The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

May 29, 2008

Nation should honor its pledge to veterans

By Dave Kinnamon, commentary

This week is certainly a timely one to reflect on this nation’s debt to its veterans — whom most people at least casually support by nodding their heads when politicians exhort them to “support the troops.”

Monday was, of course, Memorial Day — one of the prime moments every year to physically honor the fallen and those who have served the U.S. in the military services, with a particular focus on war veterans and those who have been killed and wounded fighting our wars and for respecting these fallen heroes’ children and widows and other family members.

A study released this week by the U.S. Army Surgeon General’s office reports new cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among troops sent to Iraq and Afghanistan soared by at least 50 percent in 2007. The report also states there are at least 40,000 new cases of PTSD among U.S. veterans over the past five years (roughly the length of time the U.S. has been at war in Iraq).

Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, the Army Surgeon General, said the Army alone reported 10,000 new cases of PTSD in just the year 2007. Schoomaker mitigated the sensation of his report by stating the higher statistics partially reflect greater awareness of and better tracking of PTSD, both positive points. However, Schoomaker acknowledged the new cases statistics are most likely understated because of perceived stigma U.S. servicemembers generally attach to seeking mental health treatment, a stigma which causes veterans stricken with PTSD not to seek mental help even though they desperately need it. Also, the report released this week does not include veterans who seek mental health treatment through private insurance coverage and through the private medical sector — both entities which seal patients’ personal medical records.

The same report revealed 115 Army soldiers took their own lives in 2007, the highest total since the first Gulf War, and an increase of 13 over the 102 Army suicides in 2006. Many of these suicides are at least partially or mostly attributable to PTSD caused by service in the Global War on Terror.

I believe 40,000 new cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is just the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds of thousands of veterans of the Global War on Terror. I think the 40,000 figure is grossly understated. Military personnel are trained to suck it up and tough it out, to never display physical or mental weakness — those are central concepts to the warrior culture.

The U.S. is teetering on the verge of a mental health crisis regarding its GWOT veterans and PTSD cases that could become similar or even exceed the mental health crisis borne by the mental stresses of the Vietnam War.

As a nation we have a moral obligation to treat these veterans and get them mentally healthy again.

This week also marks the 76th anniversary of the encampment of the Bonus Marchers in Washington, D.C. The Bonus Marchers were a collection of around 15,000 World War I veterans who — brought to the the brink of despair because of the Great Depression — encamped in Washington, D.C., to apply pressure on the Congress to pay their World War I service payments early. Of course, these veterans referred to their war as The Great War at that time (1932) because World War II had not begun yet.

The Bonus Marchers wanted an early payment of their certificates from the World War Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924. Known primarily as the Bonus Bill, the law created a trust fund-financed cash benefit plan for Great War veterans or their surviving family members if they died before the maturation of the certificates, which were not scheduled to mature until 1945.

President Herbert Hoover ordered Army Chief of Staff Gen. Douglas MacArthur to forcibly dismantle the Bonus Marchers’ encampment. Then Maj. George S. Patton led the cavalry charge which sent the veterans flying out of their national capitol.

Hopefully we have learned since 1932 and are better equipped, financially and morally, to back up our nice-sounding speak of “supporting the troops.”

Which makes it doubly odd for a decorated Vietnam veteran and POW like John McCain to vocally not support the movement to reinstitute the G.I. Bill of Rights, to give Global War on Terror veterans the same benefits which World War II veterans received from a grateful nation, particularly 100 percent paid college tuition and housing assistance.



Kinnamon is online/special projects editor of the News & Eagle. Contact him at davidk@enidnews.com.