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Armed Forces Day 2015: The Breach of Trust

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“What is the cost of war? what is the bill?…“This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all of its attendant miseries. Back -breaking taxation for generations and generations. For a great many years as a soldier I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not only until I retired to civilian life did I fully realize it….” Major General Smedley Butler USMC

Today is Armed Forces Day and unfortunately most of the country will not notice unless they are attending a Baseball game where it is being observed or some special event on a base, national cemetery, monument or VFW hall. Armed Forces Day was established in 1948 by President Harry Truman after the founding of the Department of Defense.  It was established to honor and remember those currently serving, not the discharged or the retired veteran, they are remembered on Veterans Day, the former Armistice Day, nor the fallen who are commemorated on Memorial Day which we will do next weekend. 

Unlike Veterans Day or Memorial Day there is no national holiday for Armed Forces Day. I find this ironic for a nation which claims to support the troops that the men and women who we honor are honored on a day that unless they are deployed in harm’s way or have duty, is regular day off like any Saturday. Personally I think the day should be celebrated by giving the active duty force a real day off and if they are deployed given some kind of down time as operational needs allow, and maybe even given them a ration of beer. We did this for the Marine Corps birthday in Iraq, so why not on Armed Forces Day? But I digress…

Back when Armed Forces Day was established there was still a draft which meant that in theory everyone had skin in the game and that our leaders were far more hesitant to commit the nation to war. 

Back in 1952 the New York Times editors wrote:

“It is our most earnest hope that those who are in positions of peril, that those who have made exceptional sacrifices, yes, and those who are afflicted with plain drudgery and boredom, may somehow know that we hold them in exceptional esteem. Perhaps if we are a little more conscious of our debt of honored affection they may be a little more aware of how much we think of them.”

But sadly today in all honesty were think very little of them. Today of course there will be a fair number of local celebrations to honor members of the Armed Forces across the country, but for the most part they will be small and not well publicized. Most of the people I attendance will not even be there for the troops. They will be there for the event and their hearts will be warmed by the tributes paid to the troops. As a career officer and son of a Vietnam veteran Navy Chief I appreciate those events and at least some of the good hearted the people that put them together. Being a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, especially those that have taken the time to honor Iraq and Afghanistan veterans like me who have returned from war totally fucked up. But again I digress, badda bing, badda boom, badda bomb…

Bu here is what really s upsetting to me, good number of these patriot, flag waving, war porn satiating, yet somehow inspiring ceremonies to honor the troops are not even coming for the heart of the people putting them on. I steady they are coming out of the Pentegon budget and being paid for by the taxpayers. These events are nothing more than faux patriotism and little more than propaganda that exploits the troops. They are being done as a recruiting tool with the Department of Defense which is paying hundreds of millions of dollars to the tax exempt National Football League and its teams to put on shows that give all the appearances of honoring the troops but are really nothing more than propaganda and recruiting commercials. Likewise for all which for all the money we the taxpayers spend on them actually net few recruits if any as a huge number of our current troops are the sons and daughters of men and women who have also served this country. They, like I do, do this for something greater than partisan politics  greater than money, greater than anything that can easily be repaid, the love of this country and the principles found in the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal. However, that is fodder for another article. 

But honestly I am so offended by this faux  patriotism shown by the NFL and God knows who else that it causes me a great deal of anger. I say this because throughout our nation’s history our political leaders, business leaders and the populace as a whole have despised the military, and those who in the absence of a draft chose to serve. That despicable attitude was well recounted in Herman Wouk’s monumental novel, which became a classic film The Caine Mutiny. In the film a defense attorney for those accused of mutiny, Barney Greenwald played to perfection by Jose Ferrer told the acquitted mutineers of the Caine’s wardroom:

“You know something…when I was studying law, and Mr Keefer here was writing his stories, and you, Willie, were tearing up the playing fields of dear old Princeton,method was standing guard over this fat dumb happy country of ours, eh? Not us. Oh no, we knew you couldn’t make any money in the service. So who did the dirty work for us? Queeg did! And a lot of other guys. Tough, sharp guys who didn’t crack up like Queeg.” 

For those who are now getting pissed off at me, let us look at facts. At any given time less than 1% of Americans are serving in all components of the military. For over 13 years we have been at war in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as other locations that we don’t like to talk about too much. However this has not been the effort of a nation at war, it is the war of a tiny percentage of the population, a segment that everyone is far too willing to exploit. 

As a nation we are disconnected from the military and the wars that the military fights. The fact is that most Americans do not have a personal or vested interest in these wars, they have been insulated by political leaders of both parties from them. There is no draft, and no taxes were raised to fund the wars and the military is now worn out.

We have been at war for nearly 14 years and truthfully there is no end in sight. In that time every single Soldier, Sailor, Marine and Airman volunteered for duty or reenlisted during this time period. Motives may have varied from individual to individual, but unlike the World Wars, Korea and Vietnam every single one volunteered to serve in time of war. I think that this makes the current generation of veterans quite unique in our modern history, but not so different than the professionals who served before and after the Civil War,and  those who served before and after the First World War. The situation after the Second Wolrd War and the Cold War required a large standing military and large reserve force. This required the draft, which though hated by many  leavened the professional force with civilians who got a taste of military and when they left did not forget they meaning of their service and the sacrifices made by the professionals. We do not have that anymore. We are no longer are no longer a military composed of citizen soldiers. We who serve,  even in our reserve components are  a Warrior caste, set apart from the society that we serve.

There is a tragic disconnection between the military and civilian society in the United States. This is the result of deliberate public policy since the end of the Vietnam War supported by both political parties. For almost 40 years we have relied on an all volunteer force. It is that relatively small and socially isolated military which is sent to fight wars while the bulk of the population is uninvolved and corporations, lobbyists and think tanks get rich.

Andrew Bacevich wrote in his new book Breach of Trust: How Americans failed their Soldiers and their Country:

“Rather than offering an antidote to problems, the military system centered on the all-volunteer force bred and exacerbated them. It underwrote recklessness in the formulation of policy and thereby resulted in needless, costly, and ill-managed wars. At home, the perpetuation of this system violated simple standards of fairness and undermined authentic democratic practice. The way a nation wages war—the role allotted to the people in defending the country and the purposes for which it fights—testifies to the actual character of its political system. Designed to serve as an instrument of global interventionism (or imperial policing), America’s professional army has proven to be astonishingly durable, if also astonishingly expensive. Yet when dispatched to Iraq and Afghanistan, it has proven incapable of winning. With victory beyond reach, the ostensible imperatives of U.S. security have consigned the nation’s warrior elite to something akin to perpetual war.”

Bacevich, a retired Army Colonel and Vietnam veteran who lost a son in Iraq is dead on, as is Rachel Maddow who wrote in her outstanding book Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power:

“The reason the founders chafed at the idea of an American standing army and vested the power of war making in the cumbersome legislature was not to disadvantage us against future enemies, but to disincline us toward war as a general matter… With citizen-soldiers, with the certainty of a vigorous political debate over the use of a military subject to politicians’ control, the idea was for us to feel it- uncomfortably- every second we were at war. But after a generation or two of shedding the deliberate political encumbrances to war that they left us… war making has become almost an autonomous function of the American state. It never stops.” 

The lobbyists, pundits, politicians, preachers and war profiteers that promote war don’t care about the troops. When they say they do they are lying out their asses. This is because no matter who is in office or who controls congress these people and corporations will promote policies that keep them employed and their businesses enriched. Marine Major General and Medal of Honor winner Smedley Butler was quite right when he said:

“War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”

I think that the reason that our current wars have gone on so long is the that misguided policies have brought about a chronic disconnection in our society between those that serve in the military. But how can there not be when in the weeks after 9-11 people like President Bush and others either directly or in a manner of speaking told people to “go shopping” * as we went to war in Afghanistan? When I returned from Iraq I returned to a nation that was not at war whose leaders used the war to buttress their respective political bases.

The results are terrible. Suicide rates are continuing to rise among veterans who have returned to find that neither the VA nor the civilian mental health care sector is prepared to care for them. Even worse the members of the GOP controlled Congress are working their asses off to screw the troops. Ohio GOP Congressman, Tea Party favorite,  supposedly deeply committed Christian and even worse a Colonel in the Ohio Army National Guard has attempted and is attempting again to attach an Ammendment to the 2016 Nation Defense Authorization Act which would keep the Defense Department from enformice rules which would protect young troops from the predatory payday lenders who line the avenues leading to every major military base in the country. My opinion, this man is a traitor to the country even though he wears the uniform and has deployed and led soldiers in in Iraq and other locations during this war. He is selling out the the young troops to protect the payday lending industry with which has had a nearly incestuous relationship since he day that was elected to Congress. 

But Congressman Stivers is not alone, Congressmen and women of both parties sell out the troops to prop up banks, insurance companies and Wall Street. Those military health benefits not directly provided in military medical centers are run through an organization called Tricare. Tricare, which is managed by the insurance companies who bid on competitive contracts is a for profit industry. These insurance companies routinely deny services to the families of military members, pay so little or are so mind numbingly  incompetent that many medical providers refuse to deal with them, leaving the troops their families stuck in the middle. That my friends is fact. Now the GOP led by the Koch brothers is attempting to privatize Veterans Admisistration Heath care. Now in all honesty, the chronically underfunded and bureaucratically bound VA. That being said my friends privatization will only make things worse for veterans who will now have to deal with private for profit insurance companies and Heath care systems that see them and their wounds and infirmaries as a way to make a buck off of taxpayer and to screw the veteran. 

But let’s not stop there. Politicians and their backers from the financial sectors have been working overtime since the Adminstration of George W. Bush to roll back retirement benefits which they call  “entitlements” which are supposedly destroying the financial health and well being of the nation. Never mind the fact that these same  politicians have spent trillions of dollars bailing out the corporations which have almost single handed lay destroyed this nation’s economy time after time since the 1970s, and who support corporations who are based in this country but have sold the nation out and work against the interests of Americans. 

But never mind, I digress, for as we all know it is the troops who are the leches who are bankrupting the country. 

But this isn’t new my friends it began during the Reagan Administration which changed the retirement system from the flat 50% of one’s final active duty pay that one would retire with at 20 years of service or high multiples up to 75% at 30 years to an average of the last three, or the highest three years of pay that one earned while on active duty.  In effect the Reagan Adminstration robbed military retest of hundreds of thousand of dollars of hard earned benefits. But again the beloved Saint Ronald loved the troops, after all he said so. 

Likewise, did you know that some GOP legislators want to cut the disability payments to military members who have been wounded or injured during their service?  You probably didn’t and you won’t find that fact out on Fox News or CNN. This is not to be confused with the retirement benefits that they are looking to cut.  This my friends is the debt of honor  that this nation owes to the men and women who have given everything and now are broken in body, mind and spirit. But then those who promote such policies, even those who have worn the uniform like Congressman Stivers have no honor. Like those that sold out the Union veterans after the Civil War and the Doughboys after World War One they are much more indebted to their political benefactors than they are to te troops no matter what they say. 

Now I do believe 

Armed Forces Day should be better celebrated and I am grateful to the people that do things every day to thank and support military personnel. These wonderful people that do this come from across the political spectrum. Some are veterans and others non-veterans. But they care for and appreciate the men and women that serve in and fight the wars that no-one else can be bothered to fight.

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Of course the politicians, pundits, preachers and the defense contractors, banks and lobbyists will find a way to profit. They will do so no matter how many more troops are killed, wounded or injured and how badly it affects military personnel or their families and will push to abandon those who fought as they do after every war. After all, to quote Smedley Butler, “war is a racket.”  So fuck them all, and if there is a just God and there is a Hell, I hope that they end up there, especially the preachers who tomorrow will invite the troops to their churches to supposedly honor them even as they support the politicians whose policies damn the very troops that they honor tomorrow. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

President Bush’s actually words were “Now, the American people have got to go about their business. We cannot let the terrorists achieve the objective of frightening our nation to the point where we don’t — where we don’t conduct business, where people don’t shop…” http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2001/10/20011011-7.html

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349: Active Duty Military Suicides Hit New High in 2012

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The 2000 Yard Stare by Thomas Lea

The Defense Department released the numbers for what Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has described as “epidemic” of military suicides. The total of 349 active duty personnel includes 182 Soldiers, 48 Marines, 59 Airmen and 60 Sailors. It does not include Coast Guard personnel. The last statistics for that service showed 5 active duty suicides for 2012 as of mid-August, the service had only seen 6 in 2011.

As of November there were 124 Army Reserve and National Guard suicides not on active duty, 6 Naval Reservists. I have not been able to find the data for Air Force Reserve and National Guard or the Marine Corps Reserve.  The reserve figures are of drilling reservists not of those in the Individual Ready Reserve (inactive reserve) who do not attend drill but have served their obligated active time and can be recalled to active duty until the end of their service obligation.

The Veterans Administration estimates that nearly 6,500 veterans take their lives yearly. The numbers include veterans of all wars not just those of Iraq and Afghanistan nor are they complete because sometimes death certificates do not record a veteran’s service.

It is growing problem that unfortunately will not get any better anytime soon. Part of the issue is that despite service attempts to change the culture there is still a stigma attached to those that seek mental health care. There are other reasons that factor into the equation, deployments, high operational tempo, lack of enough mental health care providers to meet the demands as well as the effects of combat stress injuries, PTSD,

Traumatic Brain Injury as well as what is now called “moral injury. One definition of Moral Injury “the lasting psychological, biological, spiritual, behavioral, and social impact of perpetrating, failing to prevent, or bearing witness to acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.” 

Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor twice wrote a moving of those afflicted with what we now call Moral Injury after World War One:  “Boys with a normal viewpoint were taken out of the fields and offices and factories and classrooms and put into the ranks. They were remolded; they were made over; they were made to “about face”; to regard murder as the order of the day. They were put shoulder to shoulder and through mass psychology, they were entirely changed. We used them for a couple of years and trained them to think of nothing but killing and being killed.

The effects are as chilling now as they were in Butler’s day when he wrote:

“These have already been mentally destroyed. These boys don’t even look like human beings. Oh, the looks on their faces! Physically they are in good shape but mentally they are gone….There are thousands and thousands of these cases and more and more are coming in all the time…”

I know. I see it every day but I see it in a number of ways. I see it in the faces of the Marines and Sailors going back and forth between Afghanistan, Iraq and now North Africa and also among those in the medical, mental health and chaplain services that care for these men and women.

Provider burnout, including suicide is a problem. Just recently a former Army Psychologist who had served in Iraq during the surge and had been treating veterans in the VA committed suicide. Less than two years ago, this man was the lead author of a article that dealt with burnout and suicide of caregivers. Peter Linnerooth who was awarded the Bronze Star in Iraq committed suicide on January 2nd 2013. His widow, also a mental health professional commented:

“He was really, really suffering…And it didn’t matter that he was a mental health professional, and it didn’t matter that I was a mental health professional. I couldn’t help him, and he couldn’t help himself.”

Linnerooth’s faculty advisor commented: “When he went in and when he came out, it was shockingly different…”

That was a problem then and it is a problem now. The thing is that these active duty 349 men and women, as well as the others I have mentioned where the numbers are not well defined are not just numbers. They are people. Real men and women, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. Their deaths at their own hand are more than the combat deaths in Afghanistan this year.

Dr Larry Shellito the Commissioner for Veterans Affairs in Minnesota said something that is dead on:

“Oftentimes, you have to look at the people that surround the people with (PTSD) to make sure they are also OK, because it’s got a multiple impact…It’s not just the individual who suffers, it’s the people who care for him.”

I see it all the time. Butler’s description of the men who served in the trenches that were in veterans hospitals and facilities nearly 20 years after the war ended are as true today as they were then. Ask any caregiver in the service or in the VA system and they will tell you how overwhelming this epidemic is.

It cannot be wished away and assuaged by people simply doing the bumper sticker “I support the troops” thing without looking deeply at what is causing this and investing in the lives of these men and women before their lives are completely destroyed. It also means that politicians and their think tank and media advisors who constantly beat the drums of war, without fully funding it and without caring for those that are sent to fight them must be held accountable by voters.

I know how this is on a real live up close personal basis as a chaplain. I went to Iraq and came back changed. The PTSD, depression, anxiety and hopelessness that I felt were overwhelming. Thankfully I am doing a lot better and I did get the therapy and assistance needed, but it took a while to get it and thankfully at my present command I had people that I worked with help me get the help that I needed. But I have been back almost five years. A lot of that time was spent in the wilderness wondering if there was hope, if I would ever get better and sometimes wondering if God even existed and if he did, did he care. During the whole time I continued to work with and care for others like me. Their injury also impacted me in ways that I could not imagine before I was afflicted.

I care about this issue, because it affects those that I serve as well as their families, communities and those that serve with them. 349 active duty suicides. Think about it. One is too many. 349 is inexcusable and that does not count all those that we cannot count because we don’t know the numbers or the full story.

349: Keep that number in your mind and do something about it.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under healthcare, Military, Pastoral Care, PTSD