First some excerpts from the background story
and then at the end are my comments:Wounded vets also suffer financial woes
By JEFF DONN and KIMBERLY HEFLING, Associated Press writers
"TEMECULA, Calif. - He was one of America's first defenders on Sept. 11, 2001, a Marine who pulled burned bodies from the ruins of the Pentagon. He saw more horrors in Kuwait and Iraq.
Today, he can't keep a job, pay his bills, or chase thoughts of suicide from his tortured brain. In a few weeks, he may lose his house, too.
Gamal Awad, the American son of a Sudanese immigrant, exemplifies an emerging group of war veterans: the economic casualties.
More than in past wars, many wounded troops are coming home alive from the Middle East. That's a triumph for military medicine. But they often return hobbled by prolonged physical and mental injuries from homemade bombs and the unremitting anxiety of fighting a hidden enemy along blurred battle lines. Treatment, recovery and retraining often can't be assured quickly or cheaply.
These troops are just starting to seek help in large numbers, more than 185,000 so far. But the cost of their benefits is already testing resources set aside by government and threatening the future of these wounded veterans for decades to come, say economists and veterans' groups.
"The wounded and their families no longer trust that the government will take care of them the way they thought they'd be taken care of," says veterans advocate Mary Ellen Salzano.
How does a war veteran expect to be treated? "As a hero," she says.
Every morning, Awad needs to think of a reason not to kill himself.
He can't even look at the framed photograph that shows him accepting a Marine heroism medal for his recovery work at the Pentagon after the terrorist attack.
It might remind him of a burned woman whose skin peeled off in his hands when he tried to comfort her.
He tries not to hear the shrieking rockets of Iraq either, smell the burning fuel, or relive the blast that blew him right out of bed.
The memories come steamrolling back anyway.
"Nothing can turn off those things," he says, voice choked and eyes glistening.
He stews alternately over suicide and finances, his $43,000 in credit card debt, his $4,330 in federal checks each month — the government's compensation for his total disability from post-traumatic stress disorder. His flashbacks, thoughts of suicide, and anxiety over imagined threats — all documented for six years in his military record — keep him from working.
The disability payments don't cover the $5,700-a-month cost of his adjustable home mortgage and equity loans. He owes more on his house than its market value, so he can't sell it — but he may soon lose it to the bank.
"I love this house. It makes me feel safe," he says.
Awad could once afford it. He used to earn $100,000 a year as a 16-year veteran major with a master's degree in management who excelled at logistics. Now, at age 38, he can't even manage his own life.
There's another twist. This dedicated Marine was given a "general" discharge 15 months ago for an extramarital affair with a woman, also a Marine. That's even though his military therapists blamed this impulsive conduct on post-traumatic stress aggravated by his Middle East tours.
Luckily, his discharge, though not unqualifiedly honorable, left intact his rights to medical care and disability payments — or he'd be in sadder shape.
Divorced since developing PTSD, Awad has two daughters who live elsewhere. He spends much of his days hoisting weights and thwacking a punching bag in the dimness of his garage. He passes nights largely sleepless, a zombie shuffling through the bare rooms of his home in sunny California wine country.
Now my comments: The way we are treating our soldiers both in Iraq and those returning resembles torture. Let me explain.
Before the Iraq war most National Guard soldiers thought their tour of duty oversees would be from 1 to 6 months. But that changed in 2003. Under the new National Guard policy, total mobilization time for troops increased from one to six months, because time spent in the United States no longer counts against the 12-month requirement. Most of the troops spent significant time on duty in the United States before going to Iraq.
Soldiers, nearing the end of their enlistments but in units heading to Iraq and Afghanistan, were hit with some news in June 2004. The Pentagon announced those troops faced involuntary extended tours of active duty, at least until their units return home. It's called a "stop-loss" order, a tool Pentagon officials said helps ease the loss of personnel through retirement and discharge. So the soldier is in effect powerless and required to stay in the service.
When a soldier thinks he is going to Iraq and spending 12 months there and after nearing his/her time to come home he/she is told it has been extended to 15 months, it is torturous on the soldier and even more the family. This was done in April of this year.
Now returning soldiers are finding treatment for their injuries sustained in war causing significant emotional and financial impact on them and their families. When a soldier is considering committing suicide the events that created those feelings are mental torture. All this brought to you by President Bush and VP Cheney, both doing everything they could to get out of serving. So not only has our government tortured many "enemy combatants, they can add to their achievements the torturing of U.S. Servicemen and Servicewomen. It is a disgrace and does not "support the troops. And the Republican Congress and Senate needs to wake up and face the truth here. They are being complicit and should not sleep one minute, peacefully while these practices continue. Sec. of Defense, Robert Gates, a very good man must feel sick at what he has inherited from Donald Rumsfeld. He must agonize over what has happened and yet is bound to "support the Commander in Chief". But every once in a while you can see Gates bristle and try to send signals to us all he is not happy following orders.
I beg those Republicans that are on the fence to reconsider their positions and choose the morally correct decision to either support Jim Webb in bringing his Bill back again to require soldiers to be home between tours as long as they have been away or to go further and vote with the Democrats to set a date certain to bring the troops home, or to really be brave and cut off the funding of this war but not passing the funding bill.
These stories break my heart and what breaks my heart more is the indifference of the American people and its leaders, to what's going on.
Labels: Democrats, financial woes, National Guard, President Bush, Republicans, Robert Gates, Sec. of Defense, Sen. Jim Webb, soldiers, suicide, torture, tours of duty, veterans, VP Cheney