Penny's blog

Half of Vets Suffering Brain and Mind Injuries Go Untreated, But Pentagon Pretends Nothing's Going on

Originally posted 2008-04-30 09:45:04 - worth a second look - standingup

The silverbacks are grooming and posturing at the microphones. Cammo and khaki, wall to wall. Bob Ireland, an Air Force psychiatrist and consultant to the Air Force Surgeon General, welcomes the audience to the Department of Defense's sixth annual Suicide Prevention Conference and makes jokes about how suicide prevention has been the DoD's bastard child, homeless and parentless.

In January 2008, the child nobody wanted finally managed to find a home. The Defense Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury assumed responsibility for an issue and an injury that the military has hidden and denied for generations.

Pentagon Holds Thousands of Americans 'Prisoners of War'

There are at least 60,000 of them, but they're not on the DoD's list of soldiers missing in action.

Sgt. Kristofer Shawn Goldsmith was one of the many soldiers and Marines, veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, who gave testimony at last weekend's Winter Soldier investigation. They spoke from personal experience about what the American military is doing in those countries. They gave examples of what they had done, what they had been ordered to do, what they had witnessed, how their experiences had wounded them, both physically and psychically, and what kind of care and support they have, or most often have not gotten since coming home. The panel Goldsmith was on was called "The Breakdown of the U.S. Military," so he surprised the audience when he said that he was going to talk about prisoners of war.

America Must Hear These Vets' Stories

-- Penny's play is being produced this Wednesday (March 19th) at the Ensemble theater in NYC. See the poster for details -cho.

If America listens to what they say, the war would be over tomorrow.

I missed the Winter Soldier Investigation in 1971. At the time I was married to a vet who desperately wanted to put his war behind him -- and he wanted me to help him do it. We were supposed to pretend it had never happened. It didn't work.

Daniel refused to talk about Vietnam. "Talk to your old lady? No fucking way," his friend Bobby Lanz shot back when I said I thought that maybe Daniel wouldn't have killed himself if I had been able to get him to talk about whatever it was that was causing him such pain. "With other vets, you can say, 'shit man, I did all this horrible stuff. You're not going to believe the stuff I did', and someone who has been there will say, 'Yeah, so did I, so did we all.' But with your woman? You start to talk about having fucked some folks up bad, doing awful things, killing people, maybe, and she starts to cry and you don't go there again. You think, Fuck me, man, I don't need to hurt her. This is psychological abuse, so I am going to shut up."

Testifying to Congress About Suicide Epidemic Among Vets

On Dec. 12, at 10 in the morning, I was sitting in room 345 of the Cannon House Office Building, as Rep. Bob Filner called to order the Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on "Stopping Suicides: Mental Health Challenges Within the Department of Veterans Affairs."

The hearings were in response to increasingly ominous rumors of soldier and veteran suicides (which the DoD and the VA have continued to deny), culminating in the dramatic CBS News report about veteran suicides released in late November. Finally, an entity with some insider clout had produced some hard numbers that attest to an epidemic of monstrous proportions. Even so, the bad guys, like Dr. Ira Katz, who is head of mental health at the VA, quibble about whether or not this is "an epidemic" or a "major problem." "Why hasn't the VA done a national study seeking national data on how many veterans have committed suicide in this country?" Katz was asked by the CBS reporter. "That research is ongoing," Katz replied, looking a lot like Lucy promising not to snatch the football away again.

So, on Dec. 12, I and three other citizens found ourselves scheduled for the morning panel: Mike and Kim Bowman, whose son Tim, a veteran of the Iraq war, took his own life a year ago; Ilona Meagher, author of Moving a Nation to Care; and me -- all of us, by the way, suicide survivors. We were to be followed by a second panel consisting of Katz and fellow apologists, who were supposed to eviscerate the CBS report and skewer us with their conflicting numbers. Without, of course, appearing callous, slimy or cruel.