Asked to risk lives overseas, many veterans can’t get help at home

No matter what one’s opinion of US involvement in the Middle East it would seem a no-brainer that the men and women called upon to serve their nation in danger zones deserve competent medical treatment once they’re back home.

As numerous reports have shown, that’s not the case.

A 2012 Suicide Data report estimated 22 veterans commit suicide every day in the United States. Thousands more suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder which leaves many unable to handle the basics of everyday life.

Unfortunately, it appears the Veterans Administration and US Department of Defense are often exacerbating soldiers’ problems, rather than alleviating them.

Last month during a House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing, a panel of parents asserted that failures in the VA and the Department of Defense contributed to the mental pressures that led their sons to kill themselves.

Jean and Dr. Howard Somers, the parents of Army Sgt. Daniel Somers, detailed their son’s experience navigating the VA system in Phoenix, according to a report by ABC News.

“He presented there in crisis, he said he needed to be admitted to the hospital,” Jean Somers said, having to finish for his wife who had started the story but broke into tears. “He was told by their mental health department that they had no beds, and he was told there were no beds in the emergency department.

“The fact is that he went in to the corner. He lay down on the floor. He was crying. But he was told you can stay here and when you feel better you can drive yourself home.”

Daniel, 30, had largely condemned his experience with the system in his suicide letter published by Gawker 12 days after his death.

“Thus, I am left with basically nothing,” wrote Somers, 30. “Abandoned by those who would take the easy route, and a liability to those who stick it out – and thus deserve better.”

Also at the hearing was Peggy Portwine, the mother of deceased Army veteran Brian Portwine. She blamed the VA and Department of Defense for clearing her son for redeployment after multiple traumatic combat experiences, ABC News reported.

“Upon returning from the second deployment in 2010, Brian was diagnosed with PTSD, TBI (traumatic brain injury), depression and anxiety,” Portwine said. “I never knew of his conditions. He deteriorated quickly from December 2010 to May 2011 when he took his life. If the DOD and VA assessed Brian for high suicide risk, it was their duty to treat him, but he received nothing.”

This blog doesn’t normally post music videos, but the above clip by the group Five Fingered Death Punch, titled “Wrong Side of Heaven,” includes a number of staggering statistics regarding veterans: 300,000 are homeless, 1.4 million are at risk of becoming homeless, an estimated 460,000 veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and 5,000 commit suicide each year.

Also included at the end are the names of several military-support organizations the band supports. The group has also launched the website www.5fdp4Vets.com where more contact information for veterans with PTSD can find support.

(HT: North Carolina Union Volunteers; Jitterbugging for Jesus)

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6 thoughts on “Asked to risk lives overseas, many veterans can’t get help at home

  1. So what’s the deal, amigo? Why is it I’ve been following your blog forever and have never had one single notification by email of any post? Incidently, I got a lot of laughs out of this one. Jeanne sent it to me by email or I’d have missed it, which would have been regretable. Gracias, Jack

    • I’m not sure why you haven’t gotten any notifications, Jules. WordPress’s machinations often elude me.

      Glad this caught your attention; I reckon you might have a thought or two on the subject.

      Take care.

  2. Glad to see another call to attention about this situation. You hit a button with me today.

    My brother was a Vietnam veteran, and although he was in the system and I can’t just say he didn’t have care, I can say that the conditions and the level of professionalism of many doctors and bureaucrats we had to deal with did not help his program. He had a condition which required surgery but he was also on a blood thinner, so the doctors pushed him back and forth while they told each other it was the other’s problem. With my insurance, the doctors would’ve consulted with one another, I would have signed my waiver, and some medical solution would have been tried. Not at the VA. So many of our veterans, the people we’ve asked to “stand on the wall”, have fallen through the cracks or conveniently shoved to a neat compartment in our mind or flat out neglected or forgotten. Yellow ribbons around tree trunks, patriotic youtube videos, and rock concerts given for the chosen photogenic few are nice, but our nation should always be prepared for our returning men and women before, during, and after we go to war.

    Thanks again, CBC. And to all service men and women, serving now or in the past, God bless you and God help us do the right thing.

    • Onoir, I’m sorry about what your brother had to endure. You’re so very right; the men and women that our government puts in harm’s way should be treated with the same respect and attention any other citizen receives when it comes to medical care. Obviously, that’s not been the case for a long, long time.

      I suppose it’s a lot easier to put a ribbon magnet on one’s car saying “Support Our Troops” than to get involved and push for actual changes to the way the government aids those who require care once they’ve come back from being deployed or long after their service has ended. I’d like to think that the current uproar about how the VA has treated veterans will result in change, but entrenched bureaucracy rarely changes for the better.

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