Anti-war congressman works to remember the dead

Rob Hotakainen

Jim_McDermott.jpg (3074 bytes)WASHINGTON — As a young psychiatrist assigned to the Long Beach Naval Station in California in 1968, Washington state Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott worked to ease the psychological trauma of soldiers who had learned to kill in Vietnam. “I knew that people were going to forget about these kids,” said McDermott, now 79. “The most moving place in town for me is still the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I go out there and I can cry almost any time.”

As he prepares to end his 28-year career in the U.S. House, the Seattle congressman now wants to make sure that the Washington state soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past 14 years are not forgotten. There are 150 of them.

As they died, McDermott added their photographs one-by-one to a wall display just outside his Capitol Hill office. The 150th face joined the display on January 12, four days after the remains of Staff Sgt. Matthew McClintock, a 30-year-old Green Beret from Des Moines, Wash., arrived at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

McDermott made the trek to Delaware for the ceremony, offering his condolences to McClintock’s wife, Alexandra, and the couple’s 3-month-old son, Declan, his hand on his heart as he watched the flag-draped casket move past him.

In a speech on the House floor on January 12, McDermott called McClintock “a promising, smart and steadfast young man” who deserved the nation’s gratitude.

“I do what I can for veterans,” McDermott said in an interview in his office. “People have forgotten the war is there.”

McDermott, a 14th-term congressman first elected in 1988, is surprised that his photo display has gotten so large. But he said it’s important to keep it up to date, hopeful that passers-by will stop and reflect.

“You’re looking at something I started in 2002, and here I am 14 years later,” McDermott said. “I’ve always been anti-war but pro-veterans, because we all love to go to the parades when they march off to war, but we don’t want to see much when they come home, like this kid that came home at Dover. That’s what war’s about. People come home like this.”

McClintock was killed on January 5 in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, part of the National Guard’s 19th Special Forces Group. Earlier, he had served in Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 1st Special Forces Group as a Green Beret.

When his remains arrived at Dover AFB, McDermott’s chief of staff, Diane Shust, was on the plane as soldiers carried the casket down the steps to meet family members on the runway. “When they started coming down with the casket, I heard this horrible shriek,” she said. “As a mother, I knew exactly who it was. It was so heart-wrenching. When you see the casket, it’s real.”

In 2004, McDermott criticized the Pentagon for not allowing photographs of coffins at Dover, saying Americans had a right to see them, both to help them grieve and understand the cost of war.

“In Vietnam, the war came into the living room and the dinner table, and that’s what stopped the war,” McDermott said. “And now with Iraq, suddenly they don’t want anyone to see a picture. Well, goddammit, you know, people should know.”

He has been a loud voice against war, even when there were no listeners. In 2002, he and other anti-war progressives held a press conference on the steps of the House Cannon Office Building. McDermott was ready to make big news, saying that then-President George W. Bush was so eager to go to war in Iraq that he would lie about whether military action was needed. But he said the Capitol Hill press corps showed no interest, with his comments never appearing anywhere.

McDermott did get national attention when he went to Baghdad and stood on a rooftop to make the point to ABC TV’s George Stephanopoulos. His remarks drew quick rebukes from Republicans who were trying to pass a war resolution and earned McDermott the nickname “Baghdad Jim.”

All these years later, McDermott has little doubt that he was right to oppose the war. “Are we safer today because we invaded Iraq?” he asked.

McDermott said he does have one regret: voting for the war in Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. “It’s one of the few votes I would have done the other way,” he said. “I didn’t think it would last this long.”

“We’ve created havoc all over the Middle East and we’ve lost thousands of people,” he said. “So it’s easy here, if you don’t think about it, to vote for money for the military and send people out there because it’s none of our kids.”

He said Congress would have less appetite for war if members brought back the military draft.

– edited from McClatchyDC, March 2, 2016
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2016

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

U.S. courts should consider war trauma of veterans on death row, study says

U.S. military veterans make up about 10 percent of inmates on death row and courts are not doing enough to consider post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a mitigating factor in sentencing, a study released November 10 by the Death Penalty Information Center said. The study was based on data from states holding half the U.S. death row population. The Center is opposed to capital punishment, but its data is used by those on both sides of the debate.

About 300 of the roughly 3,000 inmates on America’s state and federal death rows are military veterans, and the majority suffers PTSD from serving in the Korean, Vietnam and Gulf wars, according to the study. Defense lawyers frequently fail to realize when their client is a veteran, according to the report’s author, Richard Dieter.

“If you have intellectual disabilities you can’t get the death penalty; if you’re under 18 you can’t get the death penalty. With PTSD, you can get the death penalty, and sometimes it can be used against you,” Dieter said.

About 31 percent of Vietnam War veterans and 10 percent of Gulf War veterans suffer from PTSD, according to the National Institutes of Health. Neither the Defense Department nor the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics track veterans on death row.

Death sentences and executions have decreased substantially in the United States over the past 15 years, with just 73 death sentences handed down in 2014 — the lowest number in the four decades since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty. The decline is due in part to the high costs of trial and appeals, with prosecutors in several states steering clear of cases where mental illness may be a factor because of the likelihood of a lengthy and expensive legal process.

In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the death sentence of a Korean War veteran who killed an ex-girlfriend and her boyfriend, finding his attorney deficient for not investigating the veteran’s combat service and mental illness. But Georgia this year executed a Vietnam War veteran who qualified for 100 percent disability due to PTSD, Dieter said.

Dieter hopes his report will trigger closer scrutiny of how the death penalty is used against veterans.

– edited from Reuters, November 10, 2015
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2015

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Veterans frustrated by presidential debate on Iraq war

Veterans of the Iraq War have been watching in frustration as Republican presidential contenders distance themselves from the decision their party enthusiastically supported to invade that country. Some veterans say they concluded long ago that their sacrifice was in vain, and are annoyed that a party that lobbied so hard for the war is now running from it. Others say they still believe their mission was vital, regardless of what the politicians say. And some find the “gotcha” question being posed to the politicians — “Knowing what we know now, would you have invaded?” — an insult in itself.

The war became a campaign issue when likely presidential contender Jeb Bush was asked about the invasion ordered by his brother, former President George W. Bush. After days of questioning, Jeb Bush said that in light of what’s now known — that Saddam Hussein did not have WMD stockpiles — he would not have invaded. Other possible Republican hopefuls, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, all later gave similar responses.

Democratic presidential contender Hillary Rodham Clinton has previously called her support for the invasion a mistake. And despite the militants’ gains, she said, U.S. ground forces should not be sent back to Iraq.

But many vets, regardless of whether WMDs were found or not, found legitimate reasons for being in Iraq. Kevin McCulley, a former army medic, said Iraqis told him about their struggles under Saddam Hussein, and he believes there were good reasons to get rid of the longtime dictator. He thinks the emphasis should not be on the decision to invade but on whether the U.S. should have stayed past its 2011 departure date to secure the gains made.

Many veterans blame President Obama — not Bush — for the current state of affairs, saying he was in too much of a hurry to withdraw from Iraq.

The discussion comes at a particularly troubled time for veterans, who have watched Iraq steadily descend into chaos. Islamic State militants recently routed Iraqi government troops to take control of the city of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, despite American airstrikes designed to help the Iraqi forces.

Aaron Hinde, 33, is appalled at what he sees the U.S. invasion did to Iraq. He served there in 2003, mostly in the volatile city of Mosul, and became active in the anti-war movement after leaving the army in 2004. He’s glad Republicans are being held account-able for the invasion, but says that answer has been known for a long time. He said, “It’s a legitimate question to ask and a legitimate answer should be an unequivocal ‘no’.”

Marla Keown, who drove trucks in Iraq for a year during her time in the Army Reserve, said it’s taken too long for politicians to admit the mistake of a war that killed 4,491 U.S. troops and left countless Iraqis dead. Keown, 34, who now works as a photo-grapher in Denver, said, “It’s hard to see the good in war in general — let alone a war that everyone just now is realizing we shouldn’t have done.”

“A mistake doesn’t sum up the gravity of that decision,” said Matt Howard, a Marine twice deployed to Iraq who now works with the group Iraq Veterans Against the War. He said many vets have been frustrated by the flip-flopping of the Republican candidates and Clinton as well.

Mike Barbero, a retired general who served three tours in Iraq, said he isn’t sure of the value of the hypothetical questions being asked of the candidates and would rather they be pressed on their criteria for sending troops into a potential future battle. “What are your criteria for putting young Americans in harm’s way? What lessons learned did you take away from Iraq and Afghanistan? he said. “Then you’re getting into the mind of a future commander-in-chief.”

– edited from an article by Rebecca Santana, The Associated Press, May 23, 2015
PeaceMeal, March/April 2015

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Almost 500 serving U.S. military personnel committed suicide in 2013

Almost 500 serving members of the U.S. military took their own lives in 2013, a many of them thought to have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to an official report from the U.S. Department of Defense. Although the overall figure represents a drop from 2012, when the total number of suicides was 522, there are fears the final total for 2014 could rise again as the rate increased in the first half of the year.

The figures for serving soldiers are dwarfed by those for former soldiers. Around 6,500 former members of the U.S. armed forces kill themselves each year.

In the U.K. in 2012, seven serving soldiers were confirmed to have taken their own lives and a further 14 suicides were suspected. It is unclear why the rate is so much lower than in the U.S., though easy access to firearms may be one possibility.

– edited from International Business Times, Jan. 18, 2014
PeaceMeal, March/April 2015

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Hidden wounds

Brian_Castner.jpg (2329 bytes)Brian Castner appeared unscathed alter two tours in Iraq. All his wounds were on the inside. As the leader of an Air Force bomb squad, Castner was surrounded by the horror and tension of war. His subsequent struggle to resume everyday life eventually unleashed a frantic state of mind he calls “the Crazy.”

Castner’s autobiographical book published in 2012, The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows, is his attempt to relay those experiences exactly as he felt them. “I don’t hold your hand for a lot of it,” he says.

In the opening pages, Castner gives a raw description of the carnage caused by a car bomb. “That’s maybe a little shocking — and I have trouble almost seeing that it’s shocking,” Castner says. “It’s like, ‘Well, duh. What do you think happens?’”

Castner graduated in 1999 as an electrical engineer from the ROTC program at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisc., became an Air Force engineer, and passed a rigorous training program to join the bomb squad. After several close calls in Iraq, he made it home in 2007, only to develop an unshakeable sense of panic that nearly wrecked his family.

Castner was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury from his close exposure to blast attacks and suffers from long-term-memory loss. He can remember well the day of six car bombs but can’t remember his children being born. Through a combination of therapy, running, yoga and writing — he calls telling his story a “biological need” — he eventually learned to manage his trauma.

Today, Castner and his wife, Jessica, a 1999 nursing graduate of Marquette University, live in Buffalo, N.Y., with their four sons. He works as a civilian consultant training military units on bomb-disposal procedures and is writing another book.

– edited from Marquette Magazine and National Public Radio
PeaceMeal, July/August 2013

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Wounded veterans congregate in Tacoma

The communities surrounding Tacoma have the highest per capita population of seriously disabled Iraq and Afghanistan veterans on the West Coast, according to Department of Veterans Affairs records. Veterans come to the region for several reasons. Some finish their military careers at nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord, which is home to two Stryker brigades deployed in Afghanistan. Some seek medical care at the base’s Warrior Transition Battalion before they leave the service. And others stay for the resources at Puget Sound Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics, as well as for the region’s diverse economy and its generally supportive attitude toward veterans.

“They live here because they’re welcome here. I honestly believe that,” said retired Army Lt. Col. Jake Holeman, 66, a Vietnam veteran and an officer in a local chapter of Disabled American Veterans.

But even with the goodwill, the presence of thousands of seriously disabled veterans poses new and lasting challenges for the region as it learns to assimilate the generation of service members who bore the brunt of a decade of combat in the Middle East.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said, “We have thousands of veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan in the next year and a half, and that could overwhelm the system very quickly.”

Policy makers foresee multiple challenges for disabled veterans as the wars end, such as:

• Many veterans with severe combat-related stress still face long waits to get the care they need, despite adding billions of dollars for mental health care to Department of Veterans Affairs budgets the last four years, and the hiring of 7,000 more mental health professionals at VA clinics and hospitals. A rule directs that veterans with severe PTSD begin treatment within 14 days of seeking care, but needed therapy gets delayed by weeks or months.

• Nearly half of disabled veterans from all generations recently surveyed by the Pew Research Center said their combat injuries prevented them from holding down steady work after they left the service.

• About half of homeless veterans have disabilities.

Veterans Affairs data show that some 5,000 seriously disabled Iraq and Afghanistan veterans live in the region around Tacoma. According to VA criteria, a seriously disabled veteran is one who is 50 percent to 100 percent unable to perform his job in the military.

Retired Staff Sgt. Jim Dahl of Des Moines, Wash., is one soldier who settled in the South Puget Sound area as he left the Army because of injuries he suffered in Iraq. Dahl, 43, has wounds to his head, neck, back and legs, but he’s considered disabled by the VA because of the PTSD he developed during his deployments.

“They didn’t expect the war to go on as long as it did, and they didn’t expect it to be as violent as it was,” Dahl said.

He said Puget Sound VA has treated him well, but he has not yet found counseling he trusts. He avoids anti-depressants and counseling because he finds they do more harm than good. Instead, he tries to live simply, takes cooking classes and is putting together a plan to open a bed and breakfast where veterans can relax by working with horses.

State Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, just led a hearing in Olympia in which lawmakers advanced several bills to help veterans land on their feet when they leave the service. She’d like to expand social services for former service members to access immediately after they leave the military. That can be a vulnerable period because it can take months for veterans to figure out how to get what they need from the VA.

The safety net for those veterans is not “nearly what it’s going to need to be for the men and women coming back,” Orwall said. “It’s pretty scary.”

– edited from The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.), Dec. 5, 2011
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2011

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Ex-Marine, veterans’ advocate kills himself

Handsome and friendly, Clay Hunt so epitomized a vibrant Iraq veteran that he was chosen for a public service announcement that told veterans that they aren’t alone. The 28-year-old former Marine corporal earned a Purple Heart and returned to combat in Afghanistan. Upon his return home, he lobbied for veterans on Capitol Hill, road-biked with wounded veterans and performed humanitarian work in Haiti and Chile. Then, on March 31, Hunt bolted himself in his Houston apartment and shot himself.

Hunt’s death has shaken many veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those who knew him wonder why someone who seemed to be doing all the right things to deal with combat-related issues is now dead. Friends and family say he was wracked with survivor’s guilt, depression and other emotional struggles after combat. But with his boundless energy and countless friends, he came across as an example of how to live life after combat.

But some knew he was grieving over several close friends in the Marines who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. “He was very despondent about why he was alive and so many people he served with directly were not alive,” said John Wordin, 48, the founder of Ride 2 Recovery, a program that uses bicycling to help veterans heal physically and mentally.

In 2007, while in Iraq with the Marine’s 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment, Hunt heard over the radio that his 20-year-old bunkmate had died in a roadside bombing. Hunt later wrote online about sleeping in his bunkmate’s bed. “I just wanted to be closer to him, I guess. But I couldn’t — he was gone.”

A month later, Hunt was pinned by enemy fire in his truck as a fellow Marine, shot in the throat by a sniper, lay nearby. Hunt wrote that seeing his friend placed in a helicopter, where he died, is “a scene that plays on repeat in my head nearly every day, and most nights as well.”

Three days later, a sniper’s bullet missed Hunt’s head by inches and hit his wrist. He didn’t immediately leave Iraq. His parents say Hunt asked to fly to a military hospital in Germany a day later so he could accompany a fellow Marine who was shot in both legs.

 “I know he’s seen some traumatic stuff in his time and I guess he holds that to himself,” said Marine Sgt. Oscar Garza, 26, who served with Hunt in Iraq. “He was a very compassionate Marine, a very passionate person, one of the few people that I know that has a big heart and feels a lot of people’s pain and makes it his own.”

Hunt’s mother Susan Selke said after he was wounded, she’d hoped her son would get out of the military. Instead, he went to school to be a scout-sniper and went to Afghanistan. He seemed to do well. He was honorably discharged in 2009, married and enrolled at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

But Hunt was frustrated by the Veterans Affairs Department’s handling of his disability claim. He also piled up thousands of dollars in credit card debt as he waited for his GI Bill payments. Hunt found an outlet to help improve the system by doing work with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. He had appeared in the group’s ads encouraging veterans to seek support from an online network of fellow veterans. He also helped build bikes for Ride 2 Recovery and participated in long rides.

“If I had one thing to say to my fellow veterans, it would be this: Continue to serve, even though we have taken off our uniforms,” Hunt wrote in an online testimonial for a nonprofit organization. "No matter how great or small your service is, it is desired and needed by the world we live in today.”

Last year, Hunt’s life took a downward spiral. His marriage ended, he dropped out of school and he began to have suicidal thoughts, his mother said. She said Hunt sought counseling from the VA and moved in temporarily with Wordin in California. Things seemed to improve for him in recent months after he returned to his hometown of Houston to be near family. He got a construction job, leased an apartment, bought a truck and began dating. In the days before he died, he hung out with friends. He even told Garza he couldn’t wait to see him at a Fourth of July reunion with other Marines. Then he was dead.

Hunt’s friends say he was an idealist and voiced frustration that he couldn’t make changes overnight. He also questioned why troops were still dying. Jacob Wood, 27, a friend who served with Hunt in the Marines and in Haiti, said, “He really was looking for someone to tell him what it was he went over to do and why those sacrifices were made.”

– edited from MSNBC and the Associated Press, April 15, 2011
PeaceMeal, May/June 2011

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Comment left by daryl on

Too many put a flag lapel pin on their suit or a yellow ribbon decal on their SUV and call themselves patriots. Politicians of all stripes who have never seen a day of true service claim their positions of power to be patriotic. I have yet to see one I would agree with. The religiously obsessed claim that their god created this country and that only through paying their religious leaders both in money and obeisance can one be a patriot.

This man and those who serve and risk their lives for the rest of us are the only true patriots I’ve ever seen. I do not blame anyone for his death. Yet I wish that we humans could learn to love one another in truth, not just in false words. If we followed our words and showed the love for all that we brag about, we would have no need of war or warriors, and people like this man and so many others would be around today to share their true honor and greatness with the rest of us.

Fighting for peace of mind

On Veterans Day 2010, Army Specialist Jeff Hanks made headlines when he turned himself in to military officials after going AWOL in October. Hanks, a 101st Airborne soldier, refused to return to Afghan-istan after being denied treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) he has suffered since his 2008 tour in Iraq. The penalty he faces could include jail time or a less-than-honorable discharge, which would strip him of all veterans’ rights and health benefits.

Hanks’ decision to speak out about his struggle to secure mental health care drew attention to the Operation Recovery campaign of Iraq Veterans Against the War, which aims to stop the redeployment of traumatized soldiers suffering from PTSD, brain injuries and sexual trauma. One in every 10 soldiers who has completed a single deployment has a mental ailment; the rate rises to 1 in 5 after a second deployment and nearly 1 in 3 after a third. Studies estimate anywhere from 10 to 50 percent of all service members deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan — 15,000 to 75,000 troops — suffer from PTSD. Another major military problem is that veterans with PTSD are six times more likely to attempt suicide than civilians.

If the U.S. military followed its own standards and regulations, says IVAW’s Aaron Hughes, a minimum of 20 percent of soldiers that have fought in Iraq or Afghanistan could not be redeployed. That would make it practically impossible for the United States to continue its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the ultimate goal of IVAW.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has reported that the military has no comprehensive oversight framework to assure that its members are medically and mentally fit for service, or to assess troops’ mental health conditions when they return. In the current system, a commanding officer has discretion over what happens after a soldier is screened. This means that someone deemed ineligible for deployment by a military mental health professional can still be forced to deploy with severe trauma.

– edited from In These Times, January 2011
PeaceMeal, March/April 2010

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

More troops killed by suicide than war

According to official figures for the past nine years from the Department of Defense, more U.S. military personnel have taken their own lives than have died in action in either the war in Iraq or in Afghanistan. Last year alone, more than 330 serving members of the armed forces committed suicide — more than the 320 killed in Afghanistan and the 150 in Iraq. Since 2001, when the Bush administration launched the so-called “war on terror,” there has been a dramatic year-after-year increase in U.S. military suicides, particularly in the Army, which has borne the brunt of fighting abroad. Last year saw the highest total number since such records began in 1980. Prior to 2001, the suicide rate in the U.S. military was lower than that for the general population; now, it is nearly double the national average.

A growing number of these victims have been deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan. What is even more disturbing is that the official figures only count victims of suicide among active service personnel. Not included are the many more veterans — officially classed as civilians — who take their own lives. It is estimated that the suicide rate among veterans demobilized from fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq is as high as four times the national average.

The Department of Veteran Affairs calculates that over 6,000 former service personnel commit suicide every year. Many of these men came home to a country they fought for only to find no jobs, their homes repossessed by banks that have enjoyed trillion-dollar bailouts, and broken relationships.

– edited from the Gulf Daily News (Bahrain), January 12, 2010
PeaceMeal, March/April 2010

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Rise in troop suicides alarming

While the active-duty military force is expanding, the rate of suicides is growing even faster among all four services, a phenomenon that has alarmed defense officials. According to U.S. Army statistics, the incidence of soldiers attempting suicide has skyrocketed in the years since the start of the Iraq war. In 2008, 140 soldiers on active duty took their own lives, compared with 115 in 2007, 102 in 2006 and 87 in 2005. In addition, there were 2,100 attempted suicides in 2007 – more than five a day – compared with about 350 suicide attempts in 2002, the year before the Iraq war began.

Many soldiers are now in the midst of their third or fourth combat tour, and Army surveys show that mental health deteriorates with each one. “They’ve been exposed to the most corrosive environment known to warfare — physically, psychologically, spiritually and morally,” said Army Brig. Gen. Loree K. Sutton, director of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.

Part of the problem is a shortage of mental health professionals in the military. Another major problem is the stigma attached to service members who seek counseling and other mental health assistance, according to Maj. Gen. Mark A. Graham, commanding officer of the Army base at Fort Carson, Colorado. Graham’s youngest son, Kevin, 21, committed suicide in June 2003 as an ROTC cadet. Eight months later, Graham considered retiring when his other son, Jeff, was killed by an IED in Iraq.

Until that point, Graham said, he himself thought “it was a sign of weakness” for a soldier to acknowledge emotional trauma. But “guess what?” he said. “I actually found out what I was putting my family through.”

Graham, with his wife, is now active with the Suicide Prevention Action Network. “The message is it’s okay to ask for help,” he said. “It’s a sign of strength and not weakness to come forward.”

– edited from CNN, NBC News and The Washington Post
PeaceMeal, May/June 2009

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Dear Abby on PTSD

I’m a man who feels all alone in the world. ... My girlfriend doesn’t understand the living hell of post-traumatic stress from a tour in Iraq, and every time I need comforting, I am pushed away.

The only friends who I’m in contact with are her family. Support from my family isn’t easy to get. My father, a Vietnam veteran, understands what I’m going through, but has told me he chooses to stay away because he’s afraid of a possible relapse.


– Stressed in Pennsylvania

Dear Stressed:

Consider this: I’m not sure that anyone who hasn’t been through it — or isn’t a trained psychotherapist — can truly understand the pain of post-traumatic stress. And that is why I’m urging you to contact your nearest veterans hospital.

More than in wars past, the military medical system seems to appreciate that a large number of vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan will need professional help to overcome their trauma. Help is available, so please don’t wait to reach out for it. And while you’re at it, take your father with you, because it appears he could use some help too.

– Tri-City (Wash.) Herald, 22 Nov. 2006
PeaceMeal. Nov/December 2006

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

olander.jpg (2968 bytes)A soldier's pain deep inside

by Bob Herbert

Specialist Craig Peter Olander Jr. has the look of a mischievous kid, except that his eyes sometimes telegraph that they've seen too much. And there's a weariness that tends to slip into his voice that seems unusual for someone just 21 years old. Killing can do that to a person. ...

Specialist Olander sustained a number of injuries [in Iraq] ... But his major problems then and now, as he readily acknowledges, "are emotional and psychological." He is filled with guilt. ...

He is also filled with turbulent emotions related to the insurgents that he killed. "I had no hesitation about pulling the trigger," he said. "But the aftermath is what hurt. Before I joined the military, I valued life very much, so taking it was hard. It's confusing trying to figure it out, you know, because sometimes I feel rage toward them.

"But then it becomes a very religious thing, because I wonder, you know, since I've taken these lives, if I'm going to be accepted into heaven. You know, have I done the right thing?"

Specialist Olander is being treated for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center [on the Bush administration's current list of base closures – editor's note].

Bob Herbert is an award-winning columnist for the New York Times, where this article was published on August 8, 2005. For the complete article, see:

– PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2005