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Proviso Probe

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

It's Veterans Day

I received the following email from a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. I have not been able to verify the contents, but the New York Times and others has quoted a Michael Kern at Ft. Hood speaking critically of how he has been treated with respect to his mental health issues.

President Obama visited Fort Hood today. He dropped by Iraq Veteran Against the War (IVAW) [link added] Michael Kern's barracks. Michael handed President Obama a letter, saying, "Sir, IVAW has some concerns we'd like for you to address." Obama then dropped his hand and went on to speak to the next soldier. The secret service then took possession of Kern's letter:

President Obama:

In your recent comments on the Fort Hood tragedy, you stated "These are men and women who have made the selfless and courageous decision to risk and at times give their lives to protect the rest of us on a daily basis. It's difficult enough when we lose these brave Americans in battles overseas. It is horrifying that they should come under fire at an Army base on American soil." Sir, we have been losing these brave Americans on American soil for years, due to the mental health problems that come after deployment, which include post-traumatic stress disorder, and often, suicide.

You also said that "We will continue to support the community with the full resources of the federal government". Sir, we appreciate that-but what we need is not more FBI or Homeland Security personnel swarming Fort Hood . What we need is full mental healthcare for all soldiers serving in the Army. What happened at Fort Hood has made it abundantly clear that the military mental health system, and our soldiers, are broken.

You said "We will make sure that we will get answers to every single question about this terrible incident." Sir, one of the answers is self evident: that a strained military cannot continue without better mental healthcare for all soldiers.

You stated that "As Commander-in-Chief, there's no greater honor but also no greater responsibility for me than to make sure that the extraordinary men and women in uniform are properly cared for." Sir, we urge you to carry out your promise and ensure that our servicemembers indeed have access to quality mental health care. The Army has only 408 psychiatrists — military, civilian and contractors — serving about 553,000 active-duty troops around the world. This is far too few, and the providers that exist are often not competent professionals, as this incident shows. Military wages cannot attract the quality psychiatrists we need to care for these returning soldiers.

We ask that:

1. Each soldier about to be deployed and returning from deployment be assigned a mental health provider who will reach out to them, rather than requiring them to initiate the search for help.
2. Ensure that the stigma of seeking care for mental health issues is removed for soldiers at all levels-from junior enlisted to senior enlisted and officers alike.
3. Ensure that if mental health care is not available from military facilities, soldiers can seek mental health care with civilian providers of their choice
4. Ensure that soldiers are prevented from deploying with mental health problems and issues.
5. Stop multiple redeployments of the same troops.
6. Ensure full background checks for all mental health providers and periodic check ups for them to decompress from the stresses they shoulder from the soldiers they counsel to the workload they endure.

Sir, we hope that you will make the decision not to deploy one single Fort Hood troop without ensuring that all have had access to fair and impartial mental health screening and treatment.

You have stated on a number of occasions, starting during your campaign, how important our military and veterans are to this nation. The best way to safeguard the soldiers of this nation is to provide ALL soldiers with immediate, personal and professional mental health resources.

- Iraq Veterans Against the War

Chuck Whelan of Valparaiso, IN wrote a letter to the Northwest Indiana Times.

Partial quote:
If you know a vet please take a few minutes to "thank" them no matter how you feel about the war.

And for those of you glad that our country did away with the draft or those of you who oppose this war, just remember it was the sacrifice of the vets that gave you the right to feel as you do.

I find the game of thanking veterans a bit odd. I don't remember it being done (at least not widely) before the Right Wing embraced it as part of the push to invade Iraq.

Notice Whelan makes no effort to hide his support for occupying other countries and his scorn for people who question these invasions and occupations. Which war is he talking about? The occupation of Iraq? of Afghanistan? The war formerly known as the "Global War on Terrorism"? He's not a details guy. As long as the military is oppressing and killing the right people Whelan is for it. What's the point of being in the most powerful country on Earth if your government's military doesn't kick some butt to put the inferior and undesirables in their place?

Jack Ryan was actually the first guy to thank me for my service.

My initial reaction was, if you paid your taxes then you've thanked me already.

I've modified my thinking somewhat.

One train of thinking about the U.S. military is that it exists as a goon squad to advance the economic interests of the United States as a whole or the interests of powerful corporations (and institutions) that are part of the United States. See Smedley Butler.

Another train of thinking is that the U.S. military exists to project our values, especially the values of human dignity around the world.

There are people, like Whelan, who claim to believe the U.S. military protects the freedom of individual U.S. citizens. I fail to see a connection between what the U.S. military does and protecting the freedom of individual citizens (in almost all cases).

The U.S. government can deploy the military for missions that involve taking casualties if the mission is sufficiently covert or small that it will not garner media attention. If the mission is big enough it has to be sufficiently popular and dovetail with U.S. economic interests.

My position: the U.S. military does not protect the rights and freedoms we associate with U.S. society. Those rights and freedoms are maintained (and in good times expanded) by activism, the courts, journalism and personal courage.

The U.S. military is sometimes a tool for advancing U.S. values overseas.

If you want to do right by a veteran, treat him or her with respect. Saying "thank you" is often done to reduce the veteran to symbol. Veterans are human beings.

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  • "I find the game of thanking veterans a bit odd. I don't remember it being done (at least not widely) before the Right Wing embraced it as part of the push to invade Iraq."

    I'm glad you qualified your inexperience with the veteran community with that statement at the beginning so I could skip reading the rest. I can remember being thanked for my service as far back as 1988. Of course, some of us have a selective memory anyway when there's a point to be made, huh?

    By Blogger Jonn Lilyea, at 5:59 PM, November 11, 2009  

  • Why didn't you publish my comment about thanking my grandfathers?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:38 PM, November 14, 2009  

  • I generally don't publish comments posted under "anonymous".

    Pick a pseudonym if you want to post.

    By Blogger Carl Nyberg, at 10:10 PM, November 16, 2009  

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