12-1: Veterans to Stand with Sioux against Pipeline

[I consult and consider many sources in search of appropriate subject matter for this blog. Often I find material that is best left (mostly) untouched by me, e.g., today’s piece derives from two sources: The Daily Kos (Walter Einenkel) and Facebook (Veterans Stand for Standing Rock).]

Veterans’ Place in Society

Veterans are not monolithic. Yet 99% of Americans—i.e., those who never have nor ever will serve in the military—seem to treat us that way. Different. They laud us on Veterans Day and Memorial Day with honorifics such as “brave” and “best”; but, really, after that it’s pretty much “out of sight, out of mind.” For me, that’s pretty muck okay.

War veterans share a lack of say in the validity, morality, or righteousness of the war(s) in which they were engaged. Whether enlisted or drafted, the combat soldier goes where told, acts as ordered, and ultimately lives or dies in service of country. Politicians wield the power to send “us” to war, but they never send themselves and rarely offer this unique chance for glory to members of their own families.

Different Rules for the Military

Members of the military conduct themselves according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, a code which severely alters the way they live. A soldier cannot just leave a duty station and go home without permission, for example, anytime he pleases; if he did, he would be declared AWOL (away without leave) and subject to punishment under the code. So, then, soldiers learn to comport themselves within the confines of that code. Moreover, the soldier confronts at all times the chain of command, from his immediate superior all the way up to the commander-in-chief.

Having served within the confines of the UCMJ for a predetermined period of time, the soldier separates from the military with an Honorable Discharge, honor being the operative word. And this is how veterans should be perceived, as men and women of proven honor. The story below depicts how people of proven honor can and do continue to serve the America—and Americans—they love: no chain of command, no “official” code of conduct required.

December 4-7, 2016

2,000 Veterans plan to be a “human shield” for the North Dakota Pipeline activists

As more and more signs point towards the government trying to strong-arm Dakota Access Pipeline protectors and activists in the coming days, a movement called Veterans Stand for Standing Rock  plan on lending their help and their bodies.

As many as 2,000 veterans planned to gather next week at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota to serve as “human shields” for protesters who have for months clashed with the police over the construction of an oil pipeline, organizers said….

The veterans’ plan coincides with an announcement on Tuesday by law enforcement officials that they would begin blocking supplies, including food, from entering the main protest camp after an evacuation order from the governor, according to Reuters. But protesters have vowed to stay put.

It is Native American land!

The veterans’ efforts also coincide with the Army Corps of Engineers plans to close off access to the movement’s campsite by creating the Orwellian-named “free speech zone.”

“Yeah, good luck with that,” Michael A. Wood Jr., and founder of the veterans’ event, said in an interview.

Veterans Overwhelming Response to Call for Justice

Wood Jr. … was bowled over when, in asking for 500 veterans sign up, he found himself having to cap the event at 2,000. The veterans participating want the U.S. government to reveal what it is really about. Are they going to continue totalitarian and violently oppressive tactics or are they going to recognize that the citizens did not and still do not agree with this pipeline plan?

For me this is a stand worth taking, a battle worth fighting. How pathetic it is that American and Native American men and women of honor must face down uniformed agents of our own government on American soil.

From Facebook:

Veterans Stand for Standing Rock

Event capacity based on accommodations, travel logistics and supplies … has been set at 2,000 rostered participants…. If you’d like to contribute to this mission please consider donating/sharing to our GoFundMe https://www.gofundme.com/veterans-for-standing-rock-nodapl. All funding is dedicated to transportation, supplies, gear, onsite infrastructure and legal fees. Our team is made up exclusively of volunteer Veteran and Civilian self organizers dedicated to our mission of service. Zero salaries, Zero marketing….

IMPORTANT REMINDER: This event (and this event page) will not tolerate hate, violence or divisive behavior of any kind. We’re doing this to support our country so lets do it with honor….

*****

The illustration at the blog’s top is the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. The blogger is a Vietnam Veteran, 1966-67. He is an author and past state chaplain for a major veterans organization. He welcomes comments on posts and encourages readers to subscribe to PTSDOutreach.com; two points: 1) it is free, 2) posts appear directly in your e-mail in-box.

11-30: A Mother’s “Gift”

[I consult and consider many sources in search of appropriate subject matter for this blog. Often I find material that is best left (mostly) untouched by me, e.g., today’s piece from History.com.]

Death in war does not always come from a bullet, as shown in this story from WWI.

American Nurse Maude Fisher Writes to Mother of War Casualty

On November 29, 1918, Maude Fisher, a nurse in the American Red Cross during World War I, writes a heartfelt letter to the mother of a young soldier named Richard Hogan to inform her of her son’s death in an army hospital.

“My dear Mrs. Hogan,” Fisher began, “If I could talk to you I could tell you so much better about your son’s last sickness, and all the little things that mean so much to a mother far away from her boy.” Richard Hogan, who survived his front-line service in the war unscathed, had been brought to the hospital with influenza on November 13, 1918–just two days after the armistice was declared.

Thus, the “war to end all wars” had come to an end. That did not end the suffering, however.

The influenza soon developed into pneumonia. Hogan was “brave and cheerful,” Fisher assured Mrs. Hogan, “and made a good fight with the disease…. He did not want you to worry about his being sick, but I told him I thought we ought to let you know, and he said all right.”

Before two weeks had passed, however, Hogan was dead.

Would his death have borne different meaning if it had come from German shrapnel? Would that have mattered to a grieving parent? I don’t think so.

Knowing the woman would only receive an official governmental notification of her son’s death, Fisher gave a more personal account of his last days, including his joking with the hospital orderly and the other nurses’ affection for him. According to Fisher, Hogan was buried in the cemetery at Commercy, in northeastern France, alongside other fallen American soldiers of the Great War.

Yes, “alongside other fallen American soldiers of the Great War”!

“A big hill overshadows the place and the sun was setting behind it just as the Chaplain said the last prayer over your boy,” Fisher wrote. “He prayed that the people at home might have great strength now for the battle that is before them, and we do ask that for you now. The country will always honor your boy, because he gave his life for it,

until it forgets your “boy” and all the other boys laid to rest in the cemetery at Commercy

and it will also love and honor you for the gift of your boy,

This is where I have trouble. It’s the “gift” part. Would wars exist if parents worldwide freely bequeathed their offspring to some cause or another, as they once did in ancient Sparta? And what about our “boys” and “girls” today who comprise the all-volunteer military, and what about their parents? Is the death of an American soldier today a gift? To whom? For what?

but be assured, that the sacrifice is not in vain, and the world is better today for it.”

But I am not assured that war death is not in vain. Since Vietnam and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, soldiers have been referred to as “assets.” Kind of softens the blow if an asset is lost rather than a person. Chicken hawks use flippant terms like “acceptable risk” and “collateral damage.” No, I am not assured that the world is a better place because it is smeared with American blood.

What I do know is that our era of endless war begets wounded generation after wounded generation.

*****

The illustration at the blog’s top corner is the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. The blogger is a Vietnam Veteran, 1966-67. He is an author and past state chaplain for a major veterans organization. He welcomes comments on posts and encourages readers to subscribe to PTSDOutreach.com; two points: 1) it is free, 2) posts appear directly in your e-mail in-box.

 

 

11-29: Vietnam, in the Beginning

[I consult and consider many sources in search of appropriate subject matter for this blog. Often I find material that is best left (mostly) untouched by me, e.g., today’s piece which comes from History.com for November 27, 1965.]

[Wars Cause PTSD. Whether tomorrow, a decade from now, or 30 years down the line, the war experience today will torture a soldier’s mind. It is not necessary to argue, debate, or fight about our reason(s) for going to war; it is the act of war that attacks the psyche. End the wars, end the suffering.]

As frequent visitors to this space know, I was drafted in October 1965. Thus, the events reported below, which occurred November 27, 1965—more than a month-and-a-half later—intrigue me.

Pentagon Wants More Men in Vietnam

The Pentagon informs President Johnson that if General Westmoreland is to conduct the major sweep operations necessary to destroy enemy forces during the coming year, U.S. troop strength should be increased from 120,000 to 400,000 men [worldwide].

Dates Don’t Jive

When I and the 196th Light Infantry Brigade landed at Vung Tau during summer 1966, U.S. troop strength in-country ballooned to about 50,000. By summer 1967 the number bloated to about 500,000. Virtually all of the grunts in the 196th were draftees, having been plucked from the so-called real world and assembled at Fort Devens, Massachusetts in October. Somebody knew something before November 27.

VC Release Hostages

Also on this day: The Viet Cong release two U.S. special forces soldiers captured two years earlier during a battle of Hiep Hoa, 40 miles southwest of Saigon.

That puts U.S. special forces soldiers in Vietnam in 1963.

At a news conference in Phnom Penh three days later, the two Americans, Sgt. George Smith and Specialist 5th Class Claude McClure, declared that they opposed U.S. actions in Vietnam and would campaign for the withdrawal of American troops. Although Smith later denied making the statement, U.S. authorities announced that the two men would face trial for cooperating with the enemy.

How about that? We had an “enemy” even before we had a war … and freed American POWs “would face trial for cooperating with the enemy.” Where was the outrage?

Protests Begin

Also on this day: In Washington, nearly 35,000 war protestors circle the White House for two hours before moving on to the Washington Monument. Dr. Benjamin Spock, Coretta Scott King, and activist Norman Thomas were among those who gave speeches.

Funny, we troops didn’t hear about this while training for war in the jungles of the Great American Northeast … in the fall/winter. I can say unequivocally that on this day in history I was in the middle of basic training: no newspapers, no radio or TV, no phone calls home. We were preparing for a war not yet declared—and never to be declared—while citizens were already protesting.

Many of my fellow “Chargers” find pride in knowing that the 196th was the first full brigade to deploy to Vietnam and was the last to leave in 1975. I feel more numbed than chest inflated. Nearly 60,000 names are etched into the “Wall” on the mall in Washington, D.C. None of them got to hear Spock, King, or Thomas. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway. We/they had an enemy to defeat.

 

*****

The illustration at the blog’s top is the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. The blogger is a Vietnam Veteran, 1966-67. He is an author and past state chaplain for a major veterans organization. He welcomes comments on posts and encourages readers to subscribe to PTSDOutreach.com; two points: 1) it is free, 2) posts appear directly in your e-mail in-box.

11-28: VA Programs

[I consult and consider many sources in search of appropriate subject matter for this blog. Often I find material that is best left (mostly) untouched by me, e.g., today’s piece comes from the VA’s National Center for PTSD.]

Good treatments are available for PTSD …

no matter when a Veteran served or how long symptoms have been present.

[The] website, VA.gov, offers information for Veterans, their loved ones, and the providers who care for them:

To help … raise PTSD awareness throughout the year, get ideas on how to spread the word that PTSD treatment can help.

*****

The illustration at the blog’s top is the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. The blogger is a Vietnam Veteran, 1966-67. He is an author and past state chaplain for a major veterans organization. He welcomes comments on posts and encourages readers to subscribe to PTSDOutreach.com; two points: 1) it is free, 2) posts appear directly in your e-mail in-box.

 

 

11-23: Michael Flynn, Another Look

Wars Cause PTSD. Whether tomorrow, a decade from now, or 30 years down the line, the war experience today will torture a soldier’s mind. It is not necessary, as relative to PTSD, to argue, debate, or fight about our reason(s) for going to war; it is the act of war that attacks the psyche. End the wars, end the suffering.

Will the real Michael Flynn please stand up?

A while back I reviewed David Swanson’s War Is a Lie. Swanson, an unabashed lefty, dug up several interesting, if not confusing, quotes and actions from Donald J. Trump-appointed National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, which occurred during Flynn’s tenure as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Flynn, a former three-star general, played a highly visible role during Trump’s campaign. He unequivocally supported Trump’s position on torture and, during the Republican convention, helped fuel the chant “Lock her up,” aimed, of course, at Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton. Swanson’s quotes below, therefore, seem incongruous.

What is your position, Michael Flynn?

On Drone Strikes

“We’ve tended to say, drop another bomb via a drone and put out a headline that ‘we killed Abu Bag of Doughnuts’ and it makes us all feel good for 24 hours … And you know what? It doesn’t matter. It just made them a martyr, it just created a new reason to fight us even harder.”

“When you drop a bomb from a drone … you are going to cause more damage than you are going to cause good. The more weapons we give, the more bombs we drop, that just … fuels the conflict.”

Asked . . . if drone strikes tend to create more terrorists than they kill, Flynn . . . replied:

“I don’t disagree with that,” adding: “I think as an overarching strategy, it is a failed strategy.”

On War Itself

“What we have is this continued investment in conflict. The more weapons we give, the more bombs we drop, that just … fuels the conflict. Some of that has to be done but I am looking for the other solutions.”

On the Rise of ISIL

Flynn acknowledged the role played by the US invasion and occupation of Iraq.

“We definitely put fuel on a fire. Absolutely … there is no doubt, history will not be kind to the decisions that were made certainly in 2003. Going into Iraq, definitely … it was a strategic mistake.”

Flynn denied any involvement in the litany of abuses carried out by JSOC interrogators at Camp Nama in Iraq … but admitted the US prison system in Iraq in the post-war period “absolutely” helped radicalize Iraqis who later joined Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and its successor organization, ISIL.

On Prisoner Abuse

Flynn also called for greater accountability for US soldiers involved in abuses against Iraqi detainees:

“You know I hope that as more and more information comes out that people are held accountable … History is not going to look kind on those actions … and we will be held, we should be held, accountable for many, many years to come.”

Swanson’s Rhetorical Questions

  • What impact will “bombing the hell” out of people have?
  • What good will “killing their families” do?
  • Spreading nukes around?
  • “Stealing their oil”?
  • Making lists of and banning Muslims?
  • Is it Flynn’s turn to willfully ignore key facts and common sense in order to “advise” against his better judgment a new president who prefers to be advised to do what he was going to do anyway?
  • Or can Flynn be convinced to apply lessons learned at huge human cost to similar situations going forward even with a president of a different party, race, and IQ?

*****

The illustration at the blog’s top is the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. The blogger is a Vietnam Veteran, 1966-67. He is an author and past state chaplain for a major veterans organization. He welcomes comments on posts and encourages readers to subscribe to PTSDOutreach.com; two points: 1) it is free, 2) posts appear directly in your e-mail in-box.

11-22: Fate of a VA Whistleblower

[I consult and consider many sources in search of appropriate subject matter for this blog. Often I find material that is best left (mostly) untouched by me, e.g., today’s piece from the Associated Press’ Dan Elliott.]

Trouble at Veterans Affairs

When Brian Smothers went to Congresspersons claiming wrongdoing at the VA with regard to waiting times for mental health care, the country seethed with outrage—not at Smothers, mind you, but at the system that was allegedly committing sins of omission with regard to our “warriors.” Changes were in fact introduced but, apparently, Smothers himself became a pariah within the workplace.

I do not state this lightly: Government bureaucracy is authoritarian, stifling, and vindictive. (I know. I worked for DoD.)

Here is Elliott’s article.

Veterans Affairs Whistleblower Resigns, Citing Retaliation

DENVER (AP) — A Department of Veterans Affairs employee who told Congress the agency was using unauthorized wait lists for mental health care in Colorado has resigned, saying he was subjected to retaliation for speaking out.

Brian Smothers told The Associated Press [recently] the VA had opened two separate inquiries into his actions and tried to get him to sign a statement saying he had broken VA rules. He said he refused.

Return to Your Job—Not Really

Smothers also said the VA reassigned him to an office with no computer access, no significant duties and no social contact.

He called the VA’s actions punitive and his working conditions intolerable….

At Issue:

Smothers alleges that Colorado VA facilities in Denver and suburban Golden used unauthorized wait lists for mental health services from 2012 until last September. He said the lists hid how long it takes for veterans to get treatment and made the demand for mental health care appear lower than it really was.

He said the longer that veterans have to wait for mental health care, the less likely they are to use it when it becomes available….

Smothers was a peer support specialist on the VA’s post-traumatic stress disorder clinical support team in Denver. He said he started the job in April 2015.

Following the rules …

Smothers went to Republican Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Cory Gardner of Colorado in September, saying he had uncovered the unauthorized lists on spreadsheets in the VA computer system. He also said a veteran had taken his own life while waiting for PTSD treatment at a Colorado Springs VA clinic….

While working for the Government, I, too, became involved in a project over which a civilian, working for a contractor, took his own life.

Senators’ Statements:

Gardner said in a written statement that he was troubled by the circumstances of Smothers’ resignation.

“This employee’s communication with my office is protected by federal law,” he said. Gardner said he has asked the inspector general to look into whether the VA retaliated against Smothers.

Johnson said he too is concerned about Smothers’ case.

“My office will continue to work with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel to ensure that federal employees who blow the whistle do not suffer any retaliation,” he said in an email.

The Office of Special Counsel is an independent federal agency that protects whistleblowers….

Smothers said that after he contacted the senators, the VA investigated whether his actions had violated agency rules and concluded they had not….

Everyone loses in this story: Veterans, Smothers, the VA, Congressional procedures (which take on a life of their own), the American people. It is an unfortunate fact of our lives that Veterans and active duty personnel will need health care for a very long time. Admission of this indisputable fact—via whistleblowing or plain common sense—is not the problem; it is the beginning of a solution.

*****

The illustration at the blog’s top is the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. The blogger is a Vietnam Veteran, 1966-67. He is an author and past state chaplain for a major veterans organization. He welcomes comments on posts and encourages readers to subscribe to PTSDOutreach.com; two points: 1) it is free, 2) posts appear directly in your e-mail in-box.

11-21: The Draftee

[I consult and consider many sources in search of appropriate subject matter for this blog. Often I find material that is best left (mostly) untouched by me, e.g., today’s piece by Caroline Bologna, Parents Editor of the Huffington Post: “What I Learned about Patriotism from My Dad, A Vietnam War Draftee.”]

Most of my Army buddies and those I hang out with at reunions were, like myself, drafted in 1965. The story below sums up pretty well our role in U.S. military history. It does not mention PTSD … so I will.

It is my experience that PTSD does not discriminate. Whether a person joined or was drafted, the actual combat experience—and its after effects—can neither be predicted nor anticipated.

“We shouldn’t forget the other veterans, the ones who didn’t have the choice,” writes Caroline Bologna.

When my father was 22 years old, he was drafted into the United States military. The year was 1968, the Vietnam War was in full swing, and he was a recent college graduate with a wife and newborn baby.

My dad did not want to go to Vietnam for many reasons, which were obvious at the time but may be less apparent to people my age.

Vietnam was one of the longest and most unpopular wars in American history. The death toll reached over 58,000 U.S. military casualties by the conflict’s end. Servicemen were reportedly committing senseless acts of violence against civilians. Anti-war protests were rampant, and anti-war sentiment was not limited to fringe left-wing communities.

But this was the era of the draft, so how a soldier felt about participating in the war didn’t really matter.

The letter we all received from the Government bore the ironic salutation “Greetings.”

“I didn’t have a choice,” my dad told me … when I asked about his military experience. “I was just another draftee. It was something I had to do. Something a lot of us had to do.”

On Veterans Day, we honor soldiers who pledged to give their lives in the service of their country. But living in this age of military worship, I think my generation can’t fathom the experience of being a veteran who didn’t want anything to do with the fight and received nothing but disdain from the public. These are the veterans for whom the notions of patriotism and service are very complicated.

But they are veterans nonetheless, and their stories deserve to be told.

My dad’s … reflections are extremely matter of fact. There’s no fanfare, no sense of nostalgia, no evocations of glory.

“I think I made the best of it,” he says.

… After basic training and advanced individual training, he qualified for Officer Candidate School, where he learned to “square” his meals and engineer roads and bridges.

He ultimately accepted a post as a personnel officer and rose to the rank of first lieutenant. The job involved lots and lots of paperwork, a responsibility that would prepare him well for his future career as an attorney.

“I had no desire to be involved in the military at its core level: People with guns shooting each other,” he told me….

When I ask my dad if his veteran status makes him proud, he has a complicated answer. He said he’s never been able to say he was “proud” of his military service. But he doesn’t feel shame either. I think he just never really had the option to feel anything about it.

“I’m a Vietnam-era veteran. I was there because my country ordered me to be there, and I didn’t have any real choices,” he says. “That’s it.”…

That’s it.

*****

The illustration at the blog’s top is the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. The blogger is a Vietnam Veteran, 1966-67. He is an author and past state chaplain for a major veterans organization. He welcomes comments on posts and encourages readers to subscribe to PTSDOutreach.com; two points: 1) it is free, 2) posts appear directly in your e-mail in-box.

11-18: Tragedy in Vermont

[I consult and consider many sources in search of appropriate subject matter for this blog. Often I find material that is best left (mostly) untouched by me, e.g., today’s piece. This article appeared on the Democracy Now website last week.]

This story contains a nightmare scenario that Veterans with PTSD and the mental health professionals who treat them fear. Although an exception to the actions of the majority of PTSD victims, it nonetheless happened.

Vermont: 5 High School Students Killed after Iraq War Vet Drives into Car on I-89

In Vermont, five high school students have died after a motorist driving the wrong way down Interstate 89 slammed into the teenagers’ car, which burst into flames. He then stole a police car after the officer stopped to try to put out the fire. He then drove away, turned around and raced back, smashing into more cars that had stopped to help the students in the car crash. The driver … [I have chosen to omit his name, as I see no benefit to including it] is a U.S. military veteran who served in Iraq. Authorities say he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, and that he’d gone to the emergency room the morning before the crash seeking help, but that he was not screened by a mental health clinician.

I do not doubt that this tragedy happened as reported. I find it imperative to say, however, that this veteran’s experience does not mirror my own experiences with the VA which have been excellent.

The story continues …

His ex-girlfriend took out a restraining order against him after a domestic violence incident in May. She says he’s threatened to kill her by driving them into a pond. She has won full custody of their toddler. Authorities say [he] … is still unconscious and in critical condition after the crash….

This man obviously had long-standing mental health issues as well as legal ones as evidenced in the restraining order the mother of his child was compelled to take out against him. Which “system” failed most: the legal system or the VA? Does it matter? Yes!

It matters.

It matters that we as a society have lost five innocent teens. It matters that a deeply disturbed and violent man was not in some “system’s” custody, where clearly he belonged. It matters that this man’s actions will taint the opinion of some that (all) PTSD victims are to be avoided, shunned, or feared.

*****

The illustration at the blog’s top is the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. The blogger is a Vietnam Veteran, 1966-67. He is an author and past state chaplain for a major veterans organization. He welcomes comments on posts and encourages readers to subscribe to PTSDOutreach.com; two points: 1) it is free, 2) posts appear directly in your e-mail in-box.