Keeping Faith With Our Veterans

by Kevin DeJesus
As I wrote back in October, 2011, one means by which opponents
of the war in Iraq can employ their good, positive energy for social
justice, human rights and accountability at home (the stuff which
keeps a democracy a democracy), one key means by which we can support
our soldiers, many deployed in Afghanistan as well as those returned
home from Iraq, is to express our outrage and expectations that the US
Military face the necessary legislative scrutiny to disallow the
culture of “diagnostic meddling” as I like to call it, and the
consequent interference with the right of soldiers to obtain vital
medical benefits when needed, in order to cut rising costs. Perhaps we
ought to have thought about this before we went to war? Our stellar US
Senator to the north, Senator Patrick Leahy, the conscience of our
nation, indeed has reminded us of our failure to consider this whilst
jumping on the bandwagon to take Iraq on a consistent basis. He should
be lauded for demanding more of us as a responsible democracy. Alas, back to
the central purpose of my post.

Here is an important article from the New York Times which robustly
details the military’s internal turmoil over this issue of apparently
fudging and foiling psychiatric diagnoses as a means to prevent the
US military from going bust, as NY Times writer James Dao explores in
his important piece, ‘Personality Disorder’,a disputed diagnosis

Dao cites reports of military doctors and social workers being pressured to change psychiatric diagnoses from conditions such as PTSD, that can be considered a war injury, to ‘personality disorder’, a pre-existing condition…

But the issue [of improper command influence on a clinician] has roared back into national focus with recent reports out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord that a special forensic psychiatry unit at Madigan Army Medical Center was reversing diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder for soldiers being medically evaluated for discharge. In several of those cases, the soldiers were left with diagnoses of personality or adjustment disorder — illnesses that, unlike PTSD, did not automatically qualify them for medical discharges and certain benefits.

Remember, if our legislators know that we as a
concerned, committed public will not allow our military to engage in
such utterly disrespectful practices toward our soldiers, the needed
scrutiny on this issue will be sustained. Raise this issue at your
legislator’s community dinners, in email/letters to the editor, and of
course, by writing or phoning your US Senators and congressional
representative. Raising your compassionate, well-argued voice matters!

Kevin DeJesus is a recently minted PhD in Critical Human Geography
from York University in Toronto, Ontario. His areas of focus include
Africa and the Middle East. Kevin is particularly interested in the
geographic processes of violently divided societies, human rights and
survivor effects of war-trauma and political violence amid the
geographies of everyday life. During his undergraduate and graduate
studies, Kevin was a visiting student at the American University
of Beirut, Cape Verde, West Africa, Gaza, and the American University
of Cairo, Egypt. Kevin carried out his doctoral research in Beirut, Lebanon. Kevin resides in Providence, and is a happily active member of the First Unitarian Church of Providence.

Ending the War in Iraq?

Dear Readers,
Kmareka welcomes our new Mideast expert, Kevin De Jesus,PhD, who sends us this post on the consequences of war and the long road for survivors, both in the US and Iraq. Thank you, Kevin, for looking beyond our war-weariness to confront the reality our veterans and their families face…

Ending the War in Iraq?

Not so simple, as war’s legacies endure through the family.

Media outlets across the globe have reported that President Obama has declared that “America’s war in Iraq will be over by the end of the year”. This is not the first time the Iraq war has been declared “over”. Recall President Bush announced on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln that the war in Iraq had ended, in fact some nine years before this war will foreclose by virtue of a full troop withdrawal.

I believe we must rebuff the notion that the Iraq War will in fact be so neatly over – it is indeed this type of mythic conception of war that leads us to be deluded into thinking war, partly due to our ability to fight at such a high-tech capacity from great distances, is so precisely so simple. I argue, rather, that many battles will continue between here and the Euphrates, battles which will be waged through the legacies of war’s reverberations through families, across their everyday social, emotional and relational lives. Can we argue therefore that an ethically-committed politics, particularly among those of us who opposed the war in Iraq here in the US and across the globe, ought to drive a sense of urgency to remain focused on easing and supporting the lives of those whose life will be continually encroached by the long-reach of the hauntings of political violence that share a different sense of time than President Obama, or for that matter of Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki.

Let us consider some of the evidence for this argument I make. MIT’s Dr. John Tirman’s informative blog, “Iraq: the Human Cost” reveals an array of threats to human well-being across the duration of the war, and in particular, as in the case of many of the displaced, the long-term impoverishment, dislocation and erosion of rights and protections, that are long-standing in effect. Tirman notes that other threats, lethal and devastating in terms of human impact includes the exposure of children to landmines and cluster bombs used in Iraq by both US and non-US military and para-military actors. Fortunately, Iraq has joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions in 2009 , however, according to the Landmine and Cluster Munitions Monitor (2011), Iraq remains “massively contaminated” with explosive remnants of war, due to the succession of violent conflicts which have embroiled Iraq for decades, including the Iran-Iraq war, the Gulf War and the 2003 US-led invasion. {For the full report, link here. }

What role will the US and other coalition partners play in clearing these munitions, particularly that according to UNICEF and UNDP decades are likely needed to clean up the terrain of Iraq .

How will families of cluster munition injuries secure the resources needed to rebuild their family life, meet the cost of disability, and heal social-psychological wounds, as a part of the Obama-Maliki plan to end the Iraq war? Is, in fact, such a matter of the human legacy of war also legitimate part of ending war?

Central to the family is the matter of the disappeared. According to a recent NPR report (July 20, 2011), Iraqi family members of disappeared persons gather each Friday to alert the world to their plight. It is claimed by NPR that since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, “tens of thousands” of new missing/disappeared persons have been reported, with a particular increase in 2006 and 2007. How will Obama and Maliki deal with the matter of secret prisons, enforced disappearances, and the families of the disappeared who live the war in a particular way, day after day?

For American families who have endured the Iraq War vicariously, through their deployed loved one, the risk of developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may be higher than in veterans themselves, one clinician has found. The military family advocacy organization “The Sanctuary for Veterans and Families” details an array of threats to the well-being of veterans from Iraq and their families, including homelessness, supports for women veterans, resources for the children of veterans and the development of community-based psychological supports for veterans and their families. Top on the agenda of The Sanctuary for Veterans and Families is legislative advocacy.

Perhaps an ethically-committed politics can begin with taking the lead from The Sanctuary. Recognizing that for so many the war will not be over by the close of the new year, can those of us who were so ardently opposed to the Iraq War, continue to actively engage to ensure that the resources vitally needed to continue to ameliorate the effects of the war on families from both the Iraq and the US, be delivered?

Max Cleland on the Forever War of the Mind

Fort Hood has been in the news all today, on my radio as I drive from house to house visiting patients. It’s a tragedy I have no comprehension of, no way to make sense of. But the people who serve, who live on the bases, who suffer the wounds of war– they know. Max Cleland, who lost three limbs serving in Vietnam, and in peacetime served as a powerful advocate for veterans in Congress, has written a short op-ed in the New York Times…

“EVERY day I was in Vietnam, I thought about home. And, every day I’ve been home, I’ve thought about Vietnam.” So said one of the millions of soldiers who fought there as I did. Change the name of the battlefield and it could have been said by one of the American servicemen coming home from Iraq or Afghanistan today. Wars are not over when the shooting stops. They live on in the lives of those who fight them. That is the curse of the soldier. He never forgets.

The entire essay is here. Excerpts can’t do it justice, so go on over to NYT and read it in full.