Returning Vets and the Help They Are Not Getting

Last week John Huston’s moving 1944 documentary on combat stress in returning WW II vets was finally released after some 60 years of censorship.  Take a look. [and my post about it.]

The vets returning today don’t need to measure their traumas against the grandfathers’ or even against each others.  Each soldier has his or her own hell, and the country that sent them there is obligated at the greatest level to do all it can do to repair the damage as best as can be done.

I’ve had my own struggle: in 2001 I was part of the initial force of Marines who landed in Afghanistan, and in 2003 took part in the heavy fighting of the first wave of the invasion of Iraq. Since coming home, I’ve had my mind hijacked by visions of the corpses of children, their eyes blackened, at the side of the road. I recall carrying the coffins of fallen brothers. I remember losing friends who probably knew exactly what was happening to them, as they bled out on the side of a dusty road in Iraq.

And I’ve felt the shame of having suicidal feelings. Like many others, I chose to hide them. Yet, even in the darkest days of my own post-traumatic stress, when I was considering choosing between making my suicide look like an accident or taking a swan dive off some beautiful bridge, I never considered going to the V.A. for help.

My image of the V.A., formed while I was on active duty, was of an ineffective, uncaring institution. Tales circulated among my fellow Marines of its institutional indifference, and those impressions were confirmed when I left Iraq for home. At Camp Pendleton, Calif., a woman with a cold, unfeeling manner assembled us for a PowerPoint presentation and pointed us to brochures — nothing more, no welcoming sign of warmth or empathy for the jumble of emotions we were feeling. Her remoteness spoke volumes to me of what I might expect at home.

To regain veterans’ trust, the V.A. must change its organization and culture, not just hire more people.

Mike Scotti, USMC in Iraq also has a book, “The Blue Cascade: A Memoir of Life After War.”