When we send our young to war we know it will change them forever. Why is it that, when Congress funds our wars, they don't have the same expectation?
Right now, the Veteran's Administration (VA) is failing tens of thousands of combat veterans because they don't have adequate funds, have way too much red tape and in some cases are simply incompetent. They're rotating out doctors, clinicians and therapists so quickly that treatment is sporadic and uncoordinated. We need to put a face on this tragedy.
For instance, a young man served back-to-back deployments in Iraq, was stop-lossed twice and spent three consecutive years in a war zone. He watched his best friend evaporate in the blast of an improvised explosive device. He has had to kill with his own hands and witnessed fellow soldiers get shot and killed. We'll call him "John," and yes -- he's real and he's a Purple Heart Veteran.
John started struggling with anxiety during his first deployment to Iraq in 2004.They sent him out for two more deployments despite clearly having PTSD. A close friend of mine and fellow veteran is the only person he can reach out to. He has given her instructions to call the police if he starts talking about suicide or murder.
John is 25 years young and started the VA claims process before he left the Army in 2008. It took the VA four years to complete all his tests and certify he had received a traumatic brain injury.
John has severe, chronic insomnia that lasts between two days to two weeks at a time. Medical professionals are not even sure how he's alive. After the VA took four months to get him an appointment to see a specialist, his diagnosis was made clear.
To receive medication John must see a VA doctor. The VA will only write him 2 1/2 month prescriptions of Ambien and they won't allow him to schedule a new appointment until three months have passed. He can rarely get an appointment within the next month and his appointments are frequently canceled.
John's therapy situation is no better. After four months his therapist was re-located. She had just completed his diagnosis and was ready to give him more intensive care. Each time he gets a new doctor or therapist, John has to start the process over again. The VA doesn't even tell him when his doctors are relocated and cancels the appointments he made with them.
His mind is falling apart. Two years ago, John developed a sex addiction. A year ago, John started developing a problem with compulsive, involuntary masturbation. John will have sudden, near-violent urges to masturbate and it can happen to him anywhere. He's incredibly embarrassed, confused and doesn't leave the house for fear of what will happen. His therapist heckles him about his sex addiction, so he hasn't even told her about the problem with masturbation.
John is broken. I will be surprised if, a year from now, he is still alive or not arrested on sex-offender charges. It may be pure luck that he doesn't kill anyone else in the process. The treatment the VA gives him is, most likely, pushing him further into insanity. It's as if the entire country is telling him we don't care. I believe his situation is every single American citizen's fault.
We're killing him by sending him to a war he will never leave behind. We're killing him with our apathy. We're killing him with our acceptance of a Veteran's Administration that fails time and again. Yet, we can still save him if we act.
We need more money to help vets and we need it now. We need to keep a steady drumbeat of media coverage on veteran's issues. We need to open the floodgates of medical care -- even if it means government waste and abuse. The cost of our penny pinching is too high.
While our politicians celebrate the end of Iraq and getting out of Afghanistan in 2014, we must remember:
Now, the war comes home.