Skip to content

When They Come Home – Critical Update

May 23, 2012

Another critical update: Hundreds of thousands of war vets still waiting for health benefits

Veterans Wait for Benefits as Claims Pile Up

The New York Times detailed the strife of veterans waiting for benefits as claims pile up in a new report. Last year, more than 1.3 million claims were filed by veterans, a number double that of 2001. Although the Department of Veterans Affairs has added nearly 4,000 new workers since 2008, the agency has failed to keep pace and failed to complete even 80 percent of its inventory.  This issue is known simply as “the backlog,” according to the NY Times.

[The backlog is] the crushing inventory of claims for disability, pension and educational benefits that has overwhelmed the Department of Veterans Affairs. For hundreds of thousands of veterans, the result has been long waits for decisions, mishandled documents, confusing communications and infuriating mistakes in their claims.

Veterans around the nation are waiting an average of 260 days for a decision on a war-related disability claim, according to data recently released by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reported by The Bay Citizen. That’s three days longer than last week and 80 days longer than mid-2011.

The average wait time in the slowest offices in the country is over a year. These offices are located in Los Angeles, Chicago and Waco, Texas.

U.S. Rep Jon Runyan, R-N.J., chairman on the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs addressed Congress on the troubling matter last week.

Frustrated veterans want to know why it takes so long to process their claim,” he said. “Frustrated lawmakers want to know why the backlog keeps increasing. And frustrated VA employees want everyone to know that the folks on the front lines are doing the best they can to try to keep up with an increasing amount of claims.”

He highlighted a recent Center for Investigative Reporting study, which revealed that veterans in less populated states have their benefits claims processed faster than those in more populous states. However, in most states, “more often than not, that veteran is waiting too long to receive their benefits decision.”

Another critical update: As of 3 June 2012, the army’s active-duty suicides reached 154, compared with 130 in the same period last year, the Pentagon confirmed Suicides have outnumbered combat deaths in US troops in 2008 and 2009.

NATO chief insists no rush to exits in Afghanistan

Sunday, May 20, 2012 – CHICAGO — The United States and NATO leaders are insisting the Afghanistan fighting coalition will remain whole despite France’s plans to yank combat troops out early, but leaders weary of plummeting public support for the war are using an alliance summit Sunday to show they want to move quickly away from the front lines.

“There will be no rush for the exits,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Sunday. “Our goal, our strategy, our timetable remains unchanged.”

Public opinion in Europe and the United States is solidly against the war, with a majority of Americans now saying it is unwinnable or not worth continuing.

United States to Unveil Plans to Bolster NATO Alliance

By    WASHINGTON — President Obama on Sunday will unveil a new package of NATO initiatives that includes the alliance purchasing a fleet of surveillance drones, sharing weapons and training facilities, and sustaining nuclear deterrence in Europe even as disarmament efforts continue with an often belligerent Russia, according to senior administration officials.

Although debate on winding down the Afghan war will dominate the NATO summit meeting in Chicago, Mr. Obama will also disclose agreements designed to guarantee mutual security in an era of global austerity that includes sharply reduced military spending across the alliance.

A central element of Mr. Obama’s announcement will be the hand-over to NATO of control for the components of an emerging European missile-defense system built by the United States.

A radar station in Turkey will become permanently under alliance command. In times of crisis, American Navy Aegis warships — with radar and interceptor missiles — would be transferred to NATO command. When interceptor missiles planned for Poland and Romania are in place, they would also be placed under NATO command in time of crisis.

Another major agreement is that the alliance will purchase and maintain five Global Hawk surveillance drones, said one administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the initiatives in advance of the meeting.

Although NATO carried out an offensive that toppled Libya’s Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the campaign revealed a critical gap in the alliance’s war-fighting capabilities: The United States had a near monopoly on surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, and NATO needed its own remotely piloted vehicles.

As the Pentagon reduces the number of Army brigades permanently in Europe, the United States will pledge to rotate units through training facilities on the Continent so the ability for allied and American troops to fight side-by-side is sustained even after withdrawing from Afghanistan.

Mr. Obama also will describe the results of NATO’s review of its defense and deterrence posture, and how the alliance will field a combination of nuclear weapons, missile defenses and conventional forces to guarantee the security of all members.

No reductions in NATO’s nuclear arsenals will be announced, although the door remains open to negotiations with Russia on shrinking stockpiles.

NATO nations in Central and Eastern Europe remain particularly nervous about aggressive talk from Russia’s returning president, Vladimir V. Putin, and want continued assurances of an alliance nuclear umbrella.

Similarly, the alliance will pledge to continue air patrols over the territory of Baltic nations in NATO, so those states do not have to invest in fighter jets. The alliance will also announce initiatives to share maritime patrol aircraft, route-clearance vehicles and medical facilities, as well as pool maintenance costs for helicopters and armored vehicles.

If and when American troops home from Afghanistan, the fabric of American culture will be tested. Between the start of the Afghanistan War in October 2001 and today, the character of the war has morphed from the passion of revenge, to the forgotten child, to the head of the class.  Afghanistan has America’s undivided attention, now that the ramp down is supposed to be in process.  The international consequences will be argued for the next decade.  The economic cost will be felt and debated for decades to come, but the human cost remains forever.  After all, war is the most expensive folly humans engage in, because investment in destruction is always required, and instruments of destruction are expensive.  But, reconstruction is sooooo profitable.  This is a great philosophy for inanimate objects, but terrible for living things.  The profits are always corporate, and corporations will go through the motions of charity.  However, the individual and their family is left with whatever safety net the American Congress claims it can afford, that also will be argued for decades.

WIKI: On 1 December 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that he would deploy an additional 30,000 soldiers over a period of six months.[46] He also set a withdrawal date for the year 2014.[47]    Since that declaration many more soldiers, civilians and contractors have been injured, maimed or killed.  Thousands of troops are coming home.  Those troops are in various stages of condition.  Hopefully, the vast majority will adjust with little or no problem as they integrate back into American society.  But, that still leaves a great number of casualties that will need special attention for their wounds, no matter how they are classified.

The US Military is very cautious about classifying injuries, because those injuries have dollar signs assigned to them.  This is where the Veteran’s Administration and the US Military have to behave like insurance companies.  Congress reminds each government agency that it is all about budget and funding, every day.  The assignment is to question each claim, as if it were false.  Too many valid claims are dismissed only because the reporting officer did sloppy paperwork or lost it or cannot remember, did not take an injury seriously because it was not reported right away, or some other issue with the soldier making the claim. Whatever the condition of the claim and paperwork is in, and wherever it is in the processing pipeline, there is a human casualty that paperwork represents … WAITING for a decision.  Most of the time, the casualty asking for help is in limbo.  Many times, a soldier’s identity has been compromised while they were deployed.  Sometimes the home or car they left behind is being repossessed.  Maybe their family has been having financial or emotional difficulties.  Many times the job they expected does not exist anymore.  The challenge of adjusting back into a ‘civilized’ environment has trauma of it’s own.

WIKI:  A strategic partnership agreement between Afghanistan and the United States was signed by the US President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in May 2012. After the signing Obama laid out his plans to responsibly end the war in Afghanistan. The plans call for 1.) the removal of 23.000 US troops at the summer end of 2012, i.e. at at the end of September 2012[57], 2.) Afghan security forces to take the lead in combat operations by the end of 2013 while ISAF forces train, advise and assist the Afghans and fight alongside them when needed and 3.) the complete removal of all U.S. troops by the end of 2014, except for trainers who will assist Afghan forces and a small contingent of troops with a specific mission to combat al-Qaeda through counter-terrorism operations.[58][59][60][61][62].

The Human Cost of Combat and Occupation for Iraq and Afghanistan – iCASUALTIES REPORT

320,000 Vets Have Brain Injuries –  War Veterans’ Concussions Are Often Overlooked –  18 Vet Suicides Per Day?

I am re-posting this article from July 2008, about returning combat veterans.  Many of these veterans are experiencing the same problems as Joseph Dwyer.  When I first wrote this story, four years ago, I had not anticipated how long America would engage in war. Iraq and Afghanistan exposed enough  young men and women to combat, cruelty and death, to populate a small country.

Between 2001 and 2012 the casualties on both sides include thousands of unintended victims.  Yes, many are intended victims, but this has been a very sloppy war, too reminiscent of Viet Nam. To kill and maim so many civilians when only a handful of “enemy combatants” are the target, is abominable.  Sorry, we are here fighting a war in your back yard, you just happen to be in the way … and we will be here for a long time destroying our mental health.

Soldier in famous photo never defeated ‘demons’

They found Dwyer lying on his back, his clothes soiled with urine and feces. Scattered on the floor around him were dozens of spent cans of Dust-Off, a refrigerant-based aerosol normally used to clean electrical equipment.

Dwyer told police Lt. Mike Wilson he’d been “huffing” the aerosol.

“Help me, please!” the former Army medic begged Wilson. “I’m dying. Help me. I can’t breathe.”

Unable to stand or even sit up, Dwyer was hoisted onto a stretcher. As paramedics prepared to load him into an ambulance, an officer noticed Dwyer’s eyes had glassed over and were fixed.

A half hour later, he was dead.

Returning to the U.S. in June 2003, after 91 days in Iraq, Dwyer seemed a shell to friends.

He wanted to be a medic. (Dwyer’s first real job was as a transporter for a hospital in the golf resort town of Pinehurst, where his parents had moved after retirement.)

In 2002, Dwyer was sent to Fort Bliss, Texas. The jokester immediately fell in with three colleagues — Angela Minor, Sgt. Jose Salazar, and Knapp. They spent so much time together after work that comrades referred to them as “The Four Musketeers.”

When he deployed, he was pudgy at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds. Now he weighed around 165, and the other Musketeers immediately thought of post-traumatic stress disorder.   Dwyer attributed his skeletal appearance to long days and a diet of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). He showed signs of his jolly old self, so his friends accepted his explanation.   But they soon noticed changes that were more than cosmetic.

When people would teasingly call him “war hero” and ask him to tell about his experiences, or about the famous photo, he would steer the conversation toward the others he’d served with. But Dwyer once confided that another image, also involving a child, disturbed him.

He was standing next to a soldier during a firefight when a boy rode up on a bicycle and stopped beside a weapon lying in the dirt. Under his breath, the soldier beside Dwyer whispered, “Don’t pick it up, kid. Don’t pick it up.”

The boy reached for the weapon and was blasted off his bike.

In a telephone interview later … from what he called the “nut hut” at Beaumont, Dwyer told Newsday that he’d lied on a post-deployment questionnaire that asked whether he’d been disturbed by what he’d seen and done in Iraq. The reason: A PTSD diagnosis could interfere with his plans to seek a police job. Besides, he’d been conditioned to see it as a sign of weakness.

“I’m a soldier,” he said. “I suck it up. That’s our job.”

Dwyer told the newspaper that he’d blown off counseling before but was committed to embracing his treatment this time. He said he hoped to become an envoy to others who avoided treatment for fear of damaging their careers.

“There’s a lot of soldiers suffering in silence,” he said.

“And so it’s a dance between the clinicians and the patient.”

Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, feels the VA is a lousy dance partner.

Rieckhoff said the VA’s is a “passive system” whose arcane rules and regulations make it hard for veterans to find help. And when they do get help, he said, it is often inadequate.

“I consider (Dwyer) a battlefield casualty,” he said, “because he was still fighting the war in his head.”

In 2005, Daily Koss Blog referenced Dwyer’s photo in an article about PTSD on MyLeftWing 

Returning Vet PTSD – One Soldier’s Story

by ilona Fri Nov 18, 2005 at 03:29:10 PM PDT  [Front-paged at My Left Wing]

This photo was taken on March 25, 2003.  Snapped by AP and published in newspapers and magazines world-wide a week following the invasion, Army medic Pfc. Joseph Dwyer carries an injured Iraqi boy to safety. Caught in the crossfire in a fierce battle near the village of Al Faysaliyah, the lines of hero and victim appear to be well-defined, not blurred.

On October 7, 2005, Dwyer was arrested after a 3 hour standoff with police in which he discharged ‘volley after volley’ of gunfire in his apartment.

And, so Joseph Dwyer’s story unfolds from the date of impact, 2003, to the date of conclusion, 2008.  Five years of suffering and delusion about the “manly” thing to do, has ended in the sad news about his suicide.  The part of the story seldom, if ever, followed up on is how the family he left behind, will unfold.  There should be someone following their progress and recovery, especially his children.

The children asked what was wrong.

“Joseph is dead,” she told them.

“You said he wasn’t sick any more,” Justin said.

“I know, Justin,” his mother replied. “But I guess maybe the help wasn’t working like we thought it was.”

The kids were too young to understand acronyms like PTSD or to hear a lecture about how Knapp thought the system had failed Dwyer. So she told them that, just as they sometimes have nightmares, “sometimes people get those nightmares in their head and they just can’t get them out, no matter what.”

Despite the efforts she made to get help for Dwyer, Knapp is trying to cope with a deep-seated guilt. She knows that Dwyer shielded her from the images that had haunted him.

Since Dwyer’s death, Justin, now 9, has taken to carrying a newspaper clipping of the Zinn photo around with him. Occasionally, Knapp will catch him huddled with a playmate, showing the photo and telling him about the soldier who used to come to his school and assemble his toys.

Justin wants them to know all about Spc. Joseph Dwyer. His hero.

Joseph Dwyer Obituary [here]  – Obituary responses [here], [here], [here], [here], [here

Joseph is not the first, nor last, example of the ‘time bomb’ effect that PTSD has.  Past posts on TruthHugger and BlueBloggin have illustrated the consequences and ultimate social and economic impact this nation should be preparing for.  Veterans from past wars have had PTSD symptoms, but were accepted as “he never was the same when he came back”, then they are just written off.   Today’s US veteran was plucked from a consumer society whose deepest thoughts concerned sports, celebrities, cars and electronic toys.  They started out soft.  They were plunged into a physical nightmare where the infrastructure they took for granted was destroyed.  The social norm they are accustomed to is turned upside down. The results of firing their weapons no longer resembles video games.  Bodies no longer evaporate into a haze of pixels.  They hear, see, smell and taste the results of their actions and the actions of their opponents.  This sensory assault upon an American Soldier defies representation by recruiters, news media or politicians.  These sensory memories become their ghosts.  Whether or not a soldier has religious foundation, there is a moral dilemma, even for atheists. 

 The American moral starting point for armed conflict is so disconnected from reality. Not only physical damage, but mental damage should be expected, especially when the same soldier attempts to incorporate back into the world they left.

 The only renewable resource this administration has taken advantage of is HUMAN.  Citizen or not, volunteer or not, literate or not, America will accept you into its ranks of cannon fodder.  If you survive, you will be patted on the back, given some bandages and salve (maybe an artificial limb) and expected to go along your way.  This is WRONG! The inequities of war shine a harsh light on class disparity … if this angers and motivates the under class to rebel, it has happened before. 

 This treatment inspired the impetus for socialism, and it’s more violent offspring, communism … maybe in America we can vote for sounder leadership, maybe not. 

 War makes a lot of money for someone, so there will always be wars.  The consequences are different now, because more people survive, and they survive differently.  They are damaged in a way that impacts every one of us.  These changed people cause medical debates, law enforcement debates, insurance, employment and individual households, both economically and emotionally.  The returning soldier is getting a different kind of attention, because of the myopic condition in American culture.  The social and economic dynamic for the families these soldiers return to is already stressed.  So, is there any accountability to be applied?  Does the Government and it’s corporate sponsors have any culpability?  Why should you care, unless of course, you are a returning soldier with an injury, need a job, need to figure out how to relate to your family and friends.

Both of these men need a new job.

Crossposted on BlueBloggin

%d bloggers like this: