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Brain Injury, Neglect, and Self-Destruction

Henry the Brain DamagedWhen Andrea Ball recently wrote about Austin’s anti-homeless ordinance, a reader commented,

There is less sympathy for veterans as homeless. They were provided a job by the government, received training worth $thousand to $hundred thousands, have significant lifetime benefits and yet chose to make bad decisions. How much more investment in a specific individual is required?

Well… about that job training… many of the skills are not transferable. They are totally useless for any kind of a civilian career. Sure, a lot of vets come back and join up with the police, but how many SWAT teams can even an increasingly militarized police force use? As for the question about how much investment in one individual is required, the answer is: However much it takes to get the person functioning again.

ProPublica (Journalism in the Public Interest) did an exhaustive series called “Brain Wars: How the Military Is Failing Its Wounded.” Just reading the titles of some of the many articles, you get the gist:

‘More Than Half of Recent War Vets Treated by VA Are Struggling With Mental Health Problems’

‘New Survey: Few Troops Exposed to Bomb Blasts Are Screened For Concussion’

‘Critical Shortage of Army Neurologists for U.S. Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan’

‘Congress to Investigate Pentagon Decision to Deny Coverage for Brain Injured Troops’

‘Soldiers With Brain Trauma Denied Purple Hearts, Adding Insult to Injury’

So, we’ve got something like 8,000 veterans in Los Angeles who collectively own a chunk of prime downtown real estate, yet have nowhere to live. And maybe 150,000 disability claims coming in from the Vietnam-era vets, whose defoliant-related diseases were just last year recognized as also being service-related. And a new batch coming along, victims of the chemicals released into the air by burn pits.

A large number of these disabled veterans are either already homeless, or are destined to experience homelessness, and the resources to provide what they need just aren’t there. But, not to worry. Some former military personnel have been helping to keep the homeless vet statistics down, by the simple expedient of removing themselves from the population.

In The Austin Chronicle, Michael Ventura recently mused on a news headline that caught his eye. “About 18 veterans commit suicide on an average day,” it said. It costs half a million dollars a year to keep a soldier on the ground in one of the current wars. But when they get home — nothing. Or very little. Or, as in the case of the Vietnam vets whose problems are just now being addressed, too little too late. It usually takes more than four years for the Department of Veterans Affairs to settle a mental health claim. And the appeal process is even more hellish than the original application.

Ventura says,

In neglect, many end their sufferings at the rate of about 18 a day — a toll, in one year, roughly twice that of those who died in the Twin Towers. This is called a ‘war on terror’? It is a war that terrorizes our veterans at a terrible cost to their sanity and their lives… Has there ever been a war in which a country lost more troops at home and by their own hands than on the battlefield? Tens of billions of dollars are spent on new weapons development while the Veterans Benefits Administration is understaffed and underfunded. What words could adequately describe such a measure of disgrace?

Reactions?

Source: “Brain Wars: How the Military Is Failing Its Wounded,” ProPublica
Source: “Letters at 3AM: About 18 a Day,” The Austin Chronicle, 07/01/11
Image by timstock_NYC (Tim Stock), used under its Creative Commons license.

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