Archive for Thursday, September 11, 2008

Veterans deserve better care

September 11, 2008

At a recent conference, a mother of a young soldier talked with me about her son, who had just returned from Iraq. She is concerned, as many parents and spouses are, about the health and welfare of the returning soldier.

She gave me a book to read, in the evenings after the day-long conference, entitled: "Down Range to Iraq and Back," by Bridget C. Cantrell and Chuck Dean. This book was written in 2005, smack-dab in the middle of the war effort.

At the conference we had soldiers who served in the JAG Corps both in Iraq and Afghanistan. It takes the mind a bit of an effort to wrap around the idea that crimes are committed and must be adjudicated in a war zone as well as here at home. The need for justice is worldwide; even more in an area which has not known the rule of law, but rather the rule of terrorists and despots. Saddam Hussein was tried and convicted in a court of law, defended by an Iraqi attorney prosecuted by an Iraq, heard by an Iraqi judge, not on the battlefield and not in a back alley but in a court of law.

Never have I appreciated the expression "a country of laws, not of men" in reference to our country as I did the days following that conference. It simply did not occur to me that our way of justice would be embraced by others badly in need of a democracy. I knew the concept; I did not understand the wisdom.

When the mother of the young soldier gave me this particular book to read, I knew the concept of war and its impact on soldiers and their families. I even had a sense of it on a case-by-case basis, having worked as a nurse in an orthopedic unit of a Midwestern hospital when the soldiers came home from Vietnam.

As a psychologist, I have worked with burned-out, highly stressed clients, even those post-traumatic stress disorder. What we cannot begin to imagine are the vast numbers of soldiers who will come home from this war, not only with alcohol and drug problems, but with PTSD, marked by angry outbursts, nightmares, self medication, suspiciousness, flashbacks, and alienation from family.

There is a belief among those returning damaged in body, spirit and mind, that no one could possibly understand and help them. The Veterans Administration hospitals are understaffed and programs are under-funded to meet this returning need. Surely, in a country of laws, where justice is tempered with mercy, we can do better than this.

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