No matter what your position is on the Iraq war, most Americans are horrified to find out about the poor quality of medical care given to wounded soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and other military hospitals. They are also shocked to hear about the long waiting periods that injured veterans have to deal with to get proper compensation. The recent disclosure of these deplorable conditions has raised some serious questions.
According to the New York Times, veterans face serious inequities in compensation for disabilities depending on where they live and whether they were on active duty or were members of the National Guard or the Reserve. The influx of veterans from the Iraqi war has nearly overwhelmed the Department of Veteran Affairs that is already struggling to meet the health care, disability payment and pension needs of more than three million veterans.
For example, Allen Curry of Chicago has fallen behind on his mortgage while waiting nearly two years for his disability check. A bomb blast injured him when he was a staff sergeant in the Army Reserve in Iraq. For Mr. Curry, his previous life as a $60,000-a-year postal worker is a fading memory. “It’s just disheartening,” he said. “You feel like giving up sometimes.”
One significant problem I have come across in counseling situations is post-traumatic syndrome. I saw this with many Vietnam veterans with whom I have talked. From my conversations with some of them, I learned that many have nightmares and some sleep with a gun under their pillows. I asked each person what kind of debriefing they went through when they came out of the service and the answer was the same: “not very much.” They needed help but could not get it or did not want to get it.
This may be still going on. In 2004, Specialist James Webb of the Army ran out of savings while waiting eleven months for his claim for stress disorders. He was unable to work because of post-traumatic stress disorder and back injuries from a bomb blast in Iraq. In the fall of 2005, Mr. Webb said that he began living on the streets in Decatur, Georgia, a state that has the tenth largest backlog of claims in the country.
“I should have just gone home to be with family instead of trying to do it on my own,” said Mr. Webb, who received a Bronze Star for his service in Iraq. “But with the post-traumatic stress disorder, I just didn’t want any relationships.” Sometimes people need help although they do not “want it.” When soldiers have had to kill other people, they suffer from the trauma of taking another’s life. They need to deal with this, the sooner the better. Like all of life, they have to go through the cross to obtain new life. They have to “cast out their demons” to be really free.
Military people and politicians often try to demonize the enemy. We are all familiar with President Bush’s “axis of evil” speech referring to Iraq, Iran and North Korea. When soldiers have the opportunity to meet the “enemy,” they realize that they are just like them n with the same wants and anxieties as all of us.
The military personnel who are responsible for those who fight in wars must realize that these men and women are not just robots who can shoot other people and then go home and expect everything to be all right. Post-traumatic syndrome is a reality. Let’s deal with it! The whole psychological, emotional and spiritual dimensions of a person must be considered and treated. We need to give our injured soldiers the best medical, physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual help available.