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26 May 2009

Memorialize Your Day

(Encore Article From 2008)

Happy Memorial Day Folks.

3 day weekend, right? Kind of like MLK Day perhaps? Here's wishing for a little more Memorial in your Memorial Day...

Since 1868 Americans have - or should - honor the memory of U.S. armed Forces killed in action, as a result of their combat wounds or that died while a prisoner of war. Traditionally, we are supposed to fly our flags at half staff until noon, then full staff after that. Then at 3pm, wherever we are, we are supposed to offer remembrance to those volunteer soldiers that have died while protecting our country. Whatever we do, it is surely not enough.

"It doesn't take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle."
- General Norman Schwarzkopf

In our country's most recent war in Iraq, a Rand Corporation study found about 20 percent U.S. soldiers returning (nearly 300,000 soldiers) have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression. PTSD is a brain injury causing the failure to cope after a major system shock, such as a significant accident, a sexual assault or combat. Symptoms include persistent, frightening memories, emotional numbness, a feeling of detachment, headaches and insomnia. Some symptoms may remain dormant for years before they surface and many people never recover even when treated. PTSD is serious, serious business.

While researching breastfeeding in 'the ocean' I was horrified and perturbed to hear of a growing collection of mothers that label children as having PTSD if they don't breastfeed until they start high school, or something like that. To them, giving a sandwich instead of a boob to a developing child was comparable to giving them combat stress. Grrrr.

For actual PTSD diagnosis, we are just starting to see the costs associated. Dollar costs.... and lost lives. According to the National Institute of Mental Health: "it's quite possible that the suicides and psychiatric mortality of this war could trump the combat deaths.''

Wow. Think about that. More self inflicted deaths than combat deaths because of brain injuries.

"A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic."
- Joseph Stalin

We have over 1 million servicemen and women deployed in the theatre of war currently. Since 9/11, it is estimated that a quarter of them have exhibited PTSD. Out of every 100,000 Army personnel deployed in Iraq, 19 of them commit suicide (the highest rate in over 25 years).

As of January 2006, over 3200 Iraq vets have suffered head or brain injuries, which will cost up to $35 Billion to treat for the remainder of their lives. At a time when our country needs to cowboy up and help these soldiers, we learn that just the opposite is happening.

In an email dated March 20th 2008, a VA Psychologist in charge of PTSD services in Temple Texas advised her staff to stop diagnosing veterans with PTSD to save money. She also announced she would disband a dozen or so PTSD therapy groups. They are opting to use a more convenient (read: less expensive), albeit wildly ambiguous diagnosis of: Adjustment Disorder.

This is not a referendum on war and certainly not on the role of our all volunteer soldiers in supporting the war. Our society is full of people that claim to be patriots. Today, Memorial Day, is another golden - and simple - opportunity to prove just that.

Let's encourage each other to observe a moment of silence at 3pm for those that have been lost...and then follow it up with a chorus of loud voices demanding better care for our returning servicemen and women so we don't lose anymore.


Anonymous said...

On NPR today (Monday) Diane Rehm's show, a rebroadcast of her program on Veteran's and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, reinforced the critical need for care and for concern for our veterans. What a sad situation it is for our young men and women to have to wait months for care and then for that care to be wholly inadequate, partially because of lack of funding and partially because of apathy and lack of concern. Whether you support the war (I don't) or not, taking care of our soldiers should be a priority. How could we do this to those young people who volunteer (!) to put themselves in harm's way? Shame on us and that includes the people who can fix this awful problem.

Talisman said...

I'm pretty sure the moment of silence was passed up by the sounds of cash registers ringing up merchandise.

I can't even imagine what a slap in the face it must be to a family member of a fallen soldier to have the most important thing for this day being a hotdog before a shopping spree.

Tismee2 said...

I've aready mentioned this on another blog but personally I think you guys get behind your servicemen and women a lot more than we do here in the UK.

We have Rememberence Day and people (mainly older people or ex forces)wear a red poppy.

It saddens me to see how little respect or even interest is shown by the young people towards those serving their country.

Is it because so much emphasis is placed on political issues, making it a 'right' or 'wrong' thing to do to be serving in say Iraq or Afghanistan? I don't for one minute believe they relate to those men and women putting their lives at risk unless they know somone personally.

At Seaworld in Florida, an announcement was made during one of the shows for all serving and ex forces people around the world to stand up. I hesitated, but my son made me stand. It was extremely emotional for me, and I'm sure everyone else who was standing to be thanked in that manner.
Something like that would never happen in the UK incase it offended 'someone'.

Dana said...

Interesting Michael - I was actually planning a post on the toll this war (which I support) is taking on our VA Medical Centers. The chances of living through an injury in this war are far greater than they ever have been as the quality of medical care in the field is comparable to what we have available here.

On another note, my 13 year old step-daughter, as I was talking about the moment of silence at 3 PM said, "OH! That's what this holiday is for?" Sad ...

Michael M. said...

talisman: I was in my truck yesterday at 3pm and happened to be passing a bank (which was closed) with their flag at 1/2 staff. I stopped and parked and reflected. The bank was next to a Wal-Mart, whose parking lot was FULL and bustling with activity. So right you are.

Of course honoring the fallen is so much more than a moment of silence one day per year, but your point is well taken.

Michael M. said...

anon: I don't think it is widespread institutional bias against the troops, but merely the lack of adequate planning for the accomodations needed for all these young men/women who go from high school to the horrors of combat and then back again.

Michael M. said...

tismee: I remember your Seaworld story and it's awesome. I agree that troop support - as I suspect it was during Vietnam - eventually becomes linked to the political furor over our role in the war so over time I think both allies (US & UK) see less and less overt troop support because it implies support of an unpopular war. Sad all around really.

Thanks again for your service Gail!!

Michael M. said...

dana: I hope you do that story. They (the VA) are overwhelmed and their troubles have been well documented. However, their successes are woefully under documented.

In addition to the survivability and viability of injured combatants (ours AND theirs!), our medics coming home are reporting to ER's around the country with experience and technological know-how that is unmatched to any time in history.

rambler said...

Wow - great post! My oldest son traditionally plays taps on his trumpet from our front porch at 3pm on Memorial Day. It's his offering.

I recently wrote an article about PTSD and our troops. One thing that I was reading about before writing my article is some of the things that are lacking in their daily routines in Iraq - such as lack of sleep. Our soldiers are literally walking zombies in many cases because of substandard sleep and diet.

Then there is always the shameful way they are taken care of once they are back from duty.

You have a great site! Thanks for the comment on my blog and I'm really glad to have found your blog.

Michael M. said...

Right back atcha rambler!

Sounds like you have brought up a respectful son....very impressive. I'll go look for that article....

rambler said...

I'll save you some time - here's a link to my article:

And son is a great kid!=)

Michael M. said...

Well done article Rambler. Thanks so much for sharing!