By Michelle Simonsen, True Crime Writer and Victim's Rights Advocate
In the spirit of Veteran’s Day, and in the unfortunate tragedy of Fort Hood; I felt it necessary to address the obvious refusal of the military and the government to appropriately address the mounting numbers of Veterans living with untreated mental illnesses.
Fort Hood may have been dealt with a massive blow of tragedy last week, but just a year ago in Fort Hood, on September 8, 2008, an altercation between a soldier and his commanding officer ended in a murder suicide.
Do you remember hearing about that case? I don’t.
The next day on September 9, 2008, a VA report acknowledged that suicide rates for young male Iraq and Afghanistan veterans hit a record high in 2006. (Cite)
Marine suicides have doubled between 2006 and 2007, and Army suicides are at the highest level since records were first kept in 1980. Reported suicide attempts jumped 500% between 2002 and 2007. “The Defense Department says the numbers may be partly attributable to better compliance with reporting requirements.” (Cite)
Reporting requirements? Better compliance? Better than what? Has the military lacked its duty in the past? Has the government been feeding us with false information and statistics that aren’t even the tip of the real iceberg?
What am I getting at? What’s my point? The government has failed our Veterans in a big way.
On November 6, 2008, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health Report stated, “Recent research indicates that an estimated 25 to 30 percent of the Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have reported symptoms of a mental disorder or cognitive condition. Untreated mental health problems can result in long-term negative consequences for the affected individuals, their families, their communities, and our Nation as a whole.”
Once a Soldier returns home, there is no “checks and balances list” on how to cope with regular civilian life. Specifically, no one checks or receives updates on a returning Soldier’s mental health status unless that Soldier specifically requests help. This is a huge barrier since the majority of returning Soldiers are men, and historically men avoid mental health care, therapy and medication.
Kyle Bahrs, a 29-year-old Midwest native was married to a two tour Army Sergeant who served in Iraq from 2005 to 2008. "Tim" currently suffers from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) in addition to a traumatic brain disorder that left him 70% disabled.
Kyle knew "Tim" before he joined the Army and served in Iraq. “He was ‘normal’. Trivial things didn’t bother him, he was fun.” After returning "Tim" went from a fun loving guy to “a cruel, mean and abusive man.”
"Tim's" life became crippled by his untreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and received no mental health care until Kyle insisted, threatening their marriage. Kyle stated “the health care system was completely overbooked, he was rushed, and there were never enough people working.” She continued, “It was completely bureaucratic. It took "Tim" at least two months just to get in to see someone. And when he did they acted like they didn’t give a shit. It was so disheartening because he put his life on the line and didn’t receive any gratitude and the most basic need once a solider returns. Psychological health care.”
While Kyle was married to "Tim", he started drinking excessively and was becoming violent. “He got real paranoid. He wouldn’t answer the door unless he had a gun in his hand.” Then there were the nightmares, “He would wake up screaming…he had dreams and visions of the faces of the people that he killed. I felt helpless. What do you say to that?”
According to the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine on Combat Stress there is a list of mental and physical symptoms before, during and after deployment. I showed Kyle this list and she said that "Tim" displayed practically every single symptom.
Common Stressors to the Deployment Cycle:
Pre-Deployment (from notification to departure)
- Anger and protest
- Emotional detachment
- Family stress
- Marital disagreements
Deployment (from departure to return)
- Emotional destabilization and disorganization
- Sadness, depression, disorientation, anxiety, loneliness
- Sleep disturbances
- Health complaints
- Financial problems
- Some find the midpoint of deployment as the time of greatest stress
- Fear for safety of deployed service member
- Apprehension over redefined roles and power dynamics
- Honeymoon period
- Resentment over loss of independence
- Insecurity about place in reconfigured system
- Service member may have difficulty disengaging from combat mission orientation.
- Domestic violence
Soldier Combat Stress Reaction
- Trouble falling asleep
- Waking up in the middle of the night
- Difficulty with sexual and non sexual intimacy
- Feeling jumpy
- Being easily started
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Feeling numb
- Difficulty readjusting to family routines
- Difficulty reconnecting with family
- Discomfort being around other people or in crowds
- Difficulty with memory
- Loss of interest/motivation
- Concentration problems
- Difficult talking about deployment experiences
- Loss of trust
(Source: U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine on Combat Stress, Soldier Combat Stress Reaction Brochure)
Steffan, a 40-year old African American Gulf War Veteran, stated that there was no “mental health” process after he returned to the United States. He stated, “mental health wasn’t even an issue that people thought about.” He added that a lot of guys he knew who had problems started drinking to “dull it away”. If someone needed mental health services, they had to initiate it.
It’s easier to ignore a bad situation by depending on alcohol or drugs, especially when that person doesn’t have strong family support.
As a Country that boasts the best military in the world, we have a lot to learn about humans themselves. These issues need be taken seriously by the military, and our government needs to consciously implement statistic-changing policies before we start to see a change in this downward spiral of unnecessary human demise that affects us all.
Send your concerns to the following:
Department of Defense
Department of Defense Task Force on Mental Health
5205 Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, Virginia 22041-3258
Read their 2007 Annual Report:
Michelle Simonsen is a victim's rights advocate, crime analyst and blogger for "Michelle Says So", founder of the grassroots consumer boycott, "Boycott Aruba--Justice for Natalee Holloway", an advisory board member of "Survivors in Action", and is a contributing writer for "Now Public", and "True Crime Talk".