Â I recently read a disturbing article about a young American man named Jonathan who served in the war in Iraq and returned suffering with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). I am always lured by these headlines because I am the loving wife of a Vietnam veteran who suffers with PTSD, Agent Orange exposure and neglect at the hands of the VA (Veterans Affairs) every day. It makes my heart ache to think this tragedy continues to repeat itself for more young men and their families.
Jonathan, a veteran with two Purple Hearts, was finally ready on January 11 to get the help he desperately needed since his return from Iraq. He packed his US Marine duffel bag with neatly folded clothes and a picture of his baby daughter and drove 75 miles to the VA Hospital in St. Cloud, Minnesota. To add personal commentary, VA medical centers are often many miles away from a veterans’ home (usually in a modest neighborhood where they can afford to survive) and it is encumbering to get there. Transportation is precariously available, with many weeks’ notice often required. Often this is unrealistic because the veteran requires immediate attention, as was Jonathan’s case.
Jonathan got to the VA hospital, haunted with the thoughts of his mental wounds that caused depression, violent outbursts and an uncontrollable desire to kill himself that made him drown in alcohol and prescribed anti-anxiety drugs. He was accompanied by his dad, a Vietnam War Veteran, and his stepmom as he told the intake counselor he was suicidal and wanted to be admitted to a psychiatric ward. According to his stepmother, they responded that the clinician who prescreened such cases was not available and he should go back home and wait for a call the following day. My husband has gotten this kind of treatment when he was clearly mentally and physically suffering on numerous occasions. He has been absolutely, understandably enraged when blown off in this manner.
A clinical social worker called Jonathan the next day and informed him he was 26th on a waiting list for one of 12 beds at the PTSD ward in the hospital, despite the fact he told the worker he had suicidal thoughts and other symptoms. On January 16, only four short days later, Jonathan hung himself from a beam in the basement with a household extension cord. Jonathan was from a family with a tradition of military service and his dad said, “My feeling is no veteran should be turned away, and definitely not a veteran who is openly saying he needs help and that he feels like taking his life.” My husband and other veterans we know have been turned away, canceled without notice, shuffled and ignored on countless occasions. Despite the fact this country failed to take care of veterans from previous wars, a war continues that creates more veterans the country is already failing to properly care for.
Jonathan wrote on May 13, 2004, the day after two of his close friends were killed, “My heart is filled with sadness. And I ask God why…I pray so much and ask God to keep me out of harm’s way and get me back in one piece.”
The sad fact is that there are 1.5 millions veterans already of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. One in five of these veterans are coming back with PTSD. A report by an Army panel of experts revealed that one in three veterans from the war in Iraq are seeking mental health services. Veterans advocates report that the systems is unprepared and lacks the funds the handle this onslaught of veterans and veterans fear being left out in the cold by the government they serve â€“ such as Jonathan. Our country continues to protest continuing this war, but Bush and the good old boys relentlessly go on at the expense of so many lives. Democracy is actually nonexistent and obviously power, control and profit are the driving forces that keep this war going.