Two bad things about losing your hearing — the loss of sound and the loss of silence. A lot of us who are older, especially if we listened to Lou Miami and the Cosmetix at The Last Call, have tinnitus.
I noticed it bad on a vacation in the woods. No more silence, just a constant static that is much worse when the ambient noise level is down. I would give a lot to make it go away, but Iâ€™m lucky. It doesnâ€™t interfere with my life, it doesnâ€™t bring back bad memories, it hasnâ€™t gotten worse and Iâ€™m old. At least it didnâ€™t start in my 20′s.
AP SAN DIEGO – Large numbers of soldiers and Marines caught in roadside bombings and firefights in Iraq and Afghanistan are coming home with permanent hearing loss and ringing in their ears, prompting the military to redouble its efforts to protect the troops from noise.
Hearing damage is the No. 1 disability in the war on terror, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, and some experts say the true toll could take decades to become clear. Nearly 70,000 of the more than 1.3 million troops who have served in the two war zones are collecting disability for tinnitus, a potentially debilitating ringing in the ears, and more than 58,000 are on disability for hearing loss, the VA said.
Sixty percent of U.S. personnel exposed to blasts suffer from permanent hearing loss, and 49 percent also suffer from tinnitus, according to military audiology reports. The hearing damage ranges from mild, such as an inability to hear whispers or low pitches, to severe, including total deafness or a constant loud ringing that destroys the ability to concentrate. There is no known cure for tinnitus or hearing loss.
The number of servicemen and servicewomen on disability because of hearing damage is expected to grow 18 percent a year, with payments totaling $1.1 billion annually by 2011, according to an analysis of VA data by the American Tinnitus Association. Anyone with at least a 10 percent loss in hearing qualifies for disability. (the rest of the story)
Itâ€™s another cruel cost of this war. Our volunteer military represents only a small part of our population. Our political climate today rewards cuts in benefits to the most vulnerable. Partial deafness is a disability that doesnâ€™t show. You have to feel it to know what it’s like. Veterans who have lost their hearing deserve help and support. Itâ€™s a real loss to never hear silence again.
For four years now I have been standing on South Main St. in Providence with the â€˜No Time to be Silentâ€™ vigil for peace. I hold a worn-out sign that has the dayâ€™s numbers of Americans killed in Iraq, taken from the New York Times, â€˜Names of the Deadâ€™ column.
I first started reading the New York Times after 9/11, when they printed an obituary for each of the 2,819 people who died in the attack. For days pages were filled with their pictures and stories. In 2003, as the UN testimony proceeded and our leadership prepared for war, New Yorkers filled the streets in protest.
Here in Rhode Island I stood with a small group on the lawn of the Statehouse in another futile demonstration. We shivered in the March cold. At the time the pundits were wondering how many casualties the American public would tolerate. Hundreds?
I knew it wouldnâ€™t be that way. The deeper in we got, the harder it would become to accept that the war is mistaken, that our soldiers died for lies.
About a year into it, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz showed that he wasnâ€™t agonizing over our losses when he underestimated the number of Americans killed in Iraq by about 200. He was one of the architects of the war. One of those who promised us that it would be short and victorious.
WASHINGTON — Asked how many American troops have died in Iraq, the Pentagon’s No. 2 civilian estimated Thursday the total was about 500 — more than 200 soldiers short.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was asked about the toll at a hearing of a House Appropriations subcommittee. “It’s approximately 500, of which — I can get the exact numbers — approximately 350 are combat deaths,” he responded.
“He misspoke,” spokesman Charley Cooper said later. “That’s all.”
American deaths Thursday were at 722 — 521 of them from combat — since the start of military operations in Iraq last year, according to the Department of Defense.
(Wolfowitz was later appointed to a post at the World Bank where he disgraced our country by having to resign for corruption.)
This small incidence of callousness from a Bush insider inspired me to make a sign with the numbers, so that we would not forget. Four years later, public opinion surveys claim that Americans canâ€™t remember how many have died. The economy is the number-one concern. But the milestone of another thousand puts our loss in the headlines once again.
The losses to the Iraqi civilians, who did not ask for this war, who are on the front lines, number in the hundreds of thousands.
If we are an empire, content to go shopping while our volunteer military and our hired contractors fight and suffer far from our daily lives; then only their loved ones will watch the news and agonize over the casualty count. Everything is on track. The war is going as planned.
If we are a democracy, and our soldiers fight in our name, whether we bother to vote or not, then we bear some responsibility. If our government is waging a war that the citizens largely oppose, year after year, with the burden falling almost entirely on those who fight it, then we must remove these misleaders and change our course. To do less is to abandon our troops.
In some ways, it feels fun to me to talk about Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton because, all inter-party jabbing aside, they are both about hope and both about a better future. It’s fundamentally a question of what flavor of hope suits your particular fancy, and that fancy can be liberal or conservative, as indicated by the recent endorsement of Barack Obama from young Rhode Island conservative Don Roach. (Yay, Don! Yay, Obama!) The bottom line is, it just can’t get much worse than what has happened under the leadership of George W. Bush.
Which brings us to the subject of today’s post: an excruciating but fascinating and important article in this week’s New Yorker called Exposure. The article, a collaboration of Philip Gourevitch and filmmaker Errol Morris, is mainly about the experiences of Sabrina Harman, a soldier in Iraq in 2003 who took pictures at Abu Ghraib.
This is the stuff about our nation and our future that is not so easy for me (or a lot of people) to talk about. It’s about how badly we failed our own standards, and how much we can be corrupted. It’s about how some of our young people went over to Iraq and participated in organized torture.
But there is good news, and part of that good news is Sabrina Harman, who had the guts and the will and the sheer hope about how the world would react to do something very important: document. She took over a hundred pictures of the occurrences at Abu Ghraib, and, despite that she was court-martialled, despite that she is smiling and giving a thumbs-up in some of the pictures taken next to tortured corpses, despite all this, Sabrina Harman is, in my opinion, a commendable American.
From the article:
All that the soldiers of the 372nd Military Police Company, a Reserve unit out of Cresaptown, Maryland, knew about Americaâ€™s biggest military prison in Iraq, when they arrived there in early October of 2003, was that it was on the front lines. Its official name was Forward Operating Base Abu Ghraib. Never mind that military doctrine and the Geneva Conventions forbid holding prisoners in a combat zone, and require that they be sped to the rear; you had to make the opposite sort of journey to get to Abu Ghraib. You had to travel along some of the deadliest roads in the country, constantly bombed and frequently ambushed, into the Sunni Triangle. The prison squatted on the desert, a wall of sheer concrete traced with barbed wire, picketed by watchtowers. â€œLike something from a Mad Max movie,â€? Sergeant Javal Davis, of the 372nd, said. â€œJust like thatâ€”like, medieval.â€? There were more than two and a half miles of wall with twenty-four towers, enclosing two hundred and eighty acres of prison ground. And inside, Davis said, â€œitâ€™s nothing but rubble, blown-up buildings, dogs running all over the place, rabid dogs, burnt remains. The stench was unbearable: urine, feces, body rot.â€? [full text]
One month from tomorrow, the Iraq War will be half a decade old. It will be the job of the next Presidentâ€”assuming he or she cares enough to respect the vox populiâ€”to extricate the U.S. from this costly mess. Don’t count on “Maverick” McCain to take swift action in this regard. If he winds up occupying the White House, American troops could be occupying Iraq for the next hundred years or more. Chances are that it will take one of the Democratic contenders to get the job done. Both Clinton and Obama seem to be in favor of ending the warâ€”or, at least, beginning a withdrawal of troops. But which of them can be most trusted to back up their talk by walking the walk?
My head and my heart say Obama. His opposition to the war has been more consistent and of greater duration than Ms. Clinton’s. And she did, after all, vote in the affirmative on the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002. While it’s true (as a recent commenter to this site pointed out) that Obama was not in the Senate at the time and thus was neither privy to the same information nor subject to the same political pressures as his opponent, that does not change the fact that Clinton voted, “Aye.” And it seems disingenuous for her to explain away her vote as the mere product of inadequate or inaccurate information. She has suggested that she and others would have voted against the resolution “if we knew then what we know now.” But others did knowâ€”or, at least, have an inklingâ€”that the resolution was dangerous and unwise. Twenty-one of the fifty Democrats in the Senate at the time knew enough to vote, “Nay.” A sizable majority (61%) of the Democrats in the House also voted, “Nay.” Is Ms. Clinton suggesting that she is more susceptible to being bamboozled or steamrolled than her nay-saying colleagues? Or that she is somehow more ignorant and less prescient? Hillary Clinton is many things, but unintelligent and uninformed are not among her qualities. (President Bush, on the other hand…) She is shrewd, smart, and perceptive. So how could she vote, “Aye”?
Perhaps because she is shrewd, smart, and perceptiveâ€”and she already had her sights set on a run for the presidency. I firmly believe that her vote was more about her future ambitions than the nation’s immediate needs. It was more about political self-interest (the I) than public interest (the we). It was a shameless effort to position herself as a no-nonsense centrist willing and able to make tough decisions. In short, she was packaging herself for the electorate’s eventual consumption, selling out in order to sell herself.
And that is why I do not trust her and believe that Obama is the better person for the job. He seems to possess greater integrity and to be more genuine. Where Ms. Clinton seems to inspire a certain wariness, Mr. Obama inspires hope. While one can argue that her experience (however exaggerated) makes her more suited to lead from “day one” of the presidency, Obama seems more suited to lead in the days beyond. This nation is hungry for change and desperate to put the partisan politics and feckless policies of the past behind us. Obama has tapped into our collective desires and discontent in a way that no candidate in recent memory has. He is galvanizing a new generation of voters. In that regard, he is a true leader. Can the same honestly be said about Hillary Clinton? Her history and character suggest otherwise. In 2002, she was among those who led us into war. Is she really the best person to lead us out of war and into the peace and healing that must, of necessity, follow? Does her “Aye” deserve yours?
Can anything psychologically prepare young men and women for the demands and stresses of serving in a combat zone, sometimes for multiple tours of duty? It seems doubtful. The intensity and horror of wartime experiencesâ€”of repeated exposure to violence and death, and the threat of violence and deathâ€”are often more than the human psyche can bear. Yet those who serve in the military and at the pleasure of the generals and the politicians are somehow expected to psychologically soldier up, damn the costs and consequences. For the sad and cruel reality is that the troops, like the rifles they carry, are simply instruments of war. When they break down or outlive their utility, they areâ€”for all intents and purposesâ€”replaced and cast aside, shipped back from whence they came. While some may be restored in some measure, others never come close to regaining their previous condition. The damage has been done, and so this great nation becomes littered with the discarded (yet still dangerous) weapons of war. It should come as little surprise then when some of those weapons go off, as the New York Times reports:
Late one night in the summer of 2005, Matthew Sepi, a 20-year-old Iraq combat veteran, headed out to a 7-Eleven in the seedy Las Vegas neighborhood where he had settled after leaving the Army.
This particular 7-Eleven sits in the shadow of the Stratosphere casino-hotel in a section of town called the Naked City. By day, the area, littered with malt liquor cans, looks depressed but not menacing. By night, it becomes, in the words of a local homicide detective, â€œlike Falluja.â€?
Mr. Sepi did not like to venture outside too late. But, plagued by nightmares about an Iraqi civilian killed by his unit, he often needed alcohol to fall asleep. And so it was that night, when, seized by a gut feeling of lurking danger, he slid a trench coat over his slight frame â€” and tucked an assault rifle inside it.
â€œMatthew knew he shouldnâ€™t be taking his AK-47 to the 7-Eleven,â€? Detective Laura Andersen said, â€œbut he was scared to death in that neighborhood, he was military trained and, in his mind, he needed the weapon to protect himself.â€?
Head bowed, Mr. Sepi scurried down an alley, ignoring shouts about trespassing on gang turf. A battle-weary grenadier who was still legally under-age, he paid a stranger to buy him two tall cans of beer, his self-prescribed treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
As Mr. Sepi started home, two gang members, both large and both armed, stepped out of the darkness. Mr. Sepi said in an interview that he spied the butt of a gun, heard a boom, saw a flash and â€œjust snapped.â€?
In the end, one gang member lay dead, bleeding onto the pavement. The other was wounded. And Mr. Sepi fled, â€œbreaking contactâ€? with the enemy, as he later described it. With his rifle raised, he crept home, loaded 180 rounds of ammunition into his car and drove until police lights flashed behind him.
â€œWho did I take fire from?â€? he asked urgently. Wearing his Army camouflage pants, the diminutive young man said he had been ambushed and then instinctively â€œengaged the targets.â€? He shook. He also cried.
â€œI felt very bad for him,â€? Detective Andersen said.
Nonetheless, Mr. Sepi was booked, and a local newspaper soon reported: â€œIraq veteran arrested in killing.â€?
Town by town across the country, headlines have been telling similar stories. Lakewood, Wash.: â€œFamily Blames Iraq After Son Kills Wife.â€? Pierre, S.D.: â€œSoldier Charged With Murder Testifies About Postwar Stress.â€? Colorado Springs: â€œIraq War Vets Suspected in Two Slayings, Crime Ring.â€?
Individually, these are stories of local crimes, gut-wrenching postscripts to the war for the military men, their victims and their communities. Taken together, they paint the patchwork picture of a quiet phenomenon, tracing a cross-country trail of death and heartbreak.
The New York Times found 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war. In many of those cases, combat trauma and the stress of deployment â€” along with alcohol abuse, family discord and other attendant problems â€” appear to have set the stage for a tragedy that was part destruction, part self-destruction. [full text]
3,901 American service members who have died since the start of the Iraq War.
151,000 Iraqis who have died of violence in the first three years of the war
100,000 Americans whose deaths could have been prevented last year by timely and effective health care
1,300 Estimated death toll from Hurricane Katrina
7 Out of a thousand white Americans die in infancy
14 Out of a thousand black Americans die in infancy
375 Days left until a new president is inaugurated
298 Days left until the election
In just a couple of months, this nation will have been at war in Iraq for half a decade. To date, 3,909 American soldiers have perished. Tens of thousands more have been physically and psychologically wounded. Who are these men and women who fight on our behalf? Often, they are those who, due to economic class and/or race, seem to have fewer options and opportunities than their fellow Americans. Rather than promoting social and economic justice, the Bush administration prefers to stuff the over-swelling coffers of the wealthy and to exploit and oppress the underclass. The message is clear: if you want to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, consider wearing combat boots.
In northern India, however, the message is slightly different. If you want employment, consider sterilizing monkeys. The Associated Press (via the Boston Globe) explains:
NEW DELHIâ€”A northern Indian state said Thursday it planned to use unemployed youths to sterilize monkeys to try to combat aggressive primates who have been raiding farms. The idea drew immediate condemnation from conservationists, who said the plan was unscientific and would likely worsen the problem.
Indian authorities have struggled in recent years to deal with the tens of thousands of monkeys that live in and around cities. They are drawn to public places such as temples and office buildings, where devout Hindus feed them, believing them to be manifestations of the god Hanuman.
In recent months, the deputy mayor of New Delhi was killed when he fell from his balcony during an attack by wild monkeys, and 25 others were injured when a monkey went on a rampage in the city.
The mountainous state of Himachal Pradesh is infested with rhesus macaque monkeys, who have been driven to farms and cities after losing their natural forest habitat.
Prem Kumar Dhumal, the state’s chief minister, said Himachal Pradesh would go on a “war footing” to fight the thousands of monkeys who have been turning farms into wastelands and attacking people, according to a statement from his office.
“Affected districts would be identified and local youth involved in the process, who would be provided training in capturing and sterilization by the experts,” the statement quoted Dhumal as saying, adding that they would use “laser sterilization”….
Conservationists condemned the proposal to let inexperienced youths sterilize monkeys, saying it was cruel and would not solve the problem.
Sujoy Chaudhuri, an ecologist who co-authored a report by prominent primatologists and conservationists that was submitted recently to the federal and state governments, said the plan would make the monkey problem worse.
“It is a ridiculous idea and what is worse, it will do nothing to contain the problem and probably make it worse,” Chaudhuri said. “Can you imagine what having badly sterilized monkeys running around will do to the levels of aggression?” [full text]
Gee, can you imagine what having badly treated Muslims running around will do to their levels of aggression?
There is a very concerning aspect to Carcieri spokesperson Jeff Neal’s comment about why Elizabeth Roberts, the Lieutenant Governor, was not informed that the Governor was going out of the country. According to Ian Donnis’s post on the lack of communication between the Governor and Lieutenant Governor:
Neal said he would have to check with the Department of Defense on the specifics of Carcieri’s Iraq trip, “but my understanding is that we were not permitted to share that information [in advance] outside this office.”
So national security now requires not communicating with your own Lieutenant Governor? This is where we have to really wonder if our national security protocols are actually causing more problems than they are preventing. If this is really true (and I doubt that it is) we are going to have real issues with emergency management, if we are wondering whether every piece of information we share outside of our office is going to go directly into the hands of “the enemy.” Come on, Mr. Neal. The Governor was not supposed to tell “anyone outside his office?” Whatever the rules may be, common sense also needs to be exercised. Shouldn’t the Governor of a state tell his successor when he is going to be out of the country, particularly as he is going into a war zone and may be at risk for being caught in the crossfire?
This is partisanship at its worst. And the results were abundantly clear in the ways the city of Providence and the State of Rhode Island could not respond to the needs of the community by enacting emergency management communication on Thursday.
We are lucky to have gotten a “test-drill” and not an even worse emergency with major power outages. Let’s hope we can learn from Thursday’s experience and improve our communication in this divided state.
While the U.S. military has grown increasingly more aware of the psychological ravages of war and the need to better support the psychologically wounded, their approach to the problem still leaves a lot to be desired, as the following two news stories illustrate. First, from ABC News:
Instead of providing proper counseling and care for Iraq war veterans suffering from physical and psychological pain, too often the U.S. military is trying to medicate the problem away, according to drug counselors and therapists.
Andrew Pogany, who works with service members nationwide as an investigator with the veterans advocacy group Veterans for America, said overmedicating veterans is a common problem.
“Pretty much every person in my caseload is medicated, heavily medicated,” said Pogany. “There’s potential for them to become addicted.”
According to Pogany, a reliance on prescription drugs often leads veterans to reach for other coping mechanisms — illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and crystal meth.
Road to Addiction Can Start in Iraq
Army Spc. Adam Reuter joined the military in October 2001, shortly after 9/11. After Reuter was injured in a Humvee accident in Iraq, he said an Army doctor literally gave him a grab bag of painkillers and muscle relaxers.
“They gave them to me in a Ziploc bag with no instructions,” said Reuter. Reuter said he became addicted to the medication and was able to quit his habit simply because of lack of access now that he’s out of the Army.
Gamal Awad, a former major in the Marine Corps, says Marine doctors in Iraq gave him an array of antidepressants and sleep medication so he could continue to function in the field.
Awad was diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after his heroic response efforts at the Pentagon on 9/11. Despite his diagnosis, he was deployed to Iraq where he said he was haunted by depression, nightmares and thoughts of suicide.
“I would go out on convoys with the purpose to die,” said Awad. “I just wanted to be hit by an IED or get shot. When we’d get hit with mortar rounds or rockets, I wouldn’t take cover.”
Awad said he was given more than a dozen prescription drugs, including Xanax, Ambien, Prasozin, Zoloft and Paxil to treat his PTSD. Awad complained that for him these drugs are highly addictive, and he is frustrated by his reliance. [full text]
And then there’s this disheartening piece from the Washington Post:
In a nondescript conference room at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, 1st Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside listened last week as an Army prosecutor outlined the criminal case against her in a preliminary hearing. The charges: attempting suicide and endangering the life of another soldier while serving in Iraq.
Her hands trembled as Maj. Stefan Wolfe, the prosecutor, argued that Whiteside, now a psychiatric outpatient at Walter Reed, should be court-martialed. After seven years of exemplary service, the 25-year-old Army reservist faces the possibility of life in prison if she is tried and convicted.
Military psychiatrists at Walter Reed who examined Whiteside after she recovered from her self-inflicted gunshot wound diagnosed her with a severe mental disorder, possibly triggered by the stresses of a war zone. But Whiteside’s superiors considered her mental illness “an excuse” for criminal conduct, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.
At the hearing, Wolfe, who had already warned Whiteside’s lawyer of the risk of using a “psychobabble” defense, pressed a senior psychiatrist at Walter Reed to justify his diagnosis.
“I’m not here to play legal games,” Col. George Brandt responded angrily, according to a recording of the hearing. “I am here out of the genuine concern for a human being that’s breaking and that is broken. She has a severe and significant illness. Let’s treat her as a human being, for Christ’s sake!”
In recent months, prodded by outrage over poor conditions at Walter Reed, the Army has made a highly publicized effort to improve treatment of Iraq veterans and change a culture that stigmatizes mental illness. The Pentagon has allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to new research and to care for soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder, and on Friday it announced that it had opened a new center for psychological health in Rosslyn.
But outside the Pentagon, the military still largely deals with mental health issues in an ad hoc way, often relying on the judgment of combat-hardened commanders whose understanding of mental illness is vague or misinformed. The stigma around psychological wounds can still be seen in the smallest of Army policies. While family members of soldiers recovering at Walter Reed from physical injuries are provided free lodging and a per diem to care for their loved ones, families of psychiatric outpatients usually have to pay their own way.
“It’s a disgrace,” said Tom Whiteside, a former Marine and retired federal law enforcement officer who lost his free housing after his daughter’s physical wounds had healed enough that she could be moved to the psychiatric ward. A charity organization, the Yellow Ribbon Fund, provides him with an apartment near Walter Reed so he can be near his daughter.
Under military law, soldiers who attempt suicide can be prosecuted under the theory that it affects the order and discipline of a unit and brings discredit to the armed forces. In reality, criminal charges are extremely rare unless there is evidence that the attempt was an effort to avoid service or that it endangered others.
At one point, Elizabeth Whiteside almost accepted the Army’s offer to resign in lieu of court-martial. But it meant she would have to explain for the rest of her life why she was not given an honorable discharge. Her attorney also believed that she would have been left without the medical care and benefits she needed. [full text]
Joseph Stiglitz, professor of Economics at Columbia University, argues that George W. Bush may displace Herbert Hoover as the worst president ever for economic stewardship of the country. From an article by Stiglitz in Vanity Fair:
When we look back someday at the catastrophe that was the Bush administration, we will think of many things: the tragedy of the Iraq war, the shame of GuantÃ¡namo and Abu Ghraib, the erosion of civil liberties. The damage done to the American economy does not make front-page headlines every day, but the repercussions will be felt beyond the lifetime of anyone reading this page.
I can hear an irritated counterthrust already. The president has not driven the United States into a recession during his almost seven years in office. Unemployment stands at a respectable 4.6 percent. Well, fine. But the other side of the ledger groans with distress: a tax code that has become hideously biased in favor of the rich; a national debt that will probably have grown 70 percent by the time this president leaves Washington; a swelling cascade of mortgage defaults; a record near-$850 billion trade deficit; oil prices that are higher than they have ever been; and a dollar so weak that for an American to buy a cup of coffee in London or Parisâ€”or even the Yukonâ€”becomes a venture in high finance.
And it gets worse. After almost seven years of this president, the United States is less prepared than ever to face the future. We have not been educating enough engineers and scientists, people with the skills we will need to compete with China and India. We have not been investing in the kinds of basic research that made us the technological powerhouse of the late 20th century. And although the president now understandsâ€”or so he saysâ€”that we must begin to wean ourselves from oil and coal, we have on his watch become more deeply dependent on both.
Up to now, the conventional wisdom has been that Herbert Hoover, whose policies aggravated the Great Depression, is the odds-on claimant for the mantle â€œworst presidentâ€? when it comes to stewardship of the American economy. Once Franklin Roosevelt assumed office and reversed Hooverâ€™s policies, the country began to recover. The economic effects of Bushâ€™s presidency are more insidious than those of Hoover, harder to reverse, and likely to be longer-lasting. There is no threat of Americaâ€™s being displaced from its position as the worldâ€™s richest economy. But our grandchildren will still be living with, and struggling with, the economic consequences of Mr. Bush. [full text]
h/t Bullnotbull.com for the link.