By Dahr Jamail
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Wednesday 17 May 2006
*So Long as I Am Your Commander in Chief*
As the violence in Iraq continues to escalate, at least 2,450 US
soldiers have been killed, with roughly ten times that number seriously
wounded since the beginning of the Invasion in March 2003. If current
trends continue, May will be one of the deadliest months of the
occupation yet for troops, with an average of over three being killed
per day. 54 coalition soldiers have been killed in the first 16 days of
This probably explains why 72% of US troops in Iraq think the US should
exit the country within the next year, and over 25% think the US should
exit immediately. The same poll
five troops in Iraq want to heed War Criminal Bush's call for them to
"stay as long as they are needed."
The occupation, now well into its fourth year and going strong, has
already produced 550,000 Iraq war veterans. Troop morale is lower than
ever before and dropping as fast as Bush's approval ratings. Further
adding to the deteriorating situation is the mindless adherence to the
highly absurd pledges of the "commander in chief."
"To all who wear the uniform, I make you this pledge: America will not
run in the face of car bombers and assassins so long as I am your
commander in chief. Most Americans want two things in Iraq: They want to
see our troops win and they want to see our troops come home as soon as
possible," he says <http://www.cnn.com/2005
nauseum, "And those are my goals as well. I will settle for nothing less
than complete victory." Just as he settled for nothing less than
complete exemption from military service in Vietnam, a fact his soldiers
are all too aware of.
Meanwhile, troops returning from Iraq are finding little comfort in the
hollow rhetoric of their chief chicken-hawk. The medical attention
necessary to support the troops is becoming scarcer with each passing
When soldiers come home from Iraq, the support they need in order to
physically and mentally recover from the hell of Iraq is way out of
reach for most. With their pay and benefits cut, health care, already
scarce in many cases, is soon to become even more difficult to access.
A case in point is Marine Lance Cpl. James Crosby. He left Iraq strapped
to a gurney after his legs were paralyzed and his innards lacerated by
shrapnel. When he exited the combat zone to head back home for
treatment, he realized the military cut his pay by 50%. "Before you
leave the combat zone, they swipe your ID card through a computer, and
you go back to your base pay," he said
Of Course He Supports the Troops*
Veterans are a different matter, as a growing number of them are
beginning to realize, waking up to the fact that there is an
ever-widening gap between what their "commander in chief" says and what
he does. While Mr. Bush is busy telling reporters that he supports the
troops in Iraq, even military web sites are posting stories like one
February 28 of this year titled "Vets May Be Denied Health Care," which
At least tens of thousands of veterans with non-critical medical issues
could suffer delayed or even denied care in coming years to enable
President Bush to meet his promise of cutting the deficit in half - if
the White House is serious about its proposed budget. After an increase
for next year, the Bush budget would turn current trends on their head.
Even though the cost of providing medical care to veterans has been
growing by leaps and bounds, White House budget documents assume a
cutback in 2008 and further cuts thereafter.
In the same story, Rep. Chet Edwards of Texas, the top Democrat on the
panel overseeing the VA's budget, said: "Either the administration is
proposing gutting VA health care over the next five years or it is not
serious about its own budget."
Disturbingly and more recently, on March 21st, a House Budget Committee
shows us that this does indeed appear to be the Bush plan for
"supporting the troops":
The President's 2007 budget provides $36.1 billion for appropriated
veterans programs, which is $2.9 billion above the amount enacted for
2006 and $1.8 billion above the amount needed to maintain purchasing
power at the 2006 level.
Beyond 2007, however, veterans funding is cut in almost every year. Over
five years, the budget cuts funding $10.0 billion below the level the
Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates is needed to maintain
purchasing power at the 2006 level.
Thus, their "commander in chief" will cut the veterans discretionary
budget by $10 billion over the next five years.
*Supporting Troops, Pentagon Style*
To save the troops from lack of health care, our government has devised
an ingenious solution, which is to let them continue in combat. Last
week the US military was found to be violating its own rules concerning
mentally ill troops by sending them back into combat. A recent news
US military troops with severe psychological problems have been sent to
Iraq or kept in combat, even when superiors have been aware of signs of
mental illness, a newspaper reported for Sunday editions.
Citing records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and
interviews of families and military personnel, the newspaper reported
"numerous cases in which the military failed to follow its own
regulations in screening, treating and evacuating mentally unfit troops
from Iraq." The piece tells us that 22 US soldiers have committed
suicide in Iraq last year, which is the highest suicide rate since the
The article goes on to say that some of the service members who killed
themselves during 2004 and 2005 had been kept on duty despite clear
signs of mental distress, and had been prescribed antidepressants after
little or no mental health counseling.
Vera Sharav, president of the Alliance for Human Research Protection,
minces no words: "I can't imagine something more irresponsible than
putting a soldier suffering from stress on [antidepressants], when you
know these drugs can cause people to become suicidal and homicidal.
You're creating chemically activated time bombs."
The article also quotes Dr. Arthur Blank Jr., a psychiatrist who
assisted in having post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) recognized as a
diagnosis after the Vietnam War: "I'm concerned that people who are
symptomatic are being sent back. That has not happened before in our
* Turning Troops Into Time Bombs*
Among medical professionals, there is an unstated urgency that soldiers
receive adequate treatment promptly upon returning home. "If we don't
get intervention within the first five years, the veteran is set up for
a lifetime of problems," says John Wilson, a psychology professor at
Cleveland State University. In an Associated Press (AP) story
Professor Wilson also adds, "Iraq is a nonstop, 24-seven, hostile
environment, so what happens is that these guys are incredibly wired all
the time. One of the things we learned from Vietnam is that once that
hyper arousal response develops, it doesn't go off."
The tragic death of Andres Raya, a 19-year-old US Marine, demonstrates
this condition. The young man decided to commit suicide by inducing a
gun battle with police officers in his hometown of Ceres, California,
with the apparent motive of avoiding an impending return to duty in Iraq.
Raya, who fought in the April 2004 US assault on the city of Fallujah,
had returned to the US on January 8, 2005, for a holiday. His mother
later described his condition to the Modesto Bee
came back different."
He told his family on several occasions he did not want to go back to
Iraq. According to local police, Raya went to a liquor store in Ceres
wearing a poncho and "talking about how much he hated the world." He
asked the store owner to call the police. Police officer Sam Ryno
responded. He arrived to find Raya pulling the assault weapon from under
his poncho. He shot Ryno, causing serious injuries. When another police
officer arrived in the liquor store parking lot, Raya shot him twice in
the back of the head, killing him, and then disappeared. Three police
departments, the California Highway Patrol, and SWAT officers had to
search the area for the distraught veteran. When they found him, after a
brief but fierce gun battle, Raya was dead, with over 60 bullets in his
An article in the Modesto Bee described the final battle as Raya
"shooting military style at the officers," while using "some of the same
darting and dodging techniques we have seen in reports from Iraq." The
police chief of Ceres told the Bee, "It was premeditated, planned, an
ambush.... It was suicide by cop."
*PTSD: "Post" for a Reason*
Veterans who make it home alive from Iraq are immediately faced with the
task of reconstructing their lives as they battle the effects of PTSD,
which include anger, rage, isolation, sleeplessness, anxiety and
anti-social behavior. In another AP story
this year, the body of Spc. Robert Hornbeck, 23, was found in a hotel in
Savannah, Georgia, after he had been missing for 12 days.
"A body found with items belonging to a Fort Benning soldier … was
discovered … at a downtown hotel after guests complained of a foul odor
in the lobby," read the story. Hornbeck had spent a year in Iraq with
the 3rd Infantry Division and was to be married to his college
sweetheart this July. Instead, due to lack of treatment for PTSD, "A
maintenance worker at the De Soto Hilton hotel found the body of a man
inside a large piece of air-conditioning equipment. Firefighters wearing
hazard suits removed the body several hours later." His father believed
that Hornbeck was highly intoxicated at the time of his death.
Then there are the soldiers who come home,suffering massive trauma from
their experience in Iraq. Joshua Omvig, a soldier from Iowa, returned
home and killed himself
his mother, due primarily to lack of assistance in dealing with his
PTSD. The distraught parents of the 22-year-old veteran decided to deal
with their loss by creating a web site in his memory, where his mother
described the emails they receive from other soldiers: "It's been
hundreds a day - so many heartbreaking stories. It's like the same story
over and over again, just different names, different towns. A lot of
them will make you cry, there's so much pain."
A 2004 study of several Army and Marine units returning from Iraq and
Afghanistan that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine found
that only between 23 and 40 percent of those with PTSD had sought
treatment. And post-traumatic stress is called "post" for a reason - its
most serious symptoms usually emerge long after the trauma is over.
*Confessions From the Accountability Office and Others*
Last week the Government Accountability Office announced
quarter of the US military's Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who show
signs of post-traumatic stress are referred for additional mental health
treatment or evaluation, according to a government study."
Nonetheless, the VA has admitted that a staggering 35% of veterans who
served in Iraq have already sought treatment in the VA system for
emotional problems from the war. This statistic was also confirmed by a
US Army study.
A piece written by Judith Coburn for TomDispatch
"Shortchanging the Wounded," posted this April, reveals many of the
following startling statistics.
Nearly one in three veterans have been hospitalized at the VA, or
visited a VA outpatient clinic, due to an initial diagnosis of a
mental-health disorder, according to the VA itself. These numbers are
consistent with a recent Army study on soldiers who have served in Iraq
or Afghanistan. Such a rate might add up over time (depending on how
long these occupations last) to what could be over half a million
veterans who need treatment.
The VA admits its disability system was overburdened even before the
administration invaded Iraq; and, by 2004, it had a backlog of 300,000
disability claims. Now, the VA reports that the backlog has nearly
doubled, at 540,122. By April 2006, 25% of the rating claims took six
months to process. So veterans wounded severely enough to be unable to
work are left high and dry for up to half a year. Worse yet, an appeal
of a rejected claim frequently takes years to settle. One hundred
twenty-three thousand disability claims have been filed so far by
veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet, in its budget requests, the Bush
administration has constantly resisted Congressional demands to increase
the number of VA staffers processing such claims. Here is what the VA's
national advisory board on PTSD says in a report released in February, 2006:
[The] VA cannot meet the ongoing needs of veterans of past deployments
while also reaching out to new combat veterans of [Iraq and Afghanistan]
and their families within current resources and current models of treatment.
How many Iraqi veterans will eventually join the ranks of the 400,000
troops-turned homeless vets already on the streets of American cities?
*Support Our Troops: Anybody?*
When answering a question following a speech
gave on March 20th, the day after the three year anniversary of the
beginning of the invasion of Iraq, Bush said, "... the best way you can
help is to support our troops. You find a family who's got a child in
the United States military, tell them you appreciate them. Ask them if
you can help them."
Now is the time to stand up and be counted. It is going to take a little
more than pasting stickers of yellow ribbons that read "Support Our
Troops" on the bumpers of your SUVs and cars. Are the patriotic citizens
of the United States of America willing to support our troops? Because
their "commander in chief" sure as hell is not going to.
(c)2004, 2005 Dahr Jamail.