Kia — by another name
I hesitate to start a piece with such a tough phrase. Most, perhaps all, of you know well what the acronym KIA means - Killed in Action. It is part of our lexicon, tragically. I use it to grab attention, attention to an important subject.
“For every soldier killed in combat, 25 veterans are dying by suicide. It’s time to broaden efforts against PTSD.” This is from a serious opinion column by Robert M. Morgenthau (Wall Street Journal 9/24/12). New Yorkers might recall Morgenthau as the Manhattan District Attorney from 1975 to 2009. In the Civil War they called it “soldiers heart.” In WWI it was “shell shock.” In WWII, “battle fatigue.” Now we know it as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Morgenthau says that it is reaching epidemic proportions among our soldiers and veterans. “According to a Veterans Administration report released this March, current or former military personnel represent an estimated 20% of all known suicides in the United States – that’s more than 7,000 veterans and service members each year.” Repeating, that’s 25 for each KIA. Shocking.
The Journal article tells of the loss of a 63 year old Vietnam veteran from Queens, N.Y. His story is said to be typical of these cases and the lack of complete care given these vets by the VA. This case may hit home among some in our island community.
Now I remember being involved in a study at the VA Hospital in Boston. As I recall
we were asked to answer test questions as if we had PTSD. It wasn’t hard to fool the computer. I was told hat I didn’t have the malady, although I am a Vietnam veteran. I think they are taking this more seriously now. This situation heavily stresses the VA and Military Medical systems.
According to Morgenthau, “Veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts are particularly at risk. A report commissioned by the Department of Defense and released earlier this year by the Institute of Medicine called PTSD ‘one of the signature injuries of the U.S. engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan.’ The report estimated that 20% of the veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan have, or may develop, PTSD. That’s 338,000 to 520,000 men and women. And the report cautions that these figures may be an underestimation.”
“The VA has taken admirable steps to care for veterans suffering from PTSD. It has increased its mental-health budget 39% since 2009 – to $6.2 billion from $4.5 billion –and has increased its mental-health staff 41% since 2007. But it is still unable to provide timely care to every veteran seeking treatment or to reach out to many of those who are most at risk.”
According to the Institute of Medicine report: “Of the U.S. service members and veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and have screened positive for PTSD, only slightly more than half of these have received treatment.”
Many vets have to wait far too long for the care they need. There is serious criticism of the VA on this issue as well as others. The Military Services share some of this blame for members care, or lack of it, before they are passed on to the care of the VA. The battle is not being won; ground is being lost as time passes. I’ve related this mental-health issue to loss of life in action. I am not without experience in the latter. I’ve seen young Marines die in the field. It is not pretty. It is not something you forget easily. The longer term cost might be as serious, and should be as memorable.
Morgenthau summarizes: “Continuing to allow large numbers of veterans with PTSD to go untreated is not an option. The effects are socially and economically disastrous. Moreover, we have a clear moral duty to our fighting men and women to ensure that they get care for the injuries they sustained while serving our nation.”
I will close my treatment of this important subject with the following from Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865.
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
With the words, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan,” President Lincoln affirmed the government’s obligation to care for those injured during the war and to provide for the families of those who perished on the battlefield.