This posting was intended to be my report and review of the 2nd National Combat Stress Trauma Symposium at FL State University held on Feb. 16 in Tallahassee, FL. However, the ugly reality of our government's "first class care" of its returning warriors must first be addressed. It is imperative that recent events at Walter Reed be placed in empirical, historical perspective before (once again) political spinmiesters and spoon-fed media distort reality, whitewash real conclusions and solutions and fix the blame on the Veterans themselves.
Cracker Swamp, FL - Callous, uncaring, and often disgraceful care of America’s Veterans are definitely not new issues. They have been directly visited, reviewed and addressed starting as far back as 1973. Not only by myself, but by many, many others as well. This stressor identification and research was begun by the returning Vietnam Veterans themselves, initially in conjunction with Robert Jay Lifton. See War of Words- Time 1973, Rob't Jay Lifton-Wikipedia, Still At War-Willie Hager 1976. But it was consistently ignored by the powers-that-be, with both capital costs and political costs being used as the primary criteria for veterans' care. This model stands in complete opposition to what is best for the Veteran, the Veterans’ families, and ultimately the entire country as the primary criteria for their evaluations. Sadly, considering recent developments; it looks like it’s still that way today.
Speaking directly to recent events at Walter Reed and elsewhere: The most common expressions from the media and public appear to be ones of shock. Excuse me?! These revelations are only shocking because the government wants them to appear shocking -- as if they just found out about these problems. They say; "By God! Heads will roll when we get to the bottom of all of this...". But they will never get to the bottom of it all on their own, because that would be political suicide. To admit that they had it wrong for all these years would legitimatize the very Truth that they have been denying for over thirty years. And this admission would culminate, once again, into yet another ballooning national tragedy.
In the thirty days since I returned from the FL State Symposium, there have been many new developments, including:
1) Virtual Reality Treatment for PTSD: The Florida Times-Union newspaper recently depicted a Navy medic in a Navy hospital near Balboa Park in San Diego with some kind of futuristic head gear strapped to his head. This medic was "trying out the program" as part of a virtual reality approach to behavior modification at the hospital. LtCdr Robert McClay, Navy psychiatrist and research leader on virtual reality treatment of PTSD in San Diego, stated in the article:
...some PTSD sufferers are unable, or unwilling (emphasis mine) to recall things in counseling sessions without stimuli, such as the digital images of a combat hospital, a recorded Islamic prayer melody or the smell of cordite explosives misted into a psychologists office.The article also stated:
Sufferers might have anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, emotional numbness, extreme jumpiness and physical pain...With a therapist’s supervision, the virtual Iraqs are designed to vividly, yet safely (for who?) enable those veterans to confront war experiences in ways that go beyond traditional counseling and drug therapy. The computer programs, even with the somewhat cartoonish digital depictions of combat, seek to relieve trauma by repeatedly revisiting its origins and not letting fear fester.
- Locked wards
- Token rewards (Dr. Skinner’s operant conditioning model) for desired behavior response
- Crippling psychotropic drug therapy usually involving massive doses of the debilitating drug, Thorazine
- Electro-shock therapy
2) The Walter Reed Bldg. 18 scandal bursts onto the media scene (see Walter Reed-Washington Post.)! The first stories I heard were TV reports about rodents, peeling paint and mold; stories apparently broken by Ann Hull and Dana Priest of the Washington Post. The duo apparently managed to get onto the wards and document their findings through photos and taped interviews with patients. Deja vu! That’s exactly what we did in the early '70s at the Los Angeles V.A. psychologically challenged locked wards and the Long Beach V.A. paraplegic ward while making Still at War. In fact, approximately six years earlier, Life magazine had also done an expose’, as well. This one on the Bronx V.A. paraplegic ward. (See Life Magazine/Bronx V.A., circa 1970.) Nothing new going on at Walter Reed; it’s just the same ol’ s***, warmed over!
My friends, there is plenty of documented history to prove unequivocally that our government, at all levels, has a policy of lying about their knowledge of mistreatment of Veterans, including:
- Unworkable programs
- Administrative mismanagement of claims
- Poor funding priorities
- Unacceptable living conditions at the facilities
- Adversity rather than advocacy toward the Veteran in the disability/benefits claims process
The Washington Post report on Walter Reed demonstrates that the government obviously hasn’t changed much of anything since Still at War and Life magazine’s original forays into the heart of the beast at the V.A. In spite of the best efforts of Veterans to stand up for themselves, the powers-that-be continue to throw money, the FBI, and/or Swift Boat types into the fray in order to thwart this seemingly unending siege war for dignity and respect, along with the care and consideration that we earned through our Honorable service under arms for America. If you don't believe me, just watch the ugliness gear up to full swing as those of us who have lived these Truths bring our personal history and experience to bear on these issues. But once again, how can they demand our silence? We must help our returning troops from having to be Movin’ On in Circles all their lives -- and this time we must get it right. 'Cause, believe me; it affects each and every American when our own government is allowed to bleed the life, hope, and dreams out of those who have served unquestioningly and unflinchingly in combat in our name. And who are now, as a result of that Honorable service Still At War, right here on the home front. Changes can happen if we all take responsibility and pitch in. Pass the evidence of this national shame along to all of our lists, blogs, friends and families. This is the stuff grassroots democracy is made of; to legitimately and legally retrieve power from those who would want it for their own purposes, and put it to use for the greater good...that being in this instance deserved quality care for our returning combat Veterans, and a better quality of life for all of America's citizens. If we all stand together as American voters, speak in one voice that is devoid of partisan politics and pro-war or anti-war rhetoric, and continue to Speak Truth to Power on this heartbreaking topic; change will happen.
Our returning warriors deserve no less from us.
Willie Hager, March 2007