Forcing U.S. soldiers to fight the last battle alone

The U.S. has been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and now soldiers are coming home without adequate supports. I’ve written on this topic before, and I do so here again because I cannot fathom how we allow this to happen. We make soldiers carry the body bags of their dead comrades, and then we make those returning home carry their own baggage of injuries to mind and body filled with unrelenting pain. Just over the past week or so I have read and seen numerous stories and events involving soldiers returning from overseas. For instance:

• There are recent stories of how trained therapy dogs can provide enormous stability, comfort and hope to soldiers who return with PTSD. • In Atlanta’s Hartsfield  Airport, there are large advertisements spread out on walls announcing “support” for the troops and how people can get involved. • As I walk through other airports, there are small and large groups of people waiting outside the gates with balloons and oversized cards to welcome home soldiers. • First Lady Michelle Obama has launched various initiatives dealing with returning soldiers.

And yet, amid these fine efforts, there are the unending nightmares of soldiers, many of whom have done multiple tours of duty, all in the name of our country and its ideals. When they return they are left to whither and suffer in isolation, alone.

So many of our soldiers get the run-around when it comes to their health benefits and health services, which is enough to enrage anyone, but how about someone has been in the midst of war and is in urgent need of care and compassion? Many soldiers don’t receive mental health diagnoses for months; meanwhile, they’re left to be swallowed alive by their troubling flashbacks, depression, and other problems. Indeed, they are left at war within themselves –here at home.

The effectiveness of the therapy dogs is now under-review amid grumblings the dogs are “costly” to train. But while we’re waiting for the results of yet another study, how much evidence do we need beyond what the Pentagon and others have already gathered to know there are real positive benefits at work here? And costly: are we really willing to put side-by-side the costs of conducting a war with the costs of training some dogs for returning soldiers? My arguments here are not about ideology or re-litigating whether we should have ever gone to war, but about the silly and shallow arguments and the smokescreens that are put forward not to care for our soldiers.

Another example: When soldiers cannot penetrate VA services they are left to fend for themselves, after being trained in war to always support their unit. When they do get access, many don’t receive transportation from one health service to another, so they are left out in the cold, the wet, the wind, having to drag themselves to their next appointment. Just how much can it cost to make sure there are enough case workers who can cut through the red tape, find the right health care, and ensure soldiers can get to their appointments and with dignity?

Then there are the rocky marital and family relationships many soldiers come home to. Is it asking too much to provide enough counselors to sort out their home-front, when these men and women went to the battle front for us?

As I write this piece I feel myself getting angrier by the word. How can we ask someone to put their life on the line, in many cases to do multiple tours of duty, and to come home where we fail to act aggressively to support them – indeed, to act as aggressively as we did when sending them into battle in the first place?

Isn’t it time we carried the burden for our troops? If not us, then who?