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The Realities for US Veteran’s on Veteran’s Day

November 11, 2010

It is Veteran’s Day and that usually means parades and ceremonies to honor men and women who have served in the US military. It means the President will give a speech about the commitment to freedom that the US military demonstrates and Veteran’s Day usually means news stories about soldiers on leave.

This was the case with a story in the Grand Rapids Press, which features the return of a US soldier from Afghanistan. The brief article tells us about a US soldier from Hudsonville, who was greeted at the airport by family and friends. The story quotes the soldier’s mom who says she expected her son to come back different.

Coming back different is an understatement, particularly for soldiers who have been involved in combat. The statistics are staggering, whether we are talking about soldiers who have been physically wounded, are struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), substance abuse and broken relationships.

While the news media and society in general might celebrate the sacrifices that US soldiers make, the concern for soldiers returning from war changes dramatically after the parade ends.

There has been some news coverage of US troop deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, but that is usually limited to numerical milestones. What we don’t hear much about are US troops who have committed suicide as a result of their involvement in war. In fact, for every death, at least five members of the armed forces were hospitalized for attempting to take their life. According to the Navy Times, 2 percent of Army; 2.3 percent of Marines and 3 percent of Navy respondents to the military’s own survey of 28,536 members from all branches reported they had attempted suicide at some point.

US soldier suicides have now claimed more lives than soldiers killed in combat in Afghanistan. You can see from this graph how US soldier suicides have risen steadily since the US War in Iraq began and the recent escalation of US troops in Afghanistan.

In addition to high suicide rates, US soldiers have to try to cope with living in a civilian life, which means finding work and attempting to maintain relationships. Ann Jones reports that many US soldiers fall victim to substance abuse after combat. Substance abuse can add stress to relationships, which sometimes results in physical abuse by veterans against spouses, girlfriends and children. Sometimes this abuse results in rape and murder of intimate partners.

These are the ugly realities of the consequences of putting very young men in circumstances that no one should have to endure. Unfortunately, these are realities that we do not want to talk about or come to terms with since to do so is often seen as unpatriotic. This kneejerk response is ridiculous on many levels but particularly when we realize that the strongest voices on the realities of war veterans are veterans themselves.

Just a few days ago Jeff Hanks, a US soldier who has served in Afghanistan, refused deployment because of his struggle with PTSD. Hanks sought help from military doctors when returning from Afghanistan, but his treatment was cut short when he received orders for re-deployment. Iraq Veterans Against the War have organized a campaign to support Jeff Hanks and they are seeking solidarity from the public.

So on Veteran’s Day 2010, let’s not blindly honor veterans as heroes, rather let us see them as victims of a policy they had little to do with. Let us listen to US veterans of war who are resisting the ongoing US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here is a short video by Brave New Foundation, where US veterans speak out on the US war in Afghanistan.


6 Comments leave one →
  1. Kate Wheeler permalink
    November 12, 2010 5:55 pm

    It’s no wonder the suicide rate is so high, when it becomes so clear to our troops that they are in a war of occupation for absolutely no justified reason. Thanks for this excellent article, and for the very powerful film clip.

  2. Andrew Tanis permalink
    November 14, 2010 3:09 pm

    How blind and ignorant are you. The suicide rate is high because the people that we are actually helping (you) are giving up. Every day you enjoy all the benefits of a free nation, while others go off to war to make sure it stays that way. If people were more supportive and show more love for their troops, then I guarantee the suicide rate will drop. I know how tough that life is. I sacrificed 5 years of my life to the cause and I would do it all over again. You want to reap the benefits of war, but complain on the means at which it is acquired. Don’t feel bad for the troops, they volunteered.

  3. November 14, 2010 5:36 pm

    Andrew, I don’t see how I am blind and ignorant. I was basing the post on well sources that are mostly derived from veterans groups. More importantly, the US occupation of Afghanistan has nothing to do with the freedoms that I enjoy in this country. The Taliban did not bomb the US on 9/11/2001 and there is no credible evidence of Al Qaida in Afghanistan – McCrystal and Petraeus have acknowledged that fact.

    There is no evidence that troops are committing suicide because of lack of “troop support” unless of course you mean the VA’s limited funding to support veterans who are struggling with PTSD, then yes I agree they are not getting the support they need. Troops are committing suicide because they have participating in and witnessing terrible crimes against Afghan civilians.

    You think I have reaped the benefits of US wars abroad, but tell me when was the last time that another country attacked the US……..remember, I said country. That would be Japan and Peral Harbor. US military campaigns abroad have nothing to do with my freedom, but they do support US strategic and private capital interests. To quote the most decorated soldier in US history, General Smedley Butler, “I wouldn’t go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket……..I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912 (where have I heard that name before?). I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.

    During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

    The US occupation of Afghanistan sucks millions of dollars from my community to fund that bloody war, while schools are closed and poverty increases for working families. If you are going to make an argument in favor of war, please provide some evidence of how people living in the US are beneficiaries of those wars. This would be a better than calling me blind and ignorant.

  4. Anastacia Marie permalink
    May 30, 2012 2:03 pm

    Jeff, as a Soldier, I believe what you have written is exceptionally well put. America doesn’t benefit in any way, shape or form from a war abroad that we have no business fighting. These are people who have been killing each other for the past thousands of years. Why do we think that all of a sudden we can step in and they’ll see that what they’re doing is wrong? We can’t! Why don’t we worry about the millions of families who are homeless. hungry and unemployed because we’re funding a war in a completely different part of the world instead of helping those out here?

    Andrew, I’m so sorry you feel that way, but if you gave 5 years and you’d do it again, why don’t you? I’ve been in for 9 years, supporting the home front and I’d go overseas if I had to because orders are orders but in all honesty, this war is not our fight to fight, unless you want to fight it all by yourself???

    I work with the Wound Warriors coming into the DC area and I KNOW what war has done to them. We volunteered because we believed that the people who we are “fighting to defend” wouldn’t send us into STUPID, DANGEROUS, COMPLETELY AVOIDABLE AND TOTALLY NOT OUR BUSINESS type of scenario. So before you say why we do what we do, ask us first! I would absolutely love to see you come by my office in your ACUs and a wheelchair unable to keep your drool in your mouth because an IED went off near your convoy, and you’d have the nerve to say that to again.

  5. May 30, 2012 2:12 pm

    Anastacia, thanks for your comments and your commitment to justice.


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