Veterans need more than applause


Mi Corporal
MI.Net Member
Oct 23, 2006

By Kathleen Parker

The next time you pass a homeless man on the street, you might
ask in which war he served. In the next several years, chances
are good that he (and increasingly she) will say Iraq or

That grim prediction is based on several facts: One in three
adult homeless males is a veteran and 45 percent of those suffer
from mental illness, according to the National Coalition for
Homeless Veterans.

A recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine,
meanwhile, found that one in four veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan
were diagnosed with some kind of mental health problem.

And those are just the ones who found their way to a VA hospital.
Many don't. Returning veterans are either embarrassed, untrusting
of government, frustrated by bureaucratic gridlock, or simply
incapable of navigating the system.

With large numbers of troops likely headed home in the next year,
the U.S. faces a tsunami of psychologically and emotionally
damaged veterans who have no place to go. Those who don't find
the support they need may end up on the streets.

Or in prison. In 1998, an estimated 56,500 Vietnam War-era
veterans and 18,500 Persian Gulf War vets were held in state
and federal prisons, according to the 2000 Bureau of Justice
Statistics report, ``Veterans in Prison or Jail.''

Obviously, not all were model citizens who turned to crime
because of their war experiences. One in six of incarcerated
veterans was not honorably discharged from the military. But
the report says veterans are more likely than others to be in
prison for a violent offense.

Families of veterans aren't surprised. Men and women trained
to survive in a war zone bring those same skills home and find
themselves unable to function in an alien environment.

Readjustment symptoms include hyper-vigilance, insomnia,
irritability, exaggerated startle response, withdrawal, isolation,
depression and anger. An act-first-think-later approach to problem
solving may keep one alive in combat, but it's not helpful to
family harmony.

Cynde Collins-Clark — none other than Oklahoma's 2006 Mother of
the Year — has experienced these problems firsthand. Her son,
Joe, left for Iraq at 19 with the Army Reserve and returned a
year later 100 percent mentally disabled by post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. Unable to work, Joe
lives at home with his mother, a licensed professional counselor,
and his stepfather.

Collins-Clark has her son's permission to tell their story in
hopes of helping others. She's especially concerned about those
who will be overwhelmed by a system that even she finds
challenging and maddening. She wonders how a young wife with
small children copes with a sick soldier without any help.

The biggest problem is simply not enough qualified counselors
— and not enough government funding to meet current needs.
Those needs have grown exponentially, as the number of vets
seeking treatment for PTSD and other mental health issues
doubled from 4,467 to 9,103 between October 2005 and June
2006, according to a report last month by a House subcommittee.
That's just the beginning of the wave building now.

The Senate last year passed a bill to increase funding for
veterans' mental health programs. Specifically, it would have
increased the number of clinical teams dedicated to the
treatment of PTSD and allowed licensed mental health counselors,
as well as marriage and family therapists, to work at the VA.
The House, however, failed to take action.

Even without additional funding, the Department of Defense
could help by increasing access to mental health care for
military personnel and their families. Currently, individuals
on TRICARE, the military's health insurance program, can seek
counseling from licensed practitioners only after referral
from a primary physician.

This process is often too cumbersome for people suffering
mental problems, says Brian Altman, legislative representative
for the American Counseling Association. Also, physicians
untrained in post-combat symptoms frequently misdiagnose and
fail to send patients to counseling.

A veteran's wife testified before a VA committee last year
that her husband, Capt. Michael Jon Pelkey, was treated for
everything from back pain to erectile dysfunction rather than
PTSD. Pelkey finally was diagnosed properly by a civilian
therapist — one week before he killed himself.

There can be no more shameful legacy of any war than ignoring
veterans' needs. As Republicans and Democrats vow bipartisan
cooperation, they have no greater priority than to simplify
veterans' access to mental health services.

Meanwhile, citizens can help. Russ Clark, a Vietnam Marine
vet and minister who counsels veterans through Point Man
International Ministries of Central Ohio, says he'd like to
see community-based ``Welcome Home'' programs in every
village, town and city in America.

Veterans don't necessarily need a parade, he says,
but they do need acknowledgement, affirmation, counseling,
jobs and housing.

And a parade wouldn't hurt a bit.
Frankly I don't want a flippin' thing from Unka Samuel. I want to be left alone. When Sammy comes calling I look for the nearest hole to hide in.
I don't need anything...I don't want anything. Period. My whole identity isn't wrapped up in my veteran status. Vietnam is a period in my life that is closed. Shite happened that has affected me..but as the old Sarge usta say..F*ck it, don't mean nuthin'. Drive on."

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