THE BLOG
01/04/2007 11:17 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What Were They Thinking? VA Cartoon Makes Light of Vets' Mental Health Issues

This is just crazy.

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That's from a Flash animation "training video" the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs have made for doctors at veterans' hospitals to help them understand and treat troops coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-deployment mental health issues.

That's right. This is supposed to be for doctors. Not eight-year-olds.

And it only gets weirder. Instead of just giving the health care providers the information they need, the VA makes the whole thing a metaphorical story about Gilgamesh, the mythical warrior-king who once ruled the ancient Mesopotamian city of... Uruk.

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Gilgamesh, as it turns out, suffered from some mental health issues when he returned from battle - including bad dreams and anxiety. He ends up reaching out to a doctor for treatment.

Supposedly, this is where the "training" for real doctors comes in. Except the doctor spends most of the video making really bad "Who's on First?"-style jokes. I'm not kidding.

You could just put this down to bad judgement and a weak sense of humor by the VA. But when he's not cracking jokes, the doctor makes a couple of interesting comments:

• Your lab tests don't really show anything, so I'm afraid I can't formulate a diagnosis right now.
• I'd say you do have what these guidelines refer to as "medically unexplained symptoms."

As veterans' advocate Kathie Costos points out in her blog, Gilgamesh ends up with no diagnosis... and no disability rating from the VA. So in the real world, the veteran would have nothing to fall back on as he or she tries to cope with the mental scars of war.

What are real veterans facing? One in three Iraq vets has sought care for a mental health issue - including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, and anxiety. Tens of thousands of new veterans have already sought help with overcoming drug and alcohol problems. These problems are having a ripple effect -- divorce, unemployment, and even suicide rates are all increasing.

The cartoon doctor makes one suggestion for Gilgamesh:

• "Exercise, sleep, hygiene and a few less lattes in the morning."

This is absurd and insulting. You'd think the VA would be more careful, after all the attention they've gotten for massive budget shortfalls and months-long waits for veterans seeking counseling and treatment.

Bottom line: The issues facing veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are no laughing matter. But this video is just one more sign that the VA, after four years of war, still doesn't understand that.

You can see the video here, or read the transcript.