Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, April 3, 2014 6:30 pm

Life and death, post-9/11, and why it matters if you live in North Carolina

In March, for the first time in 11 years, no U.S. service members died in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

That’s good. Hell, that’s GREAT.

But it doesn’t mean our problems are over:

On average, 22 veterans commit suicide each day, according to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).

To commemorate them and raise awareness, 32 veterans from the group flew to Washington, D.C., to plant 1,892 flags on the National Mall today, one for each of the veterans that the group says took his or her own life in 2014. IAVA extrapolated that number from a 2012 Veterans Administration report finding that 22 veterans took their lives each day in 2009 and 2010, only a slight increase from years past, and a number that includes all veterans, not just those who served in America’s more recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The event was part of IAVA’s 2014 Storm the Hill campaign, an annual week of action in which organization vets meet with lawmakers to push a veterans’ agenda picked for that year. In 2013, it was the Veterans Affairs benefits-claim backlog; this year, it’s veteran suicides.

“I know several individuals that have died by suicide,” Sara Poquette of Dallas, a video journalist who served in Iraq, said, adding that she herself considered suicide while experiencing the hardships of reintegrating into civilian life. “For me personally, it was more just getting through until I was really ready to get help, just realizing that my life was going down a path that I never really wanted it to go down.”

In Joining IAVA, Poquette said, she found a “new unit.”

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is pushing a bill, the Suicide Prevention for America’s Veterans Act, which Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., plans to introduce. Walsh commanded a Montana National Guard battalion in Iraq.

“When we returned home, one of my young sergeants died by suicide, so this is very personal to me,” Walsh told reporters on the Mall today, calling veteran suicides “an epidemic we cannot allow to continue.”

The bill would extend eligibility for Veterans Administration health care, create a pilot program for student-loan repayment if health care professionals work for the VA, instigate a review of certain behavioral discharges, and mandate a review of mental health care programs at the VA, IAVA said.

The group is calling on Congress to pass the bill by Memorial Day.

OK, so the numbers are extrapolations, not exact counts. But even if they’re off a good bit, they’re still intolerably high. God bless Sen. John Walsh for planning to introduce this bill.

But you know who else could do something about veterans’ suicides and other problems, particularly with disability payments, that veterans are experiencing and have been for years?

That would be the ranking minority member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

That would be the guy from Winston-Salem, home of the VA regional office with one of the nation’s worst backlog of disability claims cases and a record of illegally destroying claim files.

That would be my senior senator, Richard Burr.

How ’bout it, Senator? Time to saddle up, ya think?

Monday, January 13, 2014 6:42 pm

“We are losing men and women, and we should not be.”

Lt. Col. Robert Bateman, an Army infantry officer who has served in Iraq, writes about the spike in suicides among service members and, especially, young veterans:

He wrote his suicide note in his own blood, as it was flowing out of him. It was addressed to me. He was apologizing for the administrative headaches that he anticipated his death would cause. …

Want me to go on? I can. Oh, how I can. But that would be beside the point.

The point is that we are losing men and women, and we should not be. Not now, not in the 21st century. We should see these signs and step in, and me and my Army are failing so far. But then, so are you. We can work to prevent the suicides of those in uniform. But we need you, all of you, to step in when the soldier is no longer a soldier, but a “veteran.”

The VA just put out new numbers. Suicides are spiking among young veterans.

… if you have a veteran with you, especially a young combat veteran, just keep a weather eye open. Talk, learn, listen, and pay attention. It really is not hard. Better that than looking back and remembering, and dreaming of what you might have [expletive] done differently, for the rest of your entire life. Believe me on that one friends. Believe.

If you or someone you know is a service member or veteran who needs help, call this hotline any time, 24/7, at (800)-273-8255, press 1, or visit veteranscrisisline.net. We already owe far too many of our veterans far too much. Let us not add unnecessarily to that debt, for their sakes and our own.

Sunday, November 11, 2012 5:08 am

Heroes

Filed under: Salute! — Lex @ 5:08 am
Tags:

It’s Veteran’s Day, and I’m outsourcing my comment for today to Ginmar, who is a veteran and a hero and who has some deep insight into the nature of heroism:

The military is a creature of the most extreme factors one can find. In peacetime, it offers discipline and training. In war, it offers bravery. Always, it offers its service, and it is eternally at the mercy of those with the power to mobilize its forces. There’s bad, good, shining gallantry, and horrible evil in the military, all at once. The best seems impossible to believe; the worst shocks the conscience. In the military, we must confront the simple fact that they are us, that they are who we are at our best and worst, and that great good and great evil often exist in one person. Their evils spring from the seeds our society planted in their souls, and their achievements are a reflection of what we would aspire to do and to become.

People are basically good. Some people are not content without something more, though. Some people wish to serve. They want to cast away the cares of their own daily drama and petty concerns, assume the camouflage not just of uniformity but of duty and discipline, and become an actor in larger, greater things. They hunger for the ability to become greater, not for themselves, but for the good of all.

The military has been used wrongly and savagely, but the very strength it gives its soldiers produces the kind of heroism that does not depend on bullets: Hugh Thompson , Glenn Andreotta, and Lawrence Colburn fought not just against the enemy on the other side, but against the worst foe of all; they opposed their own, and they were outnumbered. Many civilians never attain that courage; wrongs go unchecked daily where only words are involved, and soldiers like Thompson and his crew faced evenly-matched opponents in their actions. The unarmed peasants he and his crew saved represented were no risk to he or his crew. In saving them, he, to my mind, achieved one of the greatest acts of heroism the military of any country has seen. He rejected the unlawful order that had set US soldiers against innocent civilians. There was no fog of war for Thompson, and sadly, there was not nearly enough recognition either. We want our heroes to be pure, shiny, clean, and untouched by reminders of what we ourselves are capable of, both good and bad. We want the enemy to be alien, remote, non-human, but in seeking that comfort we dehumanize not just them but ourselves and make more wars and conflicts inevitable.

People forget that soldiers formed the backbone of the resistance to the Viet Nam war. They were forced to serve and they were forced to obey. Who better to speak of an unjust war than those who fought in it, often unwillingly? There was a wide anti-war movement within the active duty military that many people don’t know anything about. People forget that, perhaps deliberately. The desire to simplify the enemy finds its twin in the same desire to simplify our heroes. Pure gallantry—-such a good word—-as Thompson’s often takes years to be appreciated. It’s also a reminder of just how much good one person—or in this case, three honest, and honorable people—-can do. Evil is weak at the same time it is powerful, but it’s power is negative. Evil is destructive. It builds no hospitals, treats no sick, shelters no homeless. In the aftermath, good is hard work and sweat and unglamourous labor. When people recognize only battlefield heroism, as worthy as it is, they also bury moral heroism. They also make heroism look clean and pure and pretty. If you go in believing that, the reality of it can be horribly shocking.

You can always recognize that kind of heroism by its quietness. It serves, it works, it speaks quietly, it rebuilds, it heals, it soothes, it refuses to stand down. It is attainable not by special training or extraordinary acts, but by every day people. The weakest of children can be a greater hero than the strongest of soldiers. It is based on the premise that when one sees something horrible, one cannot then turn away. One is now responsible to act. Legally, that is not the standard, but morally, it is. To be aware is to be responsible. This is why so many people seek out lies and embrace them.

Most of all, true courage does not result in acclaim and medals and ceremonies. Often, it is punished. People can simultaneously desire to know themselves, and yet at the same time, flinch from it. The military requires that first of all, one must take that long deep look into one’s soul and see if what is there can and is worthy of being changed and molded. Often time, there is no external enemy that poses more of a challenge than one’s own weakness. The military confronts weakness and forges it into strength. People who claim or coyly hint at heroic virtues maintained by deprivation rather than challenge and effort don’t impress me. Only the tempted know what temptation is. For every person who felt the freeze of terror and yet still did the right thing, for every person who felt the burn of physical injury and still got up and kept going, for every person who did a kindness and then walked quietly away without praise or recognition, the only recognition is often the brief sensation of having helped another selflessly.

Want to honor our veterans today? Go be a hero for someone.

Want to honor our veterans every day? Go be a hero for someone.

 

 

Monday, May 28, 2012 10:38 pm

Memorial Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 10:38 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Greetings. Not dead. Not even sick anymore. Life just happens. (If you follow me on Facebook, you have some inkling of this.)

But it is Memorial Day, which I take seriously. And because I take it seriously, and because I take seriously the appalling waste of the lives of our service members in Afghanistan and Iraq, the vet suicide rate (currently 18 per day, and more now in total than died in combat in OEF/OIF), the pure evil behind cutting VA funding, and the subject of war in general, I’ll refer you to this, which I wrote almost seven years ago and which remains, I believe, relevant.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010 5:20 am

Support the troops: Keep them from killing themselves

Filed under: Sad — Lex @ 5:20 am
Tags: ,

… there are an average of 950 suicide attempts each month by veterans who are receiving some type of treatment from the Veterans Affairs Department.

Seven percent of the attempts are successful, and 11 percent of those who don’t succeed on the first attempt try again within nine months.

The numbers, which come at a time when VA is strengthening its suicide prevention programs, show about 18 veteran suicides a day, about five by veterans who are receiving VA care.

The Army Times calls these figures “troubling.” I call them a disaster and a disgrace. The one upside is that vets who are getting into the VA health-care system are more likely to be screened and monitored, and suicide rates among vets in that system are much lower than among vets who aren’t in it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009 8:42 pm

Odds and ends, Nov. 17

  • Our eyes are on Afghanistan, but the prize is energy-rich Uzbekistan. So they boil political opponents alive. Big freakin’ deal.
  • The Special Inspector General of the fed bank bailout program says we need to audit the Fed already. Fine minds agree. So let’s audit the Fed already.
  • Tim Geithner’s pissing away of taxpayer money earlier this month, to the benefit of — surprise!! — Goldman Sachs and AIG –  would’ve been grounds for dismissal, if not execution, in any country that wasn’t already a banana republic. Unfortunately, we’re all now singing the Chiquita song:

This, Mr. Geithner, is what moral hazard is all about. Thanks to your actions you have doomed the U.S.’s formerly free and efficient equity markets to the biggest capital market bubble in history, which, like any ponzi, has only two outcomes: it either keeps growing in perpetuity as greater fools crawl out of the woodwork to keep it growing, albeit at ever slower marginal rates (note, this did not work out too well for Madoff), or it eventually pops. And the longer it takes to pop, the greater the ultimate loss of value: one day Madoff’s business was worth $50 billion, the next day it was $0. And that is precisely the same fate that American capital markets will have at some point in the upcoming months or years. When future historians look back at what specific action caused the biggest crash in U.S. capital markets history, Mr. Geithner’s cataclysmally botched negotiation of the AIG counterparty bailout will undoubtedly be at the very top of the list. In the meantime, just like in the Madoff case where the trustee is trying hard to trace where any stolen money may have been transferred to, to see the fund flows in our ongoing “ponzi in progress”, look no further than the bank accounts of Goldman bankers as they receive their biggest ever bonus this year …

 

  • Relatedly, I’m a lot less bothered about Obama bowing to an Asian leader than I am about his bowing to Goldman Sachs.
  • Question of the day, from Michael Lind: Shouldn’t the government pledge allegiance to the people, rather than the other way around?
  • Nice punking of an anti-immigration crowd. Not-so-nice behavior of the cops on hand, who were shoving around nonviolent counterprotesters rather than the anti-immigration folks who started the fisticuffs.
  • Time to revoke David Broder’s membership in the Wise Old Mainstream Media Pundits’ Club: When you say it’s more important to do something, anything, now than to do the right thing, you’re reckless. When you say that about a decision over whether to start, or expand, a war of choice, you’re just batsh*t insane definitely not supporting the troops.
  • Faith may well complement competent psychiatric care, but it is no substitute, a fact that appears to have escaped the Department of Veterans Affairs. And this is just one facet, albeit a particularly annoying one, of the VA’s utter failure to cope competently with the mental-health problems of veterans of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. My senior senator, Richard Burr, ranking Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and a guy with a DSCC bulls-eye on his back this election year, could do himself a lot of political good, in addition to doing a lot of real-world good for a lot of deserving people, if he just rode this issue like a beast across the plains of Mongolia.
  • And speaking of Richard Burr, call the WAAAAmbulance. Apparently, Senate Republicans are concerned that TV commercials about them supporting government contractors who let their employees get gang-raped may engender bad feelings against … um, well, the 30 Senate Republicans who supported government contractors who let their employees get gang-raped. (Here’s the one on Burr:)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009 6:00 am

On Veterans Day, one veteran’s story

Filed under: Sad,Salute! — Lex @ 6:00 am
Tags: ,

“Ginmar” did a tour in Iraq with the U.S. Army. It did not go well. She — well, why don’t I show her the respect of letting her tell it:

I was a soldier in Iraq who rode the gun turret on the long dusty roads of Iraq, past palm trees and herds of sheep, past waving men and women, past fields of sunflowers and charred craters in the Baghdad highway where men and women had lost their lives. I talked, over and over again, to men and women who looked in to my eyes, and told of relatives lost to war, to insurgents, and to disease and malnutrition wrought by years of a blockade that left a whole generation of kids so small that I repeatedly mistook twenty-year-old men for twelve-year-old boys. I took mortar attacks in strike—at the time—shouting at an attack that resulted in bombs every five minutes that I’d wasted five bucks on an alarm clock with a snooze alarm when I could have just used the insurgent snooze alarm. I sat across tables and across carpets with men who’d cheerfully try to kidnap me or kill me and marveled at the manners of the Middle East, where mutual enmity is no excuse for tea and flower language. “Come, let us have tea and discuss this unfortunate situation where this RPG happened to fire at you while it was in my hand.” I’ve seen things that I will discuss with no civilian, because the [worst] things I saw happened to civilians, to civilian bodies, and I believed then and now that it was my job to have protected them, to the point of risk to myself, and that I failed. I, I, I, I know, but I saw these things and the language to describe the intimate details of war, the effects on the heart, are so hard to find that the accounts I do manage of it stumble and start, punctuated by long pauses of helpless silence, until an experience comes to mind that can be described in English words: “bomb, mortar, civilian casualties—Oh, the euphemism!—-blood, my fellow soldiers were injured and I was useless and helpless, I looked into an Iraqi man’s brown eyes at close range with my finger on the trigger and took one extra breath and realized he was not a suicide bomber, I talked with Iraqis and watched their hope and gratitude turn to fear and disappointment and hopelessness, I talked to innocents imprisoned for things they didn’t do and I couldn’t save them from prison, why on earth can’t I find a way to talk about this because it’s stuff that happened to other people that haunts me the most? My fellow soldiers, sailors, and Marines were killed–cruelly, sometimes—-and looking into Iraqi eyes, I saw the same grief and loss. It didn’t happen to me and I have no right to claim it, but when the VA treats me like a mammogram waiting to happen, all this and so much more remains locked inside me, where it boils and comes out in nightmares and knives, with blood the only relief from the guilt and the grief, the emptiness and helplessness, the panic and confusion.

No, freedom isn’t free.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009 8:31 pm

Health-care horror story … and what we can(‘t) learn from it

Filed under: More fact-based arguing, please — Lex @ 8:31 pm
Tags: ,

This Navy veteran has a horrible story to tell about how badly he was treated by the Veterans Administration health-care system. I have no reason to doubt a word of it.

The problem I have with it is that either the vet, the people who run the Pajamas Media site on which his piece appears, or both suggest, using the phrase “ObamaCare for Vets,” that his experience will be typical of how our health-care system will operate once Congress enacts changes (assuming it ever does). This is highly unlikely, for the simple reason that this guy’s experience, bad as it was, is grossly atypical of how the VA health-care system works right now.

Two years ago, journalist Phillip Longman published a book called “Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Health Care Is Better Than Yours.” And that’s exactly what the book found: lots of studies that led inescapably to the conclusion that overall, VA health care almost certainly is, in fact, better than yours. A partial list of those studies:

  • New England Journal of Medicine, May 29, 2003: VA “significantly” tops fee-for-service Medicare in 11 criteria out of 11.
  • Annals of Internal Medicine, 2004: VA’s diabetes care tops commercial managed-care systems in seven of seven criteria for diabetes care.
  • RAND Corp. study, 2004: VA outperforms all other American health-care sectors in 294 areas of patient care.
  • Medical Care, 2006: Patients in Medicare’s Advantage Program had “significantly higher” mortality than corresponding VA patients.
  • American Journal of Managed Care, 2004: VA topped both Medicare and best available non-Medicare programs in 18 of 18 criteria.

(These are footnoted in the book. I followed the footnotes to the original sources wherever I could, to make sure Longman wasn’t pulling a Coulter with his citations, and in fact those studies said pretty much what Longman said they said.)

There are a number of reasons why this is the case, and Longman examines them in the rest of his book.

One other thing I observed from covering medicine from the paper: chronic, long-term pain frequently is the result of orthopedic or neurological problems. Even the state of the art in treating those problem areas cannot always “cure” or “fix” the patient. That’s as true of any patient in private care as it is for anyone in the VA system.

So, yes, it’s an awful anecdote. But it doesn’t prove a thing about VA health care in general, let alone offer any basis for supposing what a modified U.S. health-care system (or health-insurance system) would look like.

(h/t: Phred)

Monday, July 6, 2009 8:14 pm

An Independence Day message …

… from someone who knows better than most what it means:

Ironically, for veterans, the Fourth of July can be a difficult holiday to celebrate. With every uniform that marches by in parades, we remember our friends that did not make it home. The sounds of fireworks remind us of incoming mortar rounds. And as large crowds gather to celebrate America’s birthday, we sometimes find ourselves scanning the masses for potential danger.

But the impact of war isn’t limited to July 4th.

In case you haven’t been tracking the figures, our military is in crisis-mode, trying to fend off a silent killer among its ranks. Almost 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are suffering from mental health injuries like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and less than half are receiving the help they need. Left untreated, the ramifications are clear: divorce, substance abuse, unemployment, and suicide.

Already, we’ve lost as many soldiers to suicide this year as to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. This frightening trend has triggered military stand-downs, and finally gotten the attention of the media. The alarm has been sounded. But our troops are still waiting on real action from Washington.

North Carolinians have a key role to play here. Our senior senator, Richard Burr, is the ranking minority member of the Committee on Veterans Affairs.

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