Sunday, October 14, 2007

"Kick 'Em When They're Up, Kick 'Em When They're Down"

Another example of the war coming home:

Michelle Turner's husband sits in the recliner with the shades drawn. He washes down his Zoloft with Mountain Dew. On the phone in the other room, Michelle is pleading with the utility company to keep their power on.

"Can't you tell them I'm a veteran?" asks her husband, Troy, who served as an Army scout in Baghdad and came back with post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Troy, they don't care," Michelle says, her patience stretched.

The government's sweeping list of promises to make wounded Iraq war veterans whole, at least financially, has not reached this small house in the hills of rural West Virginia, where one vehicle has already been repossessed and the answering machine screens for bill collectors. The Turners have not been making it on an $860-a-month disability check from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

After revelations about the poor treatment of outpatient soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center earlier this year, President Bush appointed a commission to study the care of the nation's war-wounded. The panel returned with bold recommendations, including the creation of a national cadre of caseworkers and a complete overhaul of the military's disability system that compensates wounded soldiers.

But so far, little has been done to sort out the mess of bureaucracy or put more money in the hands of newly disabled soldiers who are fending off evictions and foreclosures.

In the Turner house, that leaves an exhausted wife with chipped nail polish to hold up the family's collapsing world. "Stand Together," a banner at a local cafe reminds Michelle. But since Troy came back from Iraq in 2003, the burden of war is now hers.

Michelle has spent hundreds of hours at the library researching complicated VA policies and disability regulations. "You need two college degrees to understand any of it," she says, lacking both. She scavenges information where she can find it. A psychotic Vietnam vet she met in a VA hospital was the one who told her that Troy might be eligible for Social Security benefits.

Meanwhile, there are clothes to wash, meals to cook, kids to get ready for school and a husband who is placidly medicated or randomly explosive. Besides PTSD, Michelle suspects that Troy may have a brain injury, which could explain how a 38-year-old man who used to hunt and fish can lose himself in a three-day "Scooby-Doo" marathon on the Cartoon Network.

"He can't deal with everyday stresses of living," Michelle says. "He can't make decisions. He is a worrywart. Fearful. It's like they took Troy and put him in a different person."

As thousands of war-wounded lug their discharge papers and pill bottles home, more than a quarter are returning with PTSD and brain trauma. Compensation for these invisible injuries is more difficult and the social isolation more profound, especially in rural communities where pastures outnumber mental health providers. Troy's one-year war has become his wife's endless one.

Via Jillian at Sadly, No!, a far right blogger named "Raven" sees an opportunity to engage in the right's favorite pastime these days. In a post titled "Other People Got Wounded and All I Got Was a Mental Thing," this charming woman concludes that Troy is a malingerer who is exploiting his wife because he is lazy and she is enabling him:
How does one decipher whether a person is truly mentally ill, or is exploiting their battle experiences to their fullest advantage?

How do we know if Troy is the person he is because of the battlefield experiences, or if he is choosing to be this person because others are enabling him? Since we’re not hearing from Troy’s pre-war family and friends it is difficult to really know what he was life prior to his tour in Iraq.

I’m very skeptical of Troy’s “problems” and so should others who read this article. He is capable of rational thought and he is making choices. He choses to swallow pills and watch TV in the dark- to shut himself in…to refuse medical/psych care and, I really wonder- the required services that would make him a better person.

When we enable some people to be the worst they can be, they take advantage and do just that.

Believe it or not, this compassionate and perceptive soul is a nurse and an EMT.

Jill lets her have it:
I love this new version of conservatism. There is nothing too base, too venal, too cold-blooded for them to say. There is no one they won’t smear, no reputation they won’t seek to tarnish, no depth to which they will not sink in order to destroy anything that interferes with their pet narratives about how they think the world works, whether it be ‘government insurance is socialism’ or ‘the Iraq war is a war for civilization and therefore worth any sacrifice (as long as it’s not mine).’ Anything — absolutely anything at all — is acceptable, except for even the barest hint of the thought that they might actually be wrong about something in even the slightest measure.

The only good thing for us is that, as reality becomes ever more obviously divergent from the bizarre pictures of it painted in the minds of people like this, the ranting that comes from them becomes ever more obviously foul and disgusting. It showed in the howling brigades’ smears of Graeme Frost, and it shows here. There is hope that, if most people really are not baying monsters at heart, but decent individuals, the increasing levels of bile coming from those who actually are baying monsters will start to drive the decent people away from them.

In the last week, they’ve stalked a twelve year old with disabilities and called an Iraqi war vet with brain injuries a malingerer. I’m holding out for the trifecta: these guys don’t support the war. Any chance one of you might want to go kick one of them in the face? Be sure to get pictures, so we can all see how brave and patriotic you are.

Raven, of course, thinks she is overflowing with compassion, and sends Jill to another post of hers to prove it. Quoting from an article about a Marine who is tormented by memories of the charred corpses he helped pull from the World Trade Center, and by other horrors he saw in Kuwait and Iraq, Miss Raven hotly informs her readers that some mothers would give up their own lives if their sons could only remember the horrors they saw in battle:
The mother of one of my patients (a Marine) pointed me to this article this morning. She was quite upset with the portrayal of wounded soldiers and Marines in the manner presented in this story…and her words resonate strongly:

“Be grateful they have memories of their battles. I would give anything including my own life for my son to remember.”

TEMECULA, Calif. (AP) - He was one of America’s first defenders on Sept. 11, 2001, a Marine who pulled burned bodies from the ruins of the Pentagon. He saw more horrors in Kuwait and Iraq.

Today, he can’t keep a job, pay his bills, or chase thoughts of suicide from his tortured brain. In a few weeks, he may lose his house, too.

Gamal Awad, the American son of a Sudanese immigrant, exemplifies an emerging group of war veterans: the economic casualties.
“The wounded and their families no longer trust that the government will take care of them the way they thought they’d be taken care of,” says veterans advocate Mary Ellen Salzano.

How does a war veteran expect to be treated? “As a hero,” she says.

Not all soldiers and Marines will agree with this. A great many of them would prefer not to be known as heroes. My work is with profoundly brain injured young people- teenagers, young adults and we serve some wounded Marines now. You learn a lot about human strength through the struggles these families must endure. And like my patient’s Mom says- theres a fine line between garnering sympathy and expecting the government to fix every problem, vs. taking charge of your own problems and working towards a solution. The battle of recovery can be optimistic or pessimistic. Most people find a balance- they mourn what they have lost, yet they are also grateful for what they have.
Every morning, Awad needs to think of a reason not to kill himself.

He can’t even look at the framed photograph that shows him accepting a Marine heroism medal for his recovery work at the Pentagon after the terrorist attack.

It might remind him of a burned woman whose skin peeled off in his hands when he tried to comfort her.

He tries not to hear the shrieking rockets of Iraq either, smell the burning fuel, or relive the blast that blew him right out of bed.

The memories come steamrolling back anyway.

“Nothing can turn off those things,” he says, voice choked and eyes glistening.

You know, when I read lines like this, I lose respect and sympathy…does that make me cruel or cold? I don’t think so. Mr. Awad should realize he is lucky to be alive. He should visit with some of my patients- who are alive, but who have lost it all. My patients who have little to no recollection of their personhood- or their family and friends. They who have lost portions of their brain yet manage to breathe and who are kept alive by machines.

When the time comes for the machines to stop doing the work, many of my patients continue to live, but they are never ever going to be the person they were prior to their injuries. As mean as it sounds, the Mom made reference to the sad thought she had- where she wishes her son would be able to express feelings and suicidal ideation. She would give almost anything for her son to express his thoughts, to cry, to have emotions and to feel anger.

Raven has a lot more to say, and every bit of it is just as heartfelt and brimming with empathy as the part I have quoted, above.

Clearly, the wells of Raven's selfless, caring nature go very deep, indeed.

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