Jan Barry's blog

Veterans Day Town Meetings

A drumbeat of recent news reports has called attention to rising rates of suicide among soldiers, post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and hardships of military families facing multiple deployments to war zones. How communities can help address these often shattering effects of war is the focus of public forums in several cities on or around Veterans Day.

In Hoboken, NJ, the Nov. 11 event is being held at the high school under the sponsorship of Mayor Dawn Zimmer and the Board of Education. It features a showing of “Leave No Soldier,” a documentary by Donna Bassin about veterans helping one another deal with troubling war legacies; a staged reading from a new play, “Flashback,” by Penny Coleman, about the emotional turmoil in families of veterans who killed themselves; and a panel discussion of veterans and counselors with the audience.

Health Bills Debate

 


In a scathing critique of health care coverage by America’s news media, the current issue of the Columbia Journalism Review contends that “this year’s health-care debate sounds like the one in 1993.” That debate produced the Clinton administration’s proposed reforms that were politically dead on arrival.


 


“With few exceptions … the press has done little to challenge this reality or help to broaden the health-care debate,” wrote Trudy Lieberman, a Columbia Journalism Review contributing editor who monitors this issue. “Rather, it has mostly passed along the pronouncements of politicians and the major stakeholders who have the most to lose from wholesale reform. By not challenging the status quo, the press has so far foreclosed a vibrant discussion of the full range of options, and also has not dug deeply into the few that are being discussed, thereby leaving citizens largely uninformed about an issue that will affect us all.”

Tackling War Trauma

Promoted. -- GH

How to handle traumatic war events has famously ranged from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address—exhorting survivors of fratricidal, in some cases suicidal Civil War battles to “resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain”—to General Patton slapping a soldier hospitalized for psychoneurosis, a term used in World War II for what is now called post-traumatic stress disorder.

Now we have a general screaming at soldiers back from multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan that they better not dare commit suicide. "It's bad for soldiers, it's bad for families, bad for your units, bad for this division and our army and our country and it's got to stop now. Suicides on Fort Campbell have to stop now," Brigadier General Stephen Townsend recently told 101st Airborne Division paratroops, according to news reports. Townsend is the commander at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, which “has recorded the highest rate of suicide in the army, with at least 11 confirmed or suspected suicides,” Agency France-Presse reported in May.

“Last year 128 soldiers took their lives, up from 115 in 2007, as tours of duty since 2001 have come ever more frequently and last longer. With 64 confirmed or suspected suicides so far this year, the army looks likely to surpass last year's record numbers,” the AFP report added. Why so many soldiers are killing themselves should be no mystery to military leaders. “Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said he believes the suicides are tied to the repeated deployments that have put a strain on soldiers and their families.” Mullen has ordered the military to “look at ways to relieve that stress.”

But the macho posture of military culture hasn’t changed much since Patton slapped a soldier and called him a coward. “In a 2008 poll by the American Psychological Association (APA), 61 percent of servicemen and women said that asking for help to treat psychological problems would have a negative impact on their career, and 53 percent said it would decrease their status among their peers,” AFP noted.

Revive the Civilian Conservation Corps

Faced with millions of Americans out of work, including an army of roughly 154,000 homeless military veterans seeking shelter every night, President Obama and Congress should quickly revive one of the most successful government actions during the Great Depression. That action was creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps, which the Roosevelt administration convinced Congress to support within weeks of FDR taking office in 1933. Over the next several years, the CCC hired more than three million young men to plant three billion trees in over-logged forests, repair 40 million acres of soil-eroded farmlands and create 800 state parks, according to the US Forest Service web site.    

Home for Veterans

Coming home for some war veterans means slipping off the track of chasing a fading American dream. Despite the yellow ribbons of support for the troops festooning patriotic front yards and backs of cars, there’s an army of homeless former soldiers seeking shelter in cities and towns across this country. Compounding the shock of becoming homeless can be another bitter discovery: Few communities provide programs to help veterans who hit a rough patch get back on their feet. Consequently, an estimated 154,000 veterans are homeless on any given night, according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

Peacemaking Adventures Abroad

There are two very different sorts of Americans who venture abroad, as more than tourists or journalists, to so-called trouble spots. There are military people and “gold-mining” adventurers. And there are diplomats and teachers. In Vietnam, for instance, the US sent waves upon waves of troops and contractors to wage war for more than a decade in a military adventure that ended badly. A comparative trickle of Americans has gone to Vietnam since the war, often on their own initiative, to try to help undo the damage.  

Feeling the Pain

Originally posted 2009-03-25 12:16:37 -0500, bumped by carol.

I feel wiped out. And it’s not from the flu. It’s from the financial news. Several people I know lost their families’ life savings that were invested with Wall Street wizard Bernie Madoff. My bank, which has been on a buying spree of failing financial firms, was insured by AIG. Not long ago, the president of the United States—the one with a Harvard MBA degree—was urging Americans to switch from Social Security to private investment accounts. Yeah, sure. The only reliable income I have right now is a Social Security check.

Speaking Out

 

Two decades ago, Phil Donahue played a major role in helping end the Cold War by introducing American and Soviet citizens to each other in historic international television talk shows watched by tens of millions of people. Fired by MSNBC in February 2003 for being too antiwar on the eve of war in Iraq, Donahue has continued conducting his peacemaking talks with much smaller audiences.

 
“We have to stop it now. We have to stand up,” Donahue, 73, said at a recent community meeting in Teaneck, NJ attended by about 130 people. Donahue spent much of Friday evening with an overflow audience at a small art gallery in the Puffin Cultural Forum, as part of his grassroots campaign to show Americans his “riveting” (Fox News), “superb” (Time magazine), “heart-wrenching” (New York Times) documentary about a severely wounded, antiwar veteran of Iraq, titled Body of War. An award-winning documentary released in 2007, it was not widely shown in movie theaters, Donahue noted. His appearance and showing of the film were sponsored by the Bergen Peace and Justice Coalition and local chapters of Military Families Speak Out and Veterans for Peace as part of a week of actions marking the 6th anniversary of the war in Iraq.

Community Action on War Trauma

Originally posted Sun, 03/01/2009 - 00:57 - bumping - standingup

Many communities in the United States have a hidden problem, one that is in grave need of the American tradition of neighbors helping neighbors. The problem is the burden of memories that many young men and women bring home from a war, which can often become harder to deal with as time goes by.

Many veterans try to deal with war memories by trying to forget, by drinking or taking drugs. Some join veterans’ groups that offer comradeship and service programs. Yet an increasing number of veterans and active duty soldiers have felt nothing eased their anguish and committed suicide. Most veterans find ways to cope with life after war. But too often, when a veteran realizes he or she has a problem and seeks assistance from government agencies, they run into a bureaucratic logjam. Family members and friends often feel they don’t know where to turn to find a helpful program.

This is where community networking and community forums can play a vital role. Non-profit agencies may have counseling programs that are not widely known. Some advocacy groups have trained counselors to help navigate the mental health care system. Government agencies are trying to figure out how to do improved outreach to veterans, active duty troops and National Guard members.    

New Military Mission

Promoted. -- GH

With a fresh breeze sweeping through the White House, now’s the time for a new look at U.S. military operations overseas. In electing Barak Obama president, a majority of voters chose the “peace candidate” who pressed for winding down the war in Iraq. On the other hand, Obama also supported sending more troops to Afghanistan. Many close observers of the war in Central Asia are raising alarms about escalating military actions in a region of ancient feuds that are now flaming through nuclear-armed Pakistan.

 

“One lesson from Vietnam was that the United States should not go to war without broad public support. One lesson from Iraq might be that we should not go to war without a vigorous public debate in which an administration’s claims are carefully examined and challenged,” Ray Bonner, a veteran journalist in Asia, wrote in a recent New York Times review of two books about the Afghan war front. “Yet we are on the verge of significantly expanding the war in Afghanistan, which will inevitably affect Pakistan as well. Unfortunately, there has been little or no debate about President-elect Barack Obama’s plan to send in more troops.”

Generals for Human Rights

Promoted. -- GH

They didn’t look the part of tough-as-nails military commanders—just another group of smiley faces in business suits clustered behind a president and politely clapping as he signed some documents. Yet a big page in the history of human rights was turned last week, when 16 retired generals and admirals flanked President Obama while he signed  executive orders on his third day in office to close the US War on Terror detention camp in Guantanamo, Cuba; end the CIA’s secret prison program overseas; “and requiring all interrogations to follow the noncoercive methods of the Army Field Manual,” according to The New York Times, which ran a prominent photo of the troop of retired brass hats.

Poetry and Great Events

Promoted. Originally published 2009-01-21 17:30:02 -0500. -- GH

Poets are seldom put on the spot to speak on national television next to a popular president, as Elizabeth Alexander did on Tuesday, abruptly standing in front of a crowd of millions. Before I took poetry seriously, I once addressed a large crowd on the Mall in Washington protesting the war in Vietnam. I was so overwhelmed standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King Jr. famously spoke and facing a sea of expectant faces that I don’t remember what I said.

Poetry helps us remember what’s important. Alexander, a widely published poet, reminded us what was important about the path of Barack Obama’s amazing journey from obscure community organizer to president of the United States.   

Culture Warriors

A military uniform is akin to a soldier’s skin festooned with tattoos, displaying eye-grabbing patches and campaign ribbons, a feisty advertisement of where this soldier/ sailor/ airman/ marine has been. Imagine what it takes to deliberately tear one’s war uniform apart.

 

National Service, or National Disgrace

originally posted 2008-09-24 06:18:06 -1100, this is an awesome fun modest proposal! -- cho

Calls for national service boomed forth on 9/11’s anniversary of the World Trade Center attack. It was a feel-good-America moment. But in no time, the Bush administration shoved aside that quaint notion of do-gooder volunteerism with a more urgent demand—that taxpayers dig deep to deal with a new disaster in lower Manhattan, the meltdown of Wall Street. I have a modest proposal. Why not address these twin disasters with the same solution: Let the stock market wheelers and dealers volunteer their services for free to fix the financial mess that was made on their watch.