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Joan E. Dowlin Headshot

Is This Any Way to Treat Our Heroes?

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A close family friend's son recently returned from Afghanistan where he had been working as a government contractor for the US war there. He is a Veteran Marine who joined in 2002 right after terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center buildings on 9/11/01. He unselfishly wanted to serve his country and defend us from these attacks.

He was readily accepted by the United States Marine Corp. and his fellow soldiers, having been voted #1 Honor Man of his boot camp even though he was at least 10 years older than most of his peers. He worked his way up to Staff Sergeant and was so well liked by his battalion that they resisted sending him out to the battlefield. They didn't want to lose him.

But go to war he did with tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He served proudly with many honors and awards until 2006 when he started contract work in Afghanistan.

He has a wife and young son, two parents and a sister who love him dearly. You can imagine his family's sense of relief every time he returned home safely and in one piece after each tour of duty. His last trip home in September of this year seemed as any other, but then something very strange and frightening happened. He tried to commit suicide by shooting himself in the head. Luckily, he was a bad shot and survived, ending up needing surgery to repair his eye socket, but the emotional damage is the harder part to heal. We are told he is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which afflicts many soldiers and anyone who has been in life threatening situations. We can only imagine what horrors he has endured being in a war zone off and on for over six years.

This is where we are failing our heroes and veterans. How can Congress pass a $680 billion defense authorization bill on October 22, 2009 to keep spending money and sending soldiers to die or be maimed overseas and not allocate enough for their recovery when they return?

The mother of this heroic Marine informed me that they wanted to get their son transferred to a VA hospital near them so they could visit and support him. Initially, the local VA hospital said no because they didn't want to take responsibility for this ex-soldier being a danger to himself and others. Then they changed their mind and agreed to admit him, only to days later refuse to take him once again. Finally, they admitted him as a patient the following week. The family has been "tearing their hair out" over the bureaucratic red tape and hoops they have had to go through just to get their son treatment. Hasn't this family suffered enough from this tragic event? Why has our country's military hospital system failed them in their greatest hour of need?

So now that he is in the hospital, all is well, right? Well, not exactly. I am told he is currently in a four week Substance Abuse program, although he maintains he does not have an alcohol or drug problem. He agreed to go on the program because the waiting list is far shorter than the PTSD list. Once he began the treatment classes he realized he didn't relate to the others because it was for "the worst of the worst -- guys who have sold their children for alcohol or have drunk rubbing alcohol," his mother has told me. "But he is choosing to stay because it is important to his future to be able to say he completed the program, however inadequate it is."

The PTSD program is six weeks long and even though our favorite son is rated at the 90% level on the VA scale of PTSD, he doesn't qualify because again it is for the worst of the worst and has a very long waiting list. I am told by his parents that thinking six weeks will cure PTSD is like "putting a band-aid on cancer." The only other approach these government-run hospitals have is to give the patients an RX for anti-depressants and a monthly check from Uncle Sam. To quote our courageous soldier's mom: "Doesn't cure a thing."

She says and I wholeheartedly agree: "It is quite criminal how we're treating the vets from yet again, another war." These brave souls have risked lives, limbs, and psyches to keep us safe. They are our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and aunts and uncles. They are true American heroes.

I recently saw an alarming statistic that said that 43% of homeless males over 25 are veterans. What kind of a country are we when the men and women who fight for us overseas return to a system that neglects and discards them at home? Where is the moral outrage?

If you feel as I do, then join me and other friends and family members of these selfless veterans and write to your Representatives, Senators and the President and demand that more be done to care for our returning war heroes.

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