Honor a vet. Give them the health care they deserve

It’s Veterans Day, of course, so everyone is saying all the things they should be saying on a day to honor people who served in the military, many of them forced to do so by the threat of prison time if they didn’t submit to the local draft board.

It’s also a day when we might remind ourselves that many of the words are empty in the face of reality contained in a recent investigation this week from Colorado Public Radio that didn’t get anywhere near the attention it deserved.

It found that when members of the military return from deployments and are in need of mental health services, they’re kicked out of the military instead.

One veteran made secret recordings of his sessions in which thereapists and officers “tried to convince him his experiences in Iraq were not too traumatic — and even seem to ignore him when he talks about wanting to commit suicide.”

Once caught, the military professed to being shocked and promised to investigate. It did and found the problems weren’t systemic. But NPR and CPR, after prying records loose, found that it didn’t interview any of the men who had similar complaints.

More than 22,000 returning soldiers were treated the same way.

In an editorial today, the Boston Globe says this has to stop.

Army therapists have dual loyalties – both to their patients, and to their commanders. And the Army rules of therapist-client confidentiality are not nearly as clear-cut as in private practice. The “pattern of misconduct” discharge — classified as “less than honorable” — is a quick fix for company commanders overburdened with soldiers suffering from PTSD and other behavioral issues whose symptoms include alcoholism, drug addiction, and domestic violence.

Given the complications of the problem, it might be time for Congress to revisit the issue and conduct their own investigation. The Army’s first priority should be to help soldiers who have served in combat, not get rid of them.

Columnist Josh Moon makes the point a little more forcefully.

“This country stinks at caring for the men and women who we send off to fight our wars,” he writes.

In Tuesday’s Montgomery Advertiser, there was a story about the failures of the VA and Congress to adequately treat veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange – a herbicide used by the U.S. military to kill off vegetation in Vietnam.

Today, we are well aware of the damage Agent Orange has done to veterans’ health. But between 1977 and 1993, out of the tens of thousands of claims filed by veterans who were suffering from exposure, the VA compensated less than 500.

For the record, we’re not talking about the sniffles here. Exposure has been linked to things like increased chances of suffering from numerous types of cancer, Parkinsons Disease and respiratory diseases.

But the U.S. government consistently denied the claims, and denied, along with Monsanto Company, that Agent Orange had caused ailments. (Little tip: If you go into a legal fight and discover that you are on the same side as Monsanto, you are in the wrong. Get out your checkbook.)

“If you want to honor a vet,” he says, “make sure he or she is getting the quality care we promised.”

Related: After 70 years, WWII is still with this Mahtomedi veteran (Pioneer Press)

Advocates Question Whether Veterans Day Promotions Have Gotten Off Track (NPR)

Homeless vet gets military funeral in St. Paul (MPR NewsCut)