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Newsweek: Moral Injury

Posted on the 08 December 2012 by Real Talk @talkrealdebate2012

Marine Corps. logoTony Dokoupil writes in this issue of Newsweek about the “Moral Injury” our soldiers incur while at war.  Studies now suggest that guilt may be a leading factor in the rise of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Dokoupil first discusses a company of Marine reservists from Salt Lake City called the Saints and the Sinners.  As they celebrated the fall of Saddam Hussein and received flowers from some of the Iraqi people their radio operator was shot in the head.  The Marines were ambushed and were being shot from multiple vantage points.  The onslaught, of which miraculously of all the Marines survived, that ensued saw the death of Iraqi civilians. 

The men may have come back “alive”, but they weren’t the same men.  Many had changed.  How couldn’t they?  Within five years, a quarter of them had been diagnosed with PTSD.  Half of them have debilitating psychic wounds.  Many are jobless, homeless, disposed to drugs and alcohol, divorced from their spouses, and cut off from their former selves.  One soldier, after having sex with the mother of his twin daughters, drowned her in a warm bath.

The military and mental-health establishment say that what happened to these men is simple: “they lived through ‘events that involved actual or threatened death,’ felt ‘intense fear,’ and like the 300,000 other service members who suffer from PTSD, they were badly shaken by it.”  Dokoupil writes: “Self-harm is now the leading cause of death for members of the Army, which has seen its suicide rate double since 2004, peaking this past summer with 38 in July alone.”  Every month nearly 1,000 recently discharged veterans attempt to take their own lives!  That’s more than 3 attempts every 90 minutes, with one of them being successful in their attempt.  Think about it.  Every time you watch a movie, at least one veteran kills themselves. 

In 2003, the protocol for returning veterans was the following: their mental-health screening was pro forma in which a group of them in a room would answer some questions and fill out a long form.  Some questions included: “Are you okay?”  The soldiers, many of whom had been taught all their lives to “suck it up,” would answer yes that they are OK and then they would be thanked for their service.  They would then go home within a week of the battlefield.  Shira Maguen, a clinical psychologist in VA San Francisco Healthcare System, found that in these wars about a third of soldiers reported killing the enemy.  One in five acknowledged killing a civilian by mistake.  Two in three handed or uncovered dead bodies.  Nearly 80% had lost a friend or had a friend wounded.

One soldier said: “Nothing can prepare you for what it’s really like…it feels like I’ve lost my soul.”  Soldiers can never prepare for how war will be and how they will internalize the violence.  What soldiers should be able to count on when, and if they come back, is that the government is supporting their transition back to society.  Soldiers should at least expect the government to care for them, especially since they have volunteered to ensure our safety and freedom.  Unfortunately, many politicians seemingly don’t care about our soldiers.  They care more about ensuring their entitlements.  They care about their vacation plans.  The lack of attention and national spotlight is a political and journalistic disgrace.  This past week for example our news media cared more about the news of Prince William and Duchess Middleton’s pregnancy announcement than in highlighting our soldiers still fighting for our safety and freedom.

I don’t think all politicians and news journalists don’t care to highlight our heroes.  Some of it is due to the waning public interest from the viewer.   I just think more coverage is warranted.  For a great example of the bravery in the war I’d recommend reading Jake Tapper’s book “The Outpost.”  Our soldiers should be ensured they are taken care of when they get back.

At the least this is what our government should ensure for them.

At the least they should be given priority and aided in acclimating back to society in terms of getting jobs.

And at the least our government should give our military the same healthcare, pensions and other benefits they so fondly treasure.  I hope they realize that our soldiers are REAL HEROES, not them.

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