Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Support the Troops: Don't Haze a Suicidal Soldier

How's this for supporting the troops? NPR's "All Things Considered" has a report online about the way the military treats soldiers who show symptoms of depression. Hint: Support is not involved at all:

Army studies show that at least 20 percent to 25 percent of the soldiers who have served in Iraq display symptoms of serious mental-health problems, including depression, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Administration officials say there are extensive programs to heal soldiers both at home and in Iraq.

But an NPR investigation at Colorado's Ft. Carson has found that even those who feel desperate can have trouble getting the help they need. In fact, evidence suggests that officers at Ft. Carson punish soldiers who need help, and even kick them out of the Army.

Soldier Tyler Jennings says that when he came home from Iraq last year, he felt so depressed and desperate that he decided to kill himself. Late one night in the middle of May, his wife was out of town, and he felt more scared than he'd felt in gunfights in Iraq. Jennings says he opened the window, tied a noose around his neck and started drinking vodka, "trying to get drunk enough to either slip or just make that decision."

Five months before, Jennings had gone to the medical center at Ft. Carson, where a staff member typed up his symptoms: "Crying spells... hopelessness... helplessness... worthlessness." Jennings says that when the sergeants who ran his platoon found out he was having a breakdown and taking drugs, they started to haze him. He decided to attempt suicide when they said that they would eject him from the Army.

"You know, there were many times I've told my wife -- in just a state of panic, and just being so upset -- that I really wished I just died over there [in Iraq]," he said. "Cause if you just die over there, everyone writes you off as a hero."

Just another piece of evidence, for those who care: The right's rallying cry, "Support the troops!" has about as much to do with supporting the men and women who are fighting this war as Osama bin Laden has to do with the Sermon on the Mount. Remember that, the next time some right-wing flag-waver preaches about taking a soldier out to dinner, or buying him a coffee, or telling him, "Thank you for serving!", or the next time you see one of those "I support the troops" decals on a car. None of those things -- not a single damn one -- does anything to support the troops. Taking a soldier's emotional pain seriously and fighting to get him the help he needs and the help he DESERVES might be. If war supporters want to "support the troops," they can start by blogging this story en masse, and then calling their representatives and the White House to tell them to stop fucking over the men and women who are laying down their lives because the president tells them it's so goddamned fucking essential for their country's survival.

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