Monday, August 07, 2006

Guest Post by Southpaw

In a blog I wrote on 14 June entitled Zero Fun, I gave a challenge for the movie the title of the post came from (it was Remember the Titans) with the prize being a guest post. Southpaw very quickly and accurately named the movie, so here is his post completely unedited. I'll leave my thoughts in the comments section.

“Support our troops”

It’s an easy enough phrase to say, but much harder to do. How does one show “support” for our men and women in the armed forces who put life on the line every day? Some people show support through prayer. Others write letters. Some offer support through blogs and websites. Many just say the phrase and do nothing.

This, though, is what I would ask of anyone who claims to support the troops: Contact your members of Congress and demand that the men and women of the armed forces get the mental health and behavioral treatment services they need, as a result of sustaining psychological trauma in the course of their service. Not just for six months or a year, either. For a lifetime.

Soldiers who suffer from mental illness or addiction are in just as much need of health care as those who suffer from physical injuries. Yet there is a stigma that surrounds mental health and addiction treatment in this country. Too many think that those who suffer from these ailments are “weak,” or can’t “put it behind them.” Too many think that addicts have chosen to destroy their lives, when the opposite is true- an addict is not in control of his or her faculties to the point where they can make informed decisions concerning their behavior. The same holds true for other mental illnesses. Addiction and depression are diseases like any other. The American Medical Association has classified addiction as a disease since 1957, yet an addict never receives the sympathy of a cancer patient or AIDS patient, because they are viewed as having brought it on themselves. Sometimes they can be cured or treated, some cases cannot be. Some can be treated with pharmacology, some with cognitive therapy, and some with a combination of therapies.

Yes, it’s costly. It’s difficult to identify everyone who needs it. But if someone loses a limb in battle, they get disability checks. The same should hold true for anyone who suffers from depression, addiction, PTSD, or any other condition brought on by battle. We must to go beyond treatment simply for those who request it. Soldiers and other military personnel should be screened for signs of mental illness. The opportunity for treatment must remain open for a lifetime, as often symptoms of depression or addiction may not surface for years after an event that is at the root of an issue. It is a scientific fact that trauma will lead to increased drug and alcohol use. A whole generation of veterans turned out homeless, addicted, and deeply disturbed after Vietnam. We cannot let this happen again.

I heard one story about a soldier who suffered from a psychological condition upon his return. I can’t vouch for its accuracy, but if it is anywhere close to the truth, it is horrifying:

The soldier was a Pennsylvania guardsman. He was in his mid-30s, and living in his parents’ house because he could not stand to be alone. About a month after his return, he woke up in the middle of the night screaming. “I’m a murderer!” was all he would say, repeating it over and over. A few nights later, he approached his father, who was sitting in a parlor chair, the same one that was there when the soldier was a little boy. He climbed into his father’s lap, the same way he would thirty years ago. He begged his father to hold him as he shook. Weeks later, he began drinking constantly. His psychological symptoms worsened. His parents brought him to the VA. The VA told him to leave and come back “When he got his drinking under control.” They did not have the ability to treat his drinking, or even refer him to a place that could. A month later his father came home from work, and discovered that his son had hung himself.

This soldier is not considered to be one “killed in combat.” His family will not receive benefits as a soldier killed in battle was, even though the battle, combined with bureaucracy, was a factor in his death. The guardsman from Pennsylvania is not unique, and sometimes symptoms of psychological trauma do not present themselves for years.

My post is not a statement for or against the war. The war is a fact, wounded soldiers are a fact, and the psychological damage caused by combat and trauma is a fact. This post is one in favor of decency, and one that asks our government to do what is right. The men and women who put life on the line for their country deserve the best treatment their country has to offer. Don’t just ask for our nation to look after the mental health of its soldiers, sailors, marines, and pilots. Support our troops, and DEMAND it!

Thanks to Cajun Tiger for honoring his word and permitting me to post.

-The Leftist Southpaw


Cajun Tiger said...

Very good post Southpaw. This is an issue I totally agree with as pertaining to vets and have written my Members about on several occasions as well as talked it up at some coalition meetings on the Hill. There should be no time limit for treatment.

I good friend of mine's husband is suffering for PTSD after his time here in Iraq and they are getting the bureacratic runaround which is ridiculous.

One area you will never hear me ever consider cuts or light spending is for our troops. This should be an easy issue for everyone on both sides of the aisle to rally around.

The leftist southpaw said...

I was confident you would agree. Why be antagonistic when I'm a guest, right?

FeatherIron said...

Excellent post. I work for 13 mental health professions so I know what you say is absolutley true.

The leftist southpaw said...


if you had not guessed it already, I also work in the mental health community (actually, addiction treatment and services, but there's a lot of crossover with mental health)

Cajun Tiger said... sure you aren't from the South with those manners? ;)

The leftist southpaw said...

Quite sure! Remember a recent post on my blog- New York is one of the most polite cities in the world. I may not live there any more, but I learned my lessons well!

Cajun Tiger said...

Well...that was compared to other big international cities not just to other US cities.

However, I will grant you this. NYCers are much more polite than DCers. I was surprised by that when I lived there. Still not the South, but it was a pleasant surprise.