Talk Nation Radio for November 26, 2009
Chuck Luther of Disposable Warriors at Fort Hood, TX Thanksgiving Week Special 2009
This is part two and part one can be downloaded below
Produced by Dori Smith
Download at Pacifica's Audioport here and at Radio4all.net and Archive.org
Also available as a full hour program, suitable for air throughout the holidays at Audioport at the same url and at Archive.org and Radio4all.net
In his Thanksgiving message President Barack Obama said it was a time to remember those who cannot sit down to break bread with those they love. He was referring to the more than 5100 US soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.
We are focusing on a different statistic, the soldier who feels overwhelmed by war, who may have sustained invisible wounds, and so commits suicide.
Suicide is often an act of irrational desire for change, an attempt to eradicate pain, and most often attempted under conditions of extreme stress. The conditions of war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan have produced an astounding number of instances of suicide.
In January of 2009, as President Obama was taking the oath of office, the Army was finally releasing some of the shocking numbers on suicide in US soldiers. They said 24 soldiers had killed themselves in January alone. It was six times higher than statistics of 2008.
According to CNN, a US Army official said, "This is terrifying we do not know what is going on."
In January of 2008, and January of 2009, more US soldiers took their own lives than were killed in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Hundreds of soldiers have killed themselves, and others have done so without having their deaths counted as a suicide. They are "pending investigation" pointed out Chuck Luther.
In his Thanksgiving message, President Obama added that we should remember the soldier: "Overseas, holding down a lonely post and missing his kids. The sailor who left her home to serve a higher calling. The folks who must spend tomorrow apart from their families to work a second job, so they can keep food on the table or send a child to school."
It was a touching message. The President said he was grateful beyond words for the service and hard work of US soldiers, and he said "this year, we know that far too many face a daily struggle that puts the comfort and security we all deserve painfully out of reach". For the families of soldiers who kill themselves, though, the President has not seen their pain clearly enough. He has refused to sign a White House condolence letter to them as he does in cases of soldiers who are killed in combat. The families complained in New York Times story by James Dao, November 25, 2009.
In this week's Talk Nation Radio we aired a clip of Sgt. Jacob Blaylock, shared online at the New York Times web site where the Dao story appeared. Erika Good provided the New York Times video to offer a portrait of Sgt Blaylock, who was so haunted by the memory of his fallen comrades that he killed himself.
Yet, Blaylock was a victim of repeated IED blasts too. These can often lead to traumatic brain injury. And in a Pacifica special for Sprouts a grieving father named Charles McKinney talked about his son SGT Jeff McKinney, who sustained many traumatic brain injuries from IED explosions. He showed profound symptoms afterward, and with psychotropic drugs in his system, the sleep deprived and traumatized soldier, put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger.
He was standing in front of soldiers under his command. SGT Jeff McKinney had been having some of the same symptoms Chuck Luther described on his web site disposablewarriors.com. Luther said he contemplated doing the very same thing that Jeff McKinney had done, but he managed to get past it.
The McKinney family, and Chuck Luther at Disposable Warriors, Disposable Warriors.com, are calling on the White House and the U.S. Military to make emergency level changes in the way such soldiers are treated. As some 30 to 40 000 more US soldiers head to Afghanistan, the policy must be implemented immediately, lest more soldiers die from invisible wounds.
The warning signs of traumatic brain injry or PTSD and other stress reactions should be something every soldier understands. Every soldier should be able to respond to them quickly enough to save a fellow soldier's life.
The Military has a well established practice of denying claims of PTSD to avoid the high cost of treatment for these troops. And it is clear that this has been policy, and not accidental or coincidental in many cases.
In 2008 Dr. Norma Perez, a mental health integration specialist at the VA Medical Center in Temple, Texas, wrote an email that is now infamous. She said quote: "Given that we are having more and more compensation seeking veterans," she wrote. "I'd like to suggest that you refrain from giving a diagnosis of PTSD straight out. Consider a diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder."