
But as Baruch College's Aaron Levenstein once said, "Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital. "
For example, the numbers above don't include veterans held in the nation's jails, or those on probation or parole. When those groups are included, according to BJS estimates, the number of veterans who were under correctional supervision in 2007 jumps to 703,000. In addition, just under 1.2 million vets were arrested in 2007.
At least some of those on parole or probation at a given point will be arrested later in the year, skewing the estimated total. But Christopher Mumola, author of the last two BJS surveys of incarcerated veterans, said "if 703,000 veterans are supervised in some fashion on a given day, and 1,159,500 arrests in 2007 involved veterans as well, that gives you a rough approximation of the maximum number of vets who are touched by the criminal justice system in a year of about 1.8 million to 1.9 million veterans."
Still, in all probability, that number under-represents the number of veterans behind bars for several reasons.
For one, Mumola points out, an inmate's military history is irrelevant to prison administrators. "(They) measure the things they operationally use or are bureaucratically accountable for. Whether someone is a veteran or not doesn't change how that inmate is handled, the privileges they have or anything like that." So prison administrators don't ask. And, Mumola added, "the federal government doesn't require them to keep those statistics."
Frank Dawson, a patient advocate at the Boston VA, has long been frustrated and dismayed by the lack of reliable numbers. Dawson says he believes veterans need support before their lives spin out of control, and, "as a national service provider, the VA can't target services unless it knows where its population is."
But Dawson, like everyone else, has been stymied in his efforts. "I keep on my desk a stack of 6,000 address labels that I got from the Department of Justice," he said. "Six thousand institutions, 6,000 egos, 6,000 systems, 6,000 sets of protocol. There is no standard intake anywhere. I keep that stack on my desk to remind me how complicated they have made it. "
In the absence of federal, state or local legislation requiring penal institutions to use standard intake procedures that include verification of an inmate's military history, veterans' advocates across the country are pressuring the courts to at least inquire about veteran status during the bail-screening process.
But Taylor Halloran, who recently retired as the VA's liaison to veterans in New York's downstate prisons and jails, said there are more than a few reasons why veterans might refuse to divulge their military background.
Halloran emphasizes that many veterans offer fake Social Security numbers or aliases at intake, or they fail to report their arrests to VA because they fear the loss of benefits -- which is at least partially true. Health care benefits are suspended for the term of an inmate's incarceration and, after 60 days, disability benefits are reduced by about half, but those too should be reinstated when a veteran is released.
Lots of veterans don't know or understand the VA's policies, many have families that depend on those checks, and the VA has a reputation for taking its time reinstating benefits after an inmate is released.
So it's sort of a devil's bargain: identify themselves and lose half of their disability benefits, or take a chance they won't get caught. But if they do, they are royally screwed.
They have to pay the government back with interest and fines, but the far more serious consequence is that they lose all future benefits, including health care, disability and education.
To many, the risk seems worth taking. A 1999 Inspector General's report sharply criticized the VA's failure to "implement a systematic approach to identify incarcerated veterans and dependents, resulting in additional past and future overpayments exceeding $170 million dollars."
A 2004 VA Performance and Accountability Report found $5.7 million in benefit overpayments in a 20 percent sample of cases, and the report noted that "tracking 100 percent of these cases would not be cost beneficial."
Halloran said he had to work to get his potential clients to come forward voluntarily. And even then, he "couldn't touch the guys the VA doesn't consider veterans -- anyone with a dishonorable or bad-conduct discharge." One in six incarcerated veterans has been dishonorably discharged.
New Wars, Old Problems
Although the data are imperfect, one thing the BJS surveys do well is identify trends and patterns. For example, its last survey showed that at about 40 percent, Vietnam-era veterans still constitute the vast majority of vets in state and federal prisons.
The Gulf War involved far fewer soldiers and lasted for only six months, but at 15 percent of the veteran population in state and federal prisons, they constitute the newest wave. Veterans of the Gulf War are almost twice as likely to be incarcerated as demographically comparable non-veterans.
At 4 percent of the incarcerated veteran population, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were only just beginning to show up in the 2004 BJS survey.
"It takes quite a while for these folks to show up in the criminal justice system," Chris Mumola explained. "They are out there in these conflicts, having these experiences, coming back, getting into trouble with the criminal justice system, being fully adjudicated, winding up in prison, and only then are they available to be interviewed in these surveys. It may take years and years to marinate before it really manifests itself. "
Unfortunately, the next BJS survey is not scheduled until 2012.
However difficult those populations might be to track, it would seem that if ever there was a population that should be easy to count, it's prisoners. Every one has a number. Files are kept. There are forms -- and now computerized records -- from which patterns might be gleaned.
And prisons aren't the only black holes into which our nation's damaged warriors are disappearing. They also end up in hospitals and mental institutions. They vanish beyond the margins of society when their lives, their marriages, their careers fall apart. They end up in boxes on the street, vilified, forsaken, and self-medicating. Far too many die too soon of disease, accidents, overdoses or suicide.
An honest accounting of their numbers would be ammunition for those who believe that soldiers and veterans are still not receiving the care and support they need.
It would help challenge the myth of the romantic warrior by better educating our children to the real dangers of military service. It would also contribute to a public better informed about the hidden costs of our military ventures, including the ongoing damage to our citizens and our treasury, and to our national character as well.
This report, by Brandi Powell, was posted to the Austin News 8 website, March 30, 2009
Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli said the number of suicides among soldiers is too high, and a task force has been set up to work on the issue.
The Army said rates from the Department of Defense for soldier suicides are now above the rates put out by the Centers for Disease Control, when comparing like-groups of young people.
Chiarelli said the CDC's latest data is from 2006.
"This is the first time in my career we have ever exceeded the CDC's rate for a demographically adjusted population," Chiarelli said.
Still, he said the up-to-143 Army suicides nationwide in 2008, isn't going unnoticed.
"Twenty per 100,000 is far too large, and we've got to try to do something about that," Chiarelli said.
Those are just numbers for what he called "active component forces." So far in 2009, Chiarelli said there have been up to 60 soldier suicides across the country.
According to Fort Hood, there has been one confirmed suicide since the beginning of 2009, but Fort Hood leadership said they made the conscious decision not to give statistics on the number of suicides on base in 2007 and 2008. They said they don't want to pit one base against another.
Looking forward, after seven-and-a-half years of war and multiple deployments, Chiarelli said they're honing in on soldiers' current needs.
"Many of our authorizations for mental health care providers were put together long before we started fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan," Chiarelli said.
He said the Army is trying to get more mental health professionals on board at bases like Fort Hood who understand the specific issues involved with soldiers who've been deployed .
Some soldiers like the idea, but they say that hasn't been the main issue on their minds.
"Most of us don't realize there's a shortage," Major Dave Olson, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, said. "We're just afraid of the stigma, at least a lot of guys like me. Now that the stigma's been reduced, we don't need to be afraid of that anymore." Chaplains said over the past couple years they have seen the same amount of soldiers coming in for help with mental health concerns.
"I would say it's about the same because since 9/11, units are rotating in and rotating out combat operations," Lt. Col. Stephen Kelley, Garrison Family Life Chaplain, said.
The task force will continue to look at the total health of its soldiers and their families.
Fort Hood said there is no change in what dependents of soldiers get, if the death is ruled a suicide.
This essay, by Norman Soloman, was published in the Truthout, February 3, 2009
The United States began its war in Afghanistan 88 months ago. "The war on terror" has no sunset clause. As a perpetual emotion machine, it offers to avenge what can never heal and to fix grief that is irreparable.
For the crimes against humanity committed on September 11, 2001, countless others are to follow, with huge conceits about technological "sophistication" and moral superiority. But if we scrape away the concrete of media truisms, we may reach substrata where some poets have dug.
W.H. Auden: "Those to whom evil is done / Do evil in return."
Stanley Kunitz: "In a murderous time / the heart breaks and breaks / and lives by breaking."
And from 1965, when another faraway war got its jolt of righteous escalation from Washington's certainty, Richard Farina wrote: "And death will be our darling and fear will be our name." Then as now came the lessons that taught with unfathomable violence once and for all that unauthorized violence must be crushed by superior violence.
The US war effort in Afghanistan owes itself to the enduring "war on terrorism," chasing a holy grail of victory that can never be.
Early into the second year of the Afghanistan war, in November 2002, a retired US Army general, William Odom, appeared on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" program and told viewers: "Terrorism is not an enemy. It cannot be defeated. It's a tactic. It's about as sensible to say we declare war on night attacks and expect we're going to win that war. We're not going to win the war on terrorism."
But the "war on terrorism" rubric - increasingly shortened to the even vaguer "war on terror" - kept holding enormous promise for a warfare state of mind. Early on, the writer Joan Didion saw the blotting of the horizon and said so: "We had seen, most importantly, the insistent use of Sept. 11 to justify the reconception of America's correct role in the world as one of initiating and waging virtually perpetual war."
There, in one sentence, an essayist and novelist had captured the essence of a historical moment that vast numbers of journalists had refused to recognize - or, at least, had refused to publicly acknowledge. Didion put to shame the array of self-important and widely lauded journalists at the likes of The New York Times, The Washington Post, PBS and National Public Radio.
The new US "war on terror" was rhetorically bent on dismissing the concept of peacetime as a fatuous mirage.
Now, in early 2009, we're entering what could be called Endless War 2.0, while the new president's escalation of warfare in Afghanistan makes the rounds of the media trade shows, preening the newest applications of technological might and domestic political acquiescence.
And now, although repression of open debate has greatly dissipated since the first months after 9/11, the narrow range of political discourse on Afghanistan is essential to the Obama administration's reported plan to double US troop deployments in that country within a year.
"This war, if it proliferates over the next decade, could prove worse in one respect than any conflict we have yet experienced," Norman Mailer wrote in his book "Why Are We at War?" six years ago. "It is that we will never know just what we are fighting for. It is not enough to say we are against terrorism. Of course we are. In America, who is not? But terrorism compared to more conventional kinds of war is formless, and it is hard to feel righteous when in combat with a void ..."
Anticipating futility and destruction that would be enormous and endless, Mailer told an interviewer in late 2002: "This war is so unbalanced in so many ways, so much power on one side, so much true hatred on the other, so much technology for us, so much potential terrorism on the other, that the damages cannot be estimated. It is bad to enter a war that offers no clear avenue to conclusion.... There will always be someone left to act as a terrorist."
And there will always be plenty of rationales for continuing to send out the patrols and launch the missiles and drop the bombs in Afghanistan, just as there have been in Iraq, just as there were in Vietnam and Laos. Those countries, with very different histories, had the misfortune to share a singular enemy, the most powerful military force on the planet.
It may be profoundly true that we are not red states and blue states, that we are the United States of America - but what that really means is still very much up for grabs. Even the greatest rhetoric is just that. And while the clock ticks, the deployment orders are going through channels.
For anyone who believes that the war in Afghanistan makes sense, I recommend the January 30 discussion on "Bill Moyers Journal" with historian Marilyn Young and former Pentagon official Pierre Sprey. A chilling antidote to illusions that fuel the war can be found in the transcript.
Now, on Capitol Hill and at the White House, convenience masquerades as realism about "the war on terror." Too big to fail. A beast too awesome and immortal not to feed.
And death will be our darling. And fear will be our name.
Whereas, Iraq Veterans Against the War is an organization that has opened its membership to veterans of the war in Afghanistan;
Whereas, the war in Afghanistan is continuing into its seventh year with rising casualties among the Afghan people, and with U.S. and Coalition forces facing their deadliest year since the invasion;
Whereas a primary motivation for the prolonged occupation of Afghanistan is competition between the U.S., Russia and China for control of oil and natural gas resources in Central Asia and the Caspian Sea;
Whereas, the military occupation is creating tension and resentment among the Afghan people, to include Afghan women, many of whom are calling for the removal of all foreign occupying troops;
Whereas, the Afghanistan war dehumanizes the Afghan people and denies them their right to self-determination;
Whereas, our military is being exhausted by involuntary extensions, and activations of the Reserve, National Guard and Individual Ready Reserve, and by repeated deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan;
Whereas, service members are facing serious health consequences due to our government's negligence in Iraq and Afghanistan and mismanagement of the Department of Veterans Affairs;
Whereas, there is no battlefield solution to terrorism, and any escalation of the war in Afghanistan will only serve to exacerbate the plight of the Afghan people, destabilize the region, and further the breakdown of our military;
Therefore, be it resolved that Iraq Veterans Against the War calls for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all occupying forces in Afghanistan and reparations for the Afghan people, and supports all troops and veterans working towards those ends.
This article, by Pauline Jelinek, was published by the Asocited Press, February 5, 2009
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Army is investigating an unexplained and stunning spike in suicides in January. The count is likely to surpass the number of combat deaths reported last month by all branches of the armed forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the fight against terrorism.
"In January, we lost more soldiers to suicide than to al-Qaida," said Paul Rieckhoff, director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. He urged "bold and immediate action" by the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.
According to figures obtained by The Associated Press, there were seven confirmed suicides last month, compared with five a year earlier. An additional 17 cases from January are under investigation.
There was no detailed breakdown available for January, such as the percentage of suicides that occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan or information about the dead. But just one base — Fort Campbell in Kentucky — reported that four soldiers killed themselves near the installation, where 14,000 soldiers from the two war have returned from duty since October.
Some Fort Campbell soldiers have done three or four tours of duty in the wars. "They come back and they really need to be in a supportive environment," said Dr. Bret Logan, a commander at the base's Blanchfield Army Community Hospital. "They really need to be nourished back to normalcy because they have been in a very extreme experience that makes them vulnerable to all kinds of problems."
Officials said they did not know what caused the rise in suicides last month and that it often takes time to fully investigate a number of the deaths. "There is no way to know — we have not identified any particular problem," said Lt. Col. Mike Moose, a spokesman for Army personnel issues.
Yearly suicides have risen steadily since 2004 amid increasing stress on the force from long and repeated tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The service has rarely, if ever, released a month-by-month update on suicides. But officials said Thursday they wanted to re-emphasize "the urgency and seriousness necessary for preventive action at all levels" of the force.
The seven confirmed suicides and 17 other suspected suicides in January were far above the toll for most months. Self-inflicted deaths were at 12 or fewer for each of nine months in 2008, Army data showed. The highest monthly number last year was 14 in August.
Usually the vast majority of suspected suicides are eventually confirmed. If that holds true, it would mean that self-inflicted deaths in January surpassed the 16 combat deaths reported last month in all branches of the armed forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and other nations considered part of the global fight against terrorism.
Army leaders took the unusual step of briefing congressional leaders on the information Thursday.
An annual report last week showed that soldiers killed themselves at the highest rate on record in 2008. The toll for all of last year — 128 confirmed and 15 pending investigation — was an increase for the fourth straight year. It even surpassed the civilian rate adjusted to reflect the age and gender differences in the military.
"The trend and trajectory seen in January further heightens the seriousness and urgency that all of us must have in preventing suicides," Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army's vice chief of staff, said Thursday.
The other services did not immediately provide information on their suicide figures for January. But the Army in the past few years has posted a consistently higher rate of suicides than the Navy, Air Force and Marines as it has carried the largest burden of the two largely ground wars.
In announcing the 2008 figures last week, the Army said it would hold special training from Feb. 15 to March 15 to help troops recognize suicidal behaviors and to intervene if they see such behavior in a buddy. After that, the Army also plans a suicide prevention program for all soldiers from the top of the chain of command down.
Yearly increases in suicides have been recorded since 2004, when there were 64 all year. Officials have said over the years that they found that the most common factors were soldiers suffering problems with their personal relationships, legal or financial issues and problems on the job.
But Army Secretary Pete Geren acknowledged last week that officials have been stumped by the spiraling number of cases.
The relentless rise in suicides has frustrated the service, which has tried to address the issue through additional suicide prevention training, the hiring of more psychiatrists and other mental health staff, and other programs both at home and at the battlefront for troops and their families.
In October, the Army and the National Institute of Mental Health signed an agreement to do a five-year study to identify factors affecting the mental and behavioral health of soldiers and come up with intervention strategies at intervals along the way.
This article, by Tiffany Crawford, was published by Canwest News Service, January 6, 2009.
OTTAWA - An American war resister, who was told he must leave Canada Tuesday or face deportation to the United States, will not have to vacate the country until at least the end of January, says a support group.
Michelle Robidoux, a spokeswoman for the War Resisters Support Campaign, said Dean Walcott's case has been held over until Jan. 30.
Other U.S. resisters facing possible deportation include Cliff Cornell, Corey Glass, Jeremy Hinzman, Patrick Hart, Matt Lowell and Kimberly Rivera - and their families.
Some of the resisters have applied to the Federal Court to have their cases overturned on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
``If the Federal Court agrees to a judicial review of these resister's cases, that could be very positive,'' said Robidoux.
The Federal Court previously agreed to hear two of the cases, said Lee Zaslofsky, co-ordinator of the support group. Glass has been granted a new application to stay on humanitarian grounds while Hinzman and his family will go before the court Feb. 10.
``I'm hoping the Federal Court will be positive in Jermemy Hinzman's case and if not set a precedent, then at least give guidance on other cases that are pending, as well,'' said Zaslofsky.
``My feeling is it would be a travesty if people were deported only to find out, in Jeremy Hinzman's case, the court overturns the decisions . . . and the government threw them out anyway.''
Rivera, who was the first woman to refuse to serve after being deployed to Iraq, will face a decision on her deportation order Wednesday.
Rivera gave birth Nov. 23, said Robidoux, and will go before the board on compassionate and humanitarian grounds.
``So if she is deported and jailed, she will be separated from her newborn and she has two other young children,'' said Robidoux.
Cornell, who was ordered to leave Canada by Dec. 24, or face deportation, also had his case held over until Jan. 22.
Cornell, 28, is originally from Arkansas but lives on Gabriola Island, near Nanaimo, B.C. He has been in Canada since January 2005 after refusing deployment to the Iraq war.
Another American, Christopher Teske, also living in B.C., will have a decision heard Jan. 20.
Lowell is waiting to hear whether his appeal will be heard.
This article, by Nicolaus Mills, was distributed by the New York Newsday, January 16, 2009
On Aug. 10, 1943, Gen. George Patton nearly ended his World War II army career when he slapped a soldier.
"Your nerves, hell; you are just a goddamned coward," Patton shouted at the soldier, Pvt. Paul G. Bennett, a gunner who had been sent to the 93rd Evacuation Hospital in Sicily, appearing "confused, weak, and listless." In Patton's judgment Bennett, who had enlisted before Pearl Harbor, was trying to escape battle. He had no business being treated alongside men with actual physical injuries.
In the new volunteer army, generals don't slap privates any more, but the military has not abandoned Patton's view of what constitutes a genuine wound. The Pentagon recently announced that it will not award the Purple Heart to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder because it is not a physical injury. PTSD will continue to have the stigma Patton associated with psychological wounds.
It shouldn't. Research on Long Island veterans shows that well before the recent government ruling, PTSD had already reached epidemic proportions. A 2007 study found that 20 percent of those seeking help at Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center, the main veterans' facility here, were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
If Pentagon officials believe that PTSD is a sign of personal weakness, all they need to do is read Medal of Honor winner and former senator Bob Kerrey's autobiography, in which he writes of his post-Vietnam state of mind: "There were dark times when this grief would rise in my chest like hot water. I would become short of breath and feel that death was a better option than living."
The Pentagon and military traditionalists may worry that there's no way to tell if someone with post-traumatic stress disorder is faking or truly suffering. Perhaps they fear that undeserving troops would claim Purple Heart status if they had the chance. But would they?
For years, the Pentagon has claimed that we don't need a draft because our all-volunteer military is the best-motivated and most-skilled one that America has ever had. Does the Pentagon really think, then, that men and women who have patriotically served the country in Iraq and Afghanistan are going to rush out to put one over on their country by claiming mental illness?
Or, given the state of the economy, is the primary worry about the cost of awarding more Purple Hearts? The honor entitles vets to enhanced benefits - they get higher priority when it comes to appointments at VA hospitals, and they are exempt from co-payments for both inpatient and outpatient care. Given that, according to a 2008 Rand Corp. study, an estimated 300,000 veterans currently suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression, that's a hefty bill.
Whatever the reason for the ruling, it's time for a change. We have come a long way from when PTSD was called "shell shock" or "battle fatigue." The least we can do is let our vets benefit from the advances that have been made in how we view the psychological impact of modern warfare.
This article, by Aaron Glantz, was published by the Guerilla News Network, December 31, 2008.
SAN FRANCISCO – Roy Lee Brantley shivers in the cold December morning as he waits in line for food outside the Ark of Refuge mission, which sits amid warehouses and artists lofts a stone’s throw from the skyscrapers of downtown San Francisco.
Brantley’s beard is long, white and unkempt. The African-American man’s skin wrinkled beyond his 62 years. He lives in squalor in a dingy residential hotel room with the bathroom down the hall. In some ways, his current situation marks an improvement. “I’ve slept in parks,” he says, “and on the sidewalk. Now at least I have a room.”
Like the hundreds of others in line for food, Brantley has worn the military uniform. Most, like Brantley, carry their service IDs and red, white and blue cards from the Department of Veterans Affairs in their wallets or around their necks. In 1967, he deployed to Vietnam with the 1st Cavalry Division of the U.S. Army. By the time he left the military five years later, Brantley had attained the rank of sergeant and been decorated for his valor and for the wounds he sustained in combat.
“I risked my life for this democracy and got a Bronze Star,” he says. “I shed blood for this country and got the Purple Heart after a mortar blast sent shrapnel into my face and leg. But when I came back home from Vietnam I was having problems. I tried to hurt my wife because she was Filipino. Every time I looked at her I thought I was in Vietnam again. So we broke up.”
In 1973, Brantley filed a disability claim with the federal government for mental wounds sustained in combat overseas. Over the years, the Department of Veterans Affairs has denied his claim five separate times. “You go over there and risk your life for America and your mind’s all messed up, America should take care of you, right,” he says, knowing that for him and the other veterans in line for free food that promise has not been kept.
On any given night 200,000 U.S. veterans sleep homeless on the streets of America. One out of every four people -and one out of every three men -sleeping in a car, in front of a shop door, or under a freeway overpass has worn a military uniform. Some like Brantley have been on the streets for years. Others are young and women returning home wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan, quickly slipping through the cracks.
For each of these homeless veterans, America’s promise to “Support the Troops” ended the moment he or she took off the uniform and tried to make the difficult transition to civilian life. There, they encountered a hostile and cumbersome bureaucracy set up by the Department of Veterans Affairs. In a best-case scenario, a wounded veteran must wait six months to hear back from the VA. Those who appeal a denial have to wait an average of four and a half years for their answer. In the six months leading up to March 31st of this year, nearly 1,500 veterans died waiting to learn if their disability claims would be approved by the government.
There are patriotic Americans trying to solve this problem. Last month, two veterans’ organizations, Vietnam Veterans of America and Veterans of Modern Warfare, filed suit in federal court demanding the government decide disability claims brought by wounded soldiers within three months. Predictably, however, the VA is trying to block the effort. On December 17, their lawyers convinced Reggie Walton, a judge appointed by President Bush, who ruled that imposing a quicker deadline for payment of benefits was a task for Congress and the president-not the courts.
President-elect Barack Obama has the power to end this national disgrace. He has the power to ensure to streamline the VA bureaucracy so it helps rather than fights those who have been wounded in the line of duty. He can ensure that this latest generation of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan does not receive the bum rap the Vietnam generation got. Let 2008 be the last year thousands of homeless veterans stand in line for free food during the holiday season. Let it be the last year hundreds of thousands sleep homeless on the street.