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UPDATE: Afghanistan, Cheap Drugs, and Soldiers – Vietnam and Denial

May 6, 2012

UPDATE: The CNN article, Why are we still in ‘Vietghanistan?, fills in the remainder of the blanks about how and why combat changes people. Returning Viet Nam Combat Veteran, Scott Camil, gives his first hand accounts of how wars, like Viet Nam and Afghanistan, can completely change people.  These are excerpts from Scott Camil’s interview about his organization, Veterans For Peace, “believes that our stories are our strength. We believe that by educating the public by relating our personal experiences, we can reveal the hard, ugly truth about war. Our collective experience has taught us that war is futile and immoral. We believe that it is abhorrent to think of human beings as “collateral damage,” and we refuse to be silent as our government continues to pursue illegal, immoral wars of aggression. We believe that if the public really saw and understood the truth of war as we do — they would end it.”.

As a veteran of combat in Vietnam, I am often asked about current wars. Recently I have been asked about soldiers posing with corpses or urinating on corpses in Afghanistan. The “patriotic” media wants us to understand what it is like to be a soldier in war, not to condone the conduct but to ask “who are we to judge?” They want to know about rules of war: “Are there rules about taking pictures with dead bodies?”

When I see these pictures, I am not shocked. I have similar pictures from Vietnam. And I’m in them. Such pictures are part of our warrior culture. Not everyone takes them, but they are not in any way unusual.

… So why is it that when nations have disputes, we must accept that they will murder and maim each other’s citizens? The conduct of soldiers in war is made up of violent behavior that is criminal behavior outside of war. War is when we allow our loved ones to murder and destroy and then wonder that they are so traumatized.

We were in a place where it was the job of the people who lived there to kill us. There was no second chance, no time out. This was for real.

If we are going to talk about rules of war, it doesn’t make sense to start with the soldiers and Marines who have been put into that situation. They will all tell you that the first rule is to stay alive. Most people, when asked to choose between obeying the rules, if they believe that harm or death will come to them and their loved ones, or breaking the rules, if they believe it will keep them and their loved ones safe, choose to break the rules. The question is hypothetical to most people, but not to a soldier in combat.

Instead, if we’re going to talk about rules of war, we have to start with the powerful people who chose to put those soldiers there. The No.1 war crime is starting a war, because all other war crimes emanate from that first crime.

… I say that I was taught that the duty of a Marine is to destroy the will of the enemy to resist the authority of the United States of America. The way a Marine performs that duty is to make the price of that resistance more than the enemy can afford.

Preparing for these wars means continuing to train our children to hurt and kill other humans. This involves a process of dehumanization that is in conflict with the training required to produce good citizens in a democratic society.

In my training at Parris Island, the citizen was taken out of me and I was rebuilt as a Marine. We had a prayer that we recited every night when we hit the rack:

“Another day in the Corps, Sir, for every day is a holiday and every meal is a feast. Pray for war. Pray for war. God bless the Marine Corps. Pray for war. God bless the Commandant. Pray for war. God bless the drill instructors of 353. Pray for war.”.

Combat changes people.  Drugs become a panacea for the mental, emotional and physical anguish all combat soldiers experience. Repatriating returning combat troops needs to be more thorough, before any focus on assimilation back into a civilized culture can begin.  The combat survivor returning to home, family and hopefully employment, is different now. What is missing most from those welcoming them back is understanding the baggage that must be shed or repaired or replaced before the real person can emerge.  Combat is a bad drug with consequences.  Chemical Drugs are always available to address the first drug, they also have consequences.  The returning combat veteran must be rehabilitated from both, or the American Culture will suffer the consequences.

Rehabilitation aims to wipe the slate clean for you, giving you a fresh start and recovering your life. The VA has Alcohol and Drug Rehab Programs for military populations. But, if you need help, a private facility may be better suited to your needs. San Diego Alcohol and Drug Rehab Center, is a private facility devoted to diagnosis, treatment and recovery for the individual, and their family.

Marines in PoppiesWhy can Canadian Military recognize that exposure to battle and drugs have terrible consequences, and America’s military deny it? Is it because of the high cost of ‘after care’?  It is because the military is trying to diminish it’s responsibility, or is it because they prefer to spend their resources on fancy new and deadly toys?

Mental toll on soldiers skyrockets

More than 1 in 5 returning from Afghanistan suffer psychiatric problems, documents show

as of April 2008, 700 Canadian soldiers and Mounties who had served on the Afghan front lines – 19 per cent of all forces deployed – had qualified for medical release from the Canadian Forces or RCMP with a “pensionable psychiatric condition,” but warned of a dramatic hike in those numbers.

… the documents say that longer, multiple and more dangerous deployments “have led to an increase in the prevalence of operational stress injuries among the members of these organizations.”

“Is it an epidemic? No,” said retired Canadian colonel Don Ethell, head of the mental health advisory committee for the military and RCMP. “It’s just finally a realization that in addition to physical injuries, the maimed and the injured and so forth, it’s also a mental price that Canadians have to pay and many of them, and many of us, have paid that without knowing where to go.”

Another reason for the jump appears to be an effort by the military and government to quickly identify and treat individuals with post-traumatic stress before their conditions worsen. Untreated cases in the past have resulted in tragic and horrifying cases of drug addiction, assault, rape and even suicide.

None of the mental health staff on the tour was trained in addiction counselling – a clear problem given that some troubled soldiers mask their problem with alcohol and drugs.

A staff psychologist had to leave before all the soldiers had rotated through the decompression zone, leaving the mental health team without one of its top experts. A number of soldiers were also not pre-screened for “psychosocial” problems before departing Kandahar, meaning some early warning signs may have gone unaddressed.

“Military members should be quickly screened by a (mental health) professional before they leave the theatre to briefly access their support needs during the (decompression) and their reintegration,” the report says.

Drug Addiction, And Misery, Increase In Afghanistanafghan_troops_1029

Morning Edition, April 16, 2009 · A growing number of Afghans — including children — are escaping the pain of war and poverty by using opium or heroin, for as little as a dollar a day.  A United Nations survey begun this month is widely expected to show that at least 1 in 12 people in Afghanistan abuses drugs — double the number in the last survey four years ago.

‘Coming Home: Soldiers and Drugs’ – In Their Own Words

Vietnam War and Drugs: Essay Excerpt

Marijuana, Amphetamines, Opium and Heroin were a serious problem from 1968 onward during the Vietnam War. In 1968 50 percent of American service men used drugs, after Tet Offensive drugs rose dramatically. By 1970 that number had jump to 65 percent. Drugs were cheap and very available. They were a way for the soldiers to ‘escape’ from the pure anxiety and stress of combat while filling the bored time.

t071130mVietnam-Era Drug Problems Last for Decades, Study Finds

Although young men from the Vietnam War era have reduced their use of illicit drugs as they have moved into middle age, some still have a problem, a new study shows. The men who were young during the Vietnam War are now in their40s and 50s. One visualizes them, both veterans and non-veterans,as seasoned by desk jobs or steady work, very possibly marriedand responsible for families. The war era and the turbulent1960s, with the widespread use of illicit drugs, is now longbehind them. Or is it?

It is VERY interesting that there were few follow up stories to the ABC Documentary:

Part One of the Series: ‘Coming Home: Soldiers and Drugs’ By ROBERT LEWIS and KATE MCCARTHY     Nov. 26, 2007soldiers-abusing-drugs

ABC investigates ‘soldiers hooked on drugs’

Editor’s Note from Brian Ross: In the third year of a joint project with the nonprofit Carnegie Corporation, six leading graduate school journalism students were again selected to spend the summer working with the ABC News investigative unit.

This year’s project involved an examination of whether, as happened in the wake of the Vietnam War, Iraqi war veterans were turning to drugs as a result of the trauma and pain of war.

The U.S. military maintains the percentage of soldiers abusing drugs is extremely small and has not increased as a result of Iraq.

The students’ assignment was to get the unofficial side of the story from soldiers, young men of their own generation.

“Lots of soldiers coming back from Iraq have been using drugs,” said Spc. William Swenson, who was deployed to Iraq from Fort Carson. “Right when we got back, there were people using cocaine in the barracks; there were people smoking marijuana at strip clubs; one guy started shooting up,” he said.

In interviews with ABC News at the Pentagon, however, the U.S. Army strongly denied there was an increase in drug abuse among soldiers deployed to Iraq.   According to Dr. Ian McFarling, acting director of the Army Center for Substance Abuse Programs, less than one half of one percent of soldiers in Iraq have tested positive for illegal drugs.    But Dr. McFarling said that once soldiers return from Iraq, the positive rate for drug tests doubles to more than one percent. In addition, Dr. McFarling said five percent of soldiers back from Iraq seek help for substance abuse issues from clinical providers.

OK conspiracy nuts, if you want a detailed account of America’s hand in Global Drug activities from the 1960s, you would enjoy this article from

Drug War: Covert Money, Power & Policy: CIA/Syndicate

Where are we going with this history lesson? Aside from the similarities with Vietnam, Afghanistan is  the “high end” CANDY STORE for the world. With all the hoopla about convincing Afghan farmers to plow under their poppy fields and plant ‘Pomegranates’.

Afghanistan diary: Pomegranates not poppies

Alternatives to opium are being shown to farmers in Kabul, while Bagram sees the arrival of more US troops

Cover story: M features the story of James Brett, a former drug addict from Britain, who has devoted himself to replacing Afghanistan’s opium trade with pomegranates.

James Brett’s first glimpse of Afghanistan after crossing the Khyber Pass were poppies growing across the dusty miles of Torkham in April 2007. They stretched for hundreds of acres, the petals light and blowing in the breeze. A lone farmer stood in their midst, tending the crop. It wasn’t what Brett expected.

“The picture I envisaged was that of a load of terrorists packing up big bags of heroin to destroy the West,” he admits. The contrast between the innocence he perceived in that farmer and the loss of two friends to heroin overdoses back home in England haunted him as he continued to drive to Kabul, where he had been invited to give a speech to farmers about growing pomegranates instead of poppies.

“There is so much emptiness in the world and heroin maintains that emptiness,” he says.

The cannabis product had an estimated wholesale value of $400 million, a statement by the NATO-led ISAF force said on Wednesday.

With the availability of poppy products, methamphetamine and pharmaceuticals in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the middle east region, how can stressed or bored soldiers resist partaking of available drugs for recreation, coping and escape.  PTSD is notorious for reducing it’s victims will power and distorting perception.  PTSD must be considered an expected byproduct of traumatic wartime events.  Vietnam was just a taste of what can happen when stressed soldiers are offered a cheap escape from their condition.  Is it possible that many of the under-reported “accidents” and “unfortunate mistakes” that create high collateral damage, are caused by recreational escapism?  How many soldiers are “self medicating” as you read this post?

Drug exposure could actually explain why some returning veterans slip into deep depression upon returning home … they may be experiencing withdrawal from whatever they were taking during combat.  Of course, America’s military is very reluctant to admit this problem publicly. The military is already providing drugs to soldiers to alleviate pain, both mental and physical.  Some of those medications have been questioned, briefly, by the media.

There is also the possibility that America’s soldiers are being exposed to these drugs when they are slipped into the food supply or their water supply.  Hypothetically, whole combats units may be effected at one time.  I have not heard any official report discussing this possibility.  As it is, the military is famous for deliberately misdiagnosing soldiers for the convenience of keeping their statistics palatable to the media, and the ‘folks back home’.

Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report : Coverage & Access | Overdiagnosis of Concussions Among Veterans Leads to Delay in Care for Other Conditions, NEJM Article Says

A focus on concussions, or mild traumatic brain injury, is preventing soldiers returning from battle from being treated for other conditions, according to an article published on Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, USA Today reports (Zoroya, USA Today, 4/16). The article was co-authored by Carl Castro, a psychologist at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command; Herb Goldberg, a communications specialist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center; and Charles Hoge, director of psychiatry and neuroscience at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.

Currently, soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan undergo a survey in which they are asked if they became dazed and confused following an injury or exposure to a bomb blast in combat. The survey attributes such symptoms to mild TBI, according to the authors. However, the survey often is administered months after the injury was sustained, according to the article (Stobbe, AP/Austin American-Statesman, 4/15). The article states that the survey could cause unnecessary concern among the soldiers and might result in soldiers wrongly attributing certain symptoms to TBI, when they could have been caused by simple causes, such as sleep deprivation. The authors recommend that the current survey be discontinued because most servicemembers who sustain TBI in combat recover within days (USA Today, 4/16). Furthermore, soldiers who are misdiagnosed risk being unnecessarily exposed to drug side effects and other negative conditions, Hoge said (AP/Austin American-Statesman, 4/15).

The article also states that such symptoms often are caused by other conditions, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or substance abuse. The diagnoses for mild TBI could lead to delays in proper treatment of the other conditions, according to the authors. According to USA Today, the article — the authors of which have conducted some of the earliest influential research on conditions like PTSD for the military — suggest that the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs are “relying on flawed science to identify” as many as 360,000 cases of brain injuries sustained by the returning veterans.

The article has prompted Army Surgeon General Eric Schoomaker to decide that the TBI survey should be changed, according to a spokesperson for Schoomaker. However, some government and private researchers on TBI disagreed with the article’s findings and said that their recommendation could result in some soldiers receiving improper care. John Corrigan, an Ohio State University psychiatrist and researcher who advised VA on the screening process, said it is premature to suggest that most servicemembers who sustain TBI during combat recover within days.

David Hovda, director of the Brain Injury Research Center at the University of California-Los Angeles, said that veterans with mild TBI who do not receive timely treatment could develop long-term neurological problems. Rep Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), chair of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, cautioned against proceeding with “efforts that might restrict the Department of Defense’s ability to identify affected individuals and provide them with the proper care and compensation they deserve” (USA Today, 4/16).


The U.N.’s Jean-Luc Lemahieu calls it the “Coca-Cola effect.” The widespread abundance and affordability of the drugs have made them as ubiquitous and available as soft drinks.

“What people always forget is that not only demand creates supply, but supply creates demand,” said Lemahieu, the representative in Kabul for the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.

But even at $1 or $2 a day, an opium or heroin fix in Afghanistan can easily become unaffordable.

More questions must be put to politicians who are supposed to “protect” American citizens, and their defenders. Politicians are quick to give ‘lip service’ to veteran’s health crisis.  Those same politicians will rant and rave about ‘out of control spending’,  while, at the same time,  they sneak their own pet pork projects into totally unrelated bills and resolutions.

Putting Americans in harm’s way is understood when ‘duty to country and flag’ is required.  These are a soldier’s creed.  It is NOT, however, in the soldier’s creed to forgo proper and thorough treatment to actual conditions incurred during combat zone deployment.  Modern soldiers are no longer the ‘throw away’ commodity they endured throughout history.  Military deployment remains a source of medical controversy when soldiers symptoms contradict the ‘company line’.  Effects from exposure to Agent Orange is still denied.  Effects from ‘Desert Storm’ Syndrome is still controversial.  Effects from drug, alcohol and prescription drug abuse are still being downplayed by military brass, with the exception of the actual doctors.  Where is the promised “TRANSPARENCY”?  When will the problem of medical honesty be required of today’s US Military?  The American Taxpayer has a right to know why veterans are not being  accurately diagnosed and treated for their conditions.  The American Taxpayer must be protected from some of the same veterans they depend on the keep them safe.

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