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It's well known that soldiers who saw active combat suffer much higher levels of PTSD and associated mental health problems when they return  home.  Now a local paper, The Gazette of Colorado Springs reports

Since their return late in 2007, eight infantry soldiers have been arrested and accused of murder, attempted murder or manslaughter.  Another two soldiers from the brigade were arrested and accused of murder and attempted murder after the first tour. Others have committed other violent crimes. Others have committed suicide.

All the soldiers belonged to the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, part of Fort Carson’s 4th Brigade Combat Team. The 500-soldier infantry battalion nicknamed itself the "Lethal Warriors."  

Almost all those soldiers were kids, too young to buy a beer, when they volunteered for one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Almost none had serious criminal backgrounds. Many were awarded medals for good conduct.

The people turning their backs on universal health care coverage need to realize they are turning their backs on these people as well -- and putting everyone at risk.

The Gazette article makes this connection explicitly:

Many of the soldiers behind bars and their family members say the violence at home is a consequence of the violence in Iraq. They came home angry, confused, paranoid and depressed. They had trouble getting effective mental heath care. Most buried their symptoms in drugs and alcohol until they exploded.

The details of the murders are horrific.  Although it is shocking, I cannot say it is surprising.  In some ways, that is the most horrifying part of this tragedy of a death foretold.  For years, people have been reporting on the problem of profoundly disturbed and untreated soldiers returning from deployments in Iraq.

The soldiers seemed to be suffering classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder: explosions of anger, suicidal and homicidal ideation, flashbacks, nightmares and insomnia. The Army was responding, for the most part, with disciplinary action rather than treatment, evincing little concern for possible underlying problems. The soldiers self-medicated further. Predictable outcomes followed.

Unfortunately, there is a well-established body of literature exploring the impact of mass murder on the murderers.  It is hard -- maybe impossible -- to have any sympathy for the men of the Nazi Einzatsgruppen.  These were the special units that fanned out across the Eastern Front in the Summer of 1941 as the German army invaded Ukraine, Belorus, Latvia, Estonia on the road to Russia.   Their job was simple: mass murder.  The most notorious of these was Einzatsgruppen C, responsible for the large scale exterminations at Baba Yar.  

One of the direct consequences of this campaign was the Wannsee Conference.  This was the meeting where "the final solution" was developed as a systematic program.  One reason this meeting was convened in January, 1942 was the growing realization that the policy used in places like Ukraine was having a devastating effect -- on the men who were carrying out the mass murders.  They were turning into psychopaths.  Forget why the violence was occuring.  The important point is the scope of it and the impact on the individuals carrying it out.  

"Toward the end, we were so mad and tired and frustrated," Freeman said. "You came too close, we lit you up. You didn’t stop, we ran your car over with the Bradley."

If soldiers were hit by an IED, they would aim machine guns and grenade launchers in every direction, Marquez said, and "just light the whole area up. If anyone was around, that was their fault. We smoked ’em."

Other soldiers said they shot random cars, killing civilians.

"It was just a free-for-all," said Marcus Mifflin, 21, a friend of Eastridge who was medically discharged with PTSD after the tour. "You didn’t get blamed unless someone could be absolutely sure you did something wrong. And that was hard. So things happened. Taxi drivers got shot for no reason. Guys got kidnapped and taken to the bridge and interrogated and dropped off."

Before you reach for the Godwin button... I'm not comparing our troops to Nazis.  What I'm saying is that when you have a breakdown in discipline that enables men in combat to commit wanton violence, don't be surprised if they lose their minds.  Shooting defenseless men, women and children at close range leaves a mark, even on the most callous person.  

After coming home from Iraq, 21-year-old medic Bruce Bastien was driving with his Army buddy Louis Bressler, 24, when they spotted a woman walking to work on a Colorado Springs street.

Bressler swerved and hit the woman with the car, according to police, then Bastien jumped out and stabbed her over and over.

It was October 2007. A fellow soldier, Kenneth Eastridge, 24, watched it all from the passenger seat.

At that moment, he said, it was clear that however messed up some of the soldiers in the unit had been after their first Iraq deployment, it was about to get much worse.

"I have no problem with killing," said Eastridge, a two-tour infantryman with almost 80 confirmed kills. "But I won’t just murder someone for no reason. He had gone crazy."

As it turns out, there is a pattern developing.  When the new commanding officer at Fort Carson, Major General Mark Graham, started examining the cases, he found there were often smalls trouble first, and the problems grew until they exploded.  

Most of the soldiers now behind bars back up Graham’s theory of the crescendo.

Before Bastien stabbed a woman in 2007, he was arrested three times on suspicion of beating his wife and burning her with cigarettes.

Before Bressler shot two soldiers in Colorado Springs in 2007, Eastridge said, he assaulted his commanding officer and tried to kill himself.

Before Jomar Falu-Vives, 23, allegedly gunned down three people in Colorado Springs in two drive-by shootings in 2008, his wife said she called his sergeants to warn he was liable to "take someone’s life."

Before John Needham, 25, allegedly beat a woman to death in 2008, his father said, he tried repeatedly to get treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Major General Graham is all too familiar with the consequences of this problem.  One of his son's was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq a year after his other son committed suicide while training to be an officer.  No surprise Graham focused on mental health after taking command of Fort Carson.

Under his watch, Fort Carson more than doubled the number of mental health counselors. A new Army program will soon give each brigade a "master resiliency trainer" to strengthen troops’ psychological fitness the way drill sergeants strengthen their muscles. A special unit has been created to track soldiers who are too physically or psychologically wounded to stay with their battalions. Soldiers visiting a doctor at Fort Carson for even a sprained ankle are now screened for symptoms of PTSD and depression. And perhaps most important, Graham said, in the Army, where mental illness has long been taboo, commanders at Fort Carson are being trained to tell soldiers it is OK to seek treatment.

Changing a culture is hard.  The cultural taboo against seeking help is deep and wide-spread in the Army.  Simply raising the possibility that you might need counseling is enough to derail a career.  This brings us to the heart of the problem.  For a long time, the Army ignored the problem and handled the families of the disturbed soldiers in a surprisingly callous way.  In February, Salon reported shocking examples, including this one:

Last November, as detailed today in the first of Salon's multi-part series on preventable deaths at Fort Carson, officers provided paint for a mother to paint over her son's suicide note, which he had scrawled on a barracks wall.

So much for "we take care of our own."   The consequence of this sort of response is the problem has grown  In 2002, it was estimated that about 6% of the returning vets are being treated at VA hospitals for emotional disorders.  By 2007 that number had almost tripled, but there was still resistance form the Army.  Some argued that PTSD was a myth and wildly overdiagnosed.  Since 2007, the number of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan being treated at VA hospitals for serious emotional disorders  has has doubled again.  

This is not the first time anyone has raised this alarm.  In 2004, Dan Baum wrote a very disturbing piece in the New Yorker that focused on the problems at Fort Benning.  The subheading summed up the story quite well.  I've never forgotten it, which is how I found it so quickly now:

We train our soldiers to kill for us. Afterward, they’re on their own.

 
Of course, that's just a journalist's opinion.  But it is hard to dismiss the same message from one of the soldiers in prison for murder in Fort Carson:

"The Army trains you to be this way. In bayonet training, the sergeant would yell, ‘What makes the grass grow?’ and we would yell, ‘Blood! Blood! Blood!’ as we stabbed the dummy. The Army pounds it into your head until it is instinct: Kill everybody, kill everybody. And you do. Then they just think you can just come home and turn it off. ... If they don’t figure out how to take care of the soldiers they trained to kill, this is just going to keep happening."

Examining the problems five years ago, Baum made a strong argument for increasing the mental health services available to veterans, noting:

Veterans since the American Revolution have complained that the government doesn’t do enough for them. Given what combat does to soldiers, it’s hard to imagine any amount of services being "enough."

The bottom line:  When we talk about universal health care insurance, we can't lose sight of the need for mental health coverage.   The VA can't handle the problems we will be facing in the future.  If we don't take care of them, who will?  

The people who want to turn their back on universal health care coverage need to know they are turning their backs on these men and women as well -- and putting everyone at risk.  How many more people have to die before this gets the attention it deserves?

 

Originally posted to henry porter on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 10:00 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  How many of these people were exposed to (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sberel, DEFuning, Pluto, henry porter

    heroin during their service? Obviously Afghanistan is of importance, but heroin was reported to be widely available in Iraq on the streets as well.

    The other aspect to this horrible situation is prescription drugs that were handed out like candy to 'keep the troops going'.

    Americans are expendable.
    We are dying for the sins of Health Insurance Companies.

    by shpilk on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 10:11:18 PM PDT

  •  My friend is in the Marine reserve (19+ / 0-)

    He's been to Iraq twice and he's not the same person I knew.  I don't even really know him anymore.  I don't know what happened to him over there, but it changed him for sure.  I hope the military can find a way to help all of our veterans who need it, they certainly deserve it.

    Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity. -George Carlin

    by Maverick78 on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 10:11:50 PM PDT

  •  Is it any wonder that (9+ / 0-)

    so many soldiers turn to extremism in religion? They've got to find some way to handle the stress that war brings and religion provides an outlet for that.

    When we've got extremists going in to the bases and preaching it gives our soldiers something to latch on to.

    Often the only counseling a soldier has available to him is from the base chaplain, and even if they have the best of intentions they come at it from a viewpoint that's very narrow.

    We need lots of trained counselors and psychologists to walk our soldiers down. We send them to boot camp before they enter the military, maybe we need to have a boot camp when they come out of combat.

  •  I know this has been written about a great deal (7+ / 0-)

    but thank you for bringing it up again. It is part of the huge hidden cost of warfare, these damaged people who come back, and I applaud your effort to bring it out into the light.

    "The longer you live and think, the more things tend to get out of hand." - Jack Levine

    by mieprowan on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 10:34:44 PM PDT

  •  The right thing (9+ / 0-)

    to do is re-institute a draft. It's the only way to get every American to care about the war and the way soldiers are treated. If people feel like they could get drafted, and parents feel like their son or DAUGHTER could get drafted, they will care about where the troops are sent, how many tours of duty they receive, and how they are treated.

    Right now, the troops are like mercenaries. They are being used. And not enough Americans care because they aren't affected personally by it.

    •  The "Volunteer Professional" army is the fast (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pelagicray

      track to disaster. These soldiers are responsible for their own actions. Many soldiers troughout the 20 century have suffered through and seen much more death and disaster then this bunch. WW II soldiers were drafted and basically "In" for the duration, with most serving 4+ years and in multiple theaters and multiple invasions and landings with 70-80% casualties numbering in the 1,000s. I wont even touch on Korea, WW I and Nam. The standards for military acceptance have been dangerously lowered. This is the new American crybaby and excuse generation. Life isnt a video game

      "All Animals are equal but some Animals are more equal than others"

      by ShrunkenHead on Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 11:11:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  With reservations about your closing your point (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        sberel, jessical, ShrunkenHead

        about WW II is certainly accurate. It was Vietnam that started the on tour and go home mentality. One of the  survival techniques some WW II vets have mentioned was to essentially consider yourself committed to death. Hope during combat was a distraction, a luxury one could not afford and a risk. They were in for the duration and many were seriously wounded multiple times with a quick return to combat. Only disabling wounds were tickets home.

        What we have here is the Vietnam "tease" of a tour that became a treadmill of tours--constant on/off disruption. Reservist leaving a job the first time with "good luck," the second time with reservation and later with illegal job loss in store. Marriages going through the same. Those are just the most blatant issues of over-committed forces and trying to fight a long war with the military we had.

        As for the "American crybaby" I disagree. There may be some that are, most are not. What I do think has been an issue is that the recruiters oversold "benefits" with barely a mention of the "downside" of this line of "work." The downside for combat arms is that essentially if you are ever actually put to the real "work" you will likely exit with problems even if those are just nightmares and night sweats. There was and is a significant lack of reality in recruiting.

        The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

        by pelagicray on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 06:27:54 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Well thought out and well said. I bow to your (0+ / 0-)

          obvious talents and I dont entirely disagree with your disagreement either. Looking forward to your first Diary...?

          "All Animals are equal but some Animals are more equal than others"

          by ShrunkenHead on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 09:19:06 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I am a diary dodger. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            ShrunkenHead

            To do a good one in areas I am interested in would take too much time researching for me to do the other projects I have going. I can spend an hour or so reading diaries and contributing (I hope) in some comments and references that I can find quickly.

            Back on topic. I think the way the Bush administration blundered into Iraq "with the Army we had" and no fucking idea of what was involved, rejecting advice from military people that had a clue--a chickenhawk's venture if ever there was one--was criminal stupidity if not otherwise. The reliance on the reserves, not as an emergency force, but as a long term cycling force was to put them on a repetitive grindstone and damning its people to an unusual hell. No combat veteran I've known came back entirely unscathed. What were once called REMFs in the deep rear may have, but normal people don't come out of real combat as if from a long camping trip.

            The cycling I mentioned in the first comment strikes me as almost maliciously destructive, particularly for the Reserves. The switching on and off the mindset necessary to make it in combat and then the mindset for home and civilian job with the way this thing has been done may be particularly destructive. I expect we will know for sure in a few more years.

            I have deep reservations about the all volunteer military because I think it does make it easier for chickenhawks with never the stink of war in their noses to commit forces. Standing professional armies were the tool of empire when our founders came up with the Constitution. They were deeply suspicious of that idea and liked citizen-soldier militias. That is the whole thing of that troublesome second amendment that some now hold entitles every slob and nut in the country to be armed to the teeth even if they couldn't waddle into the field. The political price of sending in draftees or those serving under a universal service scheme puts a damper on casual "send in the forces" schemes of certain political types.

            The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

            by pelagicray on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 10:54:00 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  Or stop invading 3rd world countries. . . (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sberel, bustacap, jessical, mamamarti

      but I agree a draft could be more democratic.

      Human reason is beautiful and invincible --Milosz, Incantation

      by juancito on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 01:58:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  If this problem is ever recognized (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sberel, mamamarti, henry porter

    it will probably be about as soon as all of the other travesties that have effected vets. The Defense dept. will oppose any formal recognition of the problem because it costs money that, in their opinions, could be better spent elsewhere.

    I've known a lot of vets who needed help and what they got instead was an unlimited supply of pills that sometimes masked but never cured the underlying problem.

  •  what's being missed in the comments is that (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sberel, DEFuning, mamamarti

    PTSD is a more powerful drug than any narcotic or alcohol. trauma can even take the form of the training itself- how many times can you shout that 'the grass grows because of blood' before you start to believe it?
    or worse,
    how do you stop believing it once it takes hold?
    way too little attention is paid to retrieving the souls of these soldiers, and it's a sad day for everyone concerned.

  •  The amount of men coming home from Iraq (5+ / 0-)

    seeking PTSD treatment at the local VA clinic where I live are so many that the staff has to ration out their time given to the guys.  Right now it's at 15 minutes a therapy session.  

    I've got PTSD from Vietnam that still effects the quality of my life.  Since from previous treatment for it at a bigger staffed VA hosptital in a different state in 1998 my PTSD is officialy acknowledged and on record, I can ask for and get therapy wherever I am.  But 15 minutes isn't enough time to get into anything deep enough to help.  

    One of the symptoms is comparing: These guys have fresher and more acute PTSD.  They need my 15 minutes more than I do, so I'll just put off getting therapy.  I slide into that one alot.  

    Money is the problem, money to staff and pay for the PTSD problem.  And soldiers coming back being stressed with earning money.  They can't keep their jobs because their reactions to normal civilian situations are exterme, and the civilians they work with have no idea the normal things they do would be considered life threatening in a battle situation.  The returned vet's head is still in battle mode and sees the co-workers as a threat to their lives--ie political backstabbing on the job for advancement.  The boss is usually more like the civilian co-worker in headset and so leans with them over the vet=job loss, and more stress experienced by the vet.  

    Normal day to day life isn't a life or death thing.  The impressions on from that are not as deeply burned in the psyche.  The war experience is very seriously life or death, and it and one's reactions that kept them alive in it are deeply burned into the psyche.  So some smart ass civilian pulling on the job politics to get ahead in a way that costs the vet gets the extreme response.  It's all very black and white to the vet.  

    The problem of PTSD is more serious than people are willing to admit.  It effects society in many many ways, not just by some vet going off, harming someone and going to prison, which costs the taxpayers, and these days means more money for the fat cats who run privitized prisons, which means less money for everyone else.  It has been shown by studies that it takes three generations to eradicate the effects of PTSD from a family unit.  It effects families, the kids involved, and their friends, and the families they grow up to parent.  It effects the families of the people vets with PTSD were violent on.  This is going to sound like a huge over statment, but...PTSD therapy needs to be funded, or civilization will go down.  The first step toward dealing with that is recognizing that war is the cause.  War needs to cease.  Or more accurately, harmony needs to become not instituted, but the norm.  And still, the treatment for the existent PTSD needs to be funded.

    Physically I could work, but I couldn't keep a job.  Drugs eased the stress I was dealing with.  Otherwise I have no idea what I would have done.  I think I would have been physically volitile.  It's scary to think about.  It was a different time, too; the sixties.  Peace and love are not being promoted by a whole generation now, and echoed by ads in the media to profit from that generation.  Violence is the norm even of advertisments now.  It can't be easy for the guys returning from Iraq.  

    It's only going to get worse for all of us.  War needs to stop.  Collaberative harmony needs to ensue.  And everyone needs treatment for their physical and psychological dis-eases.  Maintaining the status quo, as it's so often called, is no longer realistically feasible, if we, as a species, intend to continue to aspiring.  IMO.    

    Efectus nihil profundus sub pensus est

    by Riddlebaugh on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 02:30:58 AM PDT

  •  I remember a time when (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sberel, henry porter

    we trained soldiers in skills useful in civilian life.  There are all kinds of people out there who learned to cook, maintain all manner of vehicles and aircraft, etc.  Now, all those things are done by contractors.  The only thing we teach these young people is how to kill.  I'm not all that clear if we're even very good at teaching them when to do it.  

    It cannot be that surprising that some percentage of them will use that singular skill once they have left military service.  While their peers have been busy building lives, they have been taking lives in brutal, violent fashion.

    -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

    by luckylizard on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 04:16:01 AM PDT

  •  When will we learn (5+ / 0-)

    that training young people to kill other human beings in a variety of ways has consequences?
    Not to take away from the need for significant healthcare reform, we need to address the root cause of the problem - being indoctiniated into a mind-set that devalues human life. To brutalize, torture and kill goes against the values that most are brought up with. Being forced into a situation that condones/rewards these actions would cause mental conflict in most of us. What is done to de-program these people before they come home?

    "I have never missed Hunter S. Thompson, George Carlin and Abbie Hoffman more than I do today."

    by wv voice of reason on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 04:41:53 AM PDT

  •  As a liberal type... (0+ / 0-)

    ...a very, very liberal type...well, America voted twice for a man who used the American military machine to kill maybe a million human beings in a war of choice.  None of whom we name, remember, or care about, even here in the liberal bastion.  If that radicalizes a generation of young men, who come back and kill Americans at home...it is very, very hard for me to give a flying damn, on the surface.

    On the other hand, I recently saw a young man off, a friend's son, who is a good guy.  He's a kid, you know?  A young man taking life's first steps.  He wants a good life eventually, and an adventure, and all the annealing grace which military service is supposed to provide.

    At some point it can't be all about sanitizing the machinery of war, or the world's very largest military, so that Our Boys Get What They Need.  We need to stop sending people to kill other people, instead of sitting around identifying with that big military and talking importantly about national interest while people die.  Yes, these young people need care.  So do a great many people in our society.  Maybe the VA is the wrong frame.    

    ...j'ai découvert que tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.

    by jessical on Mon Jul 27, 2009 at 07:19:06 AM PDT

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