Monday, November 19, 2007

You, me, and PTSD

For the record, though it pi55es many off - I am more of the B.G. Burkett school when it comes to PTSD - and nosomuch an angle like this from Argghhh!!! - but as friends I think we can respectfully not-fully-agree on everything. Beyond that, I won't say much more. There are a couple of things out there though that have caught my eye. Over at BLACKFIVE, Grim has a good read.
There is a sense that combat changes people, but it really doesn't. It brings out parts of yourself that were always there, but that you hadn't encountered directly. Those parts are in everyone else as well. No one has clean hands. No one is different from you. That is important, so let me repeat it. Everyone around you is just like you. They don't know it, but they are. You are not sick; you are not broken. Everyone else is just the same.
...and offers some very sound advice. Also, over at The Weekly Standard, Dean Barnett does a great service to us all, making sure we see what the MSM, music (Springsteen), and movies are doing in a political context.
To celebrate Veterans Day, the Los Angeles Times ran a two-part story on James Blake Miller, the battle-exhausted soldier in the iconic picture of the Battle of Falluja in November 2004. The photograph caught the 20-year-old Blake caked with blood and soot as a cigarette dangled from his mouth. He looked young, but also prematurely old. To many, the picture represents the modern American fighting man--resolute, determined, and much older than his years.

Today, Miller is home from Iraq and suffering from a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder. His is a heartbreaking saga, and the Times's lengthy story detailed the efforts of Luis Sinco (the Times staff photographer who took the photo) to help him. Near the end of the story, Sinco quotes Miller's 21-year-old brother saying to him, "I'm glad I didn't join the Marines. I got a nice house, a wife and twin baby daughters, and I drive a Durango that's used but damn near new. You're divorced, drive a beat-up pickup and live in a trailer." His brother said that the returned soldier's "head is screwed up."

The Boston Globe celebrated Veterans Day with an editorial titled "When Johnny Comes Home Less." Citing a National Alliance to End Homelessness study, the Globe stated that over the course of a year, half-a-million veterans go homeless. (A subsequent correction dropped this number to 337,000.) The Globe proceeded to expose the grim facts that "Veterans are at risk. Many grapple with traumatic brain injuries, the loss of limbs, post-traumatic stress disorder, and
mental illness. Some need to find jobs and housing."

These are important stories, and shouldn't be ignored, but it is also hard to ignore the political agenda at work here. Individual tales of heroism don't interest papers like the Times and the Globe; individual tragedies do. Portraying veterans as lost souls is a narrative that is politically convenient.

I like this quote from a California National Guard Col.
I recently exchanged emails with a colonel in the California National Guard--an attorney when not on active duty--about Bruce Spring-steen's new song "Gypsy Biker." The song portrays Iraq war veterans as gullible dupes who shed their blood while "the speculators made their money," and the colonel wrote:
It's this portrayal of vets as burnt-out losers with nowhere to go but out on the open road that gets me. I was in court today, a vet, arguing a million-dollar case, in front of a judge who was also a vet. Vets aren't burned out losers--we're leaders. For every vet with problems--and they certainly exist, though I would guess in percentages far below that of the comparable civilian population--there are dozens of vets out there building businesses, raising families, and leading communities. Many give up weekends and vacations to stay in the Guard and Reserve. But I guess those guys aren't cool enough or useful enough.

The stereotypical vet is the burned-out homeless guy with a torn old green field jacket. I say it should be the dad dropping his little girl off at preschool before he goes to the business he built from nothing while fielding phone calls from his Guard unit's full-time staff and driving a car with a trunk full of military gear so that, when the next earthquake or riot hits, he can go out and protect his community--again.

This all flows in to something I posted about in DEC 04 where I found a very good pull quote from B.G. Burkett's Stolen Valour He was talking about the post-Vietnam smear and lies - but it works here as well.
“The VVA, while claiming to be the spokesman and friend of Vietnam veterans, has actually done more damage to their public image than any other group in America. They’ve made patriotic and honorable men appear to be whining welfare cases, men who have no pride in their service, and men who can find nothing better to do with their lives than bellyache about what an immoral government did to them.”
Listen to Grim and cowboy-up.

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