The costs of war that are often least calculated and appreciated are the ones that are less immediate and obvious. Somewhere down the rutted road of tomorrow, when American troops are safely home and the nation struggles to move on, the epidemic that is already in our midst will continue to exact a high cost. Those who have already sacrificed so much will sacrifice still more. As will their families. As will we all, ultimately. Now and for many years to come, the veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will do battle with the demons that they have brought home from these faraway lands. These demons will spawn post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, suicide, substance abuse, relational difficulties, domestic violence, antisocial behavior, homelessness, and a host of other ills. The costs of treating suchâ€”or, as is often the case, of neglecting suchâ€”will leave future generations of Americans with the debt of their prodigal forebears. All the while, the casualties will accrue.
Retired U.S. Navy medic Charlie Anderson twice thought about committing suicide: once when he feared he would be sent back to Iraq in 2004 and again last year when a friend and fellow veteran killed himself.
“I can’t say that I can’t go because we don’t do that, I also can’t go because I’m putting people in danger if I do,” he said of his first brush with suicidal thoughts, which came while he was awaiting his second deployment.
In the end, Anderson was not deployed but it sparked a two-year effort to get help for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), one of thousands of soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan facing a battle to re-enter everyday life.
While much of the attention has been on physical wounds like traumatic brain injuries, as well as squalid living conditions for recovering soldiers, doctors, families and lawmakers are expressing growing concerns that veterans are not be getting the right mental health help.
Those worries come as President George W. Bush has ordered almost 30,000 more troops to Iraq. Already 1.5 million soldiers have been deployed in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, with one-third serving at least two combat tours, which increases the chances of PTSD.
Despite finally receiving treatment, Anderson finds himself in the middle of a divorce and still constantly on edge — jumpy at loud noises and always eyeing the exits of rooms.
“I have triggers every day, but I’m learning how to deal with them,” he said.
The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates 12 percent to 20 percent of those who served in Iraq suffer from PTSD. A 2004 Army study found 16.6 percent of those returning from combat tested positive for the disorder. [full text]
From the San JosÃ© Mercury News:
One night last July, Iraq war veteran Nicholas Rusanoff followed his neighbor, Peter Losher, into the parking garage of their Redwood Shores apartment complex.
Rusanoff was breathing heavily. His eyes were wide open, and his hands were clasped behind his back. He demanded the keys to Losher’s Volkswagen Jetta, and Losher quickly complied.
“As I was getting out of the vehicle, he looked at me and said, `You’re not Iraqi, you’re not Iraqi,'” Losher later testified at a court hearing. “I said, `No, I am not.'”
Losher said he could hear Rusanoff screaming in pain as he drove away.
Rusanoff, 25, is one of a growing number of soldiers who have returned from the war in Iraq only to become entangled in the criminal justice system at home.
Some have committed minor offenses; others are facing serious charges of domestic violence and even homicide. Many are struggling with psychological issues as they try to adjust to civilian life.
No one tallies the number of soldiers and veterans in the criminal justice system, so it’s impossible to know how many criminal cases involving Iraq war veterans are pending nationwide. But as the war enters its fifth year this month, the conflict is coming home in yet another painful way. [full text]