Saturday, December 01, 2007

Long Beach Veterans Day Parade, 2007:

Jan Allan Ruhman

As the point man for in San Diego, California; I have been working on the issue of the Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace and Military Families Speak Out having been denied the right to march in the 2007 Veterans Day Parade in Long Beach, California. A clear and blatant attempt to marginalize and silence through denial, and by inference, and to question the motives, impugn the reputation, and call into question the Patriotism of unwelcome, yet knowledgeable and experienced Veterans, Active Duty GI’s and Military family members with whom they disagree politically. A tactic employed all too often in our public discourse and one that does a disservice to all Americans.

Since my presentation before the Long Beach City Council, following Veterans Day 2007, on Tuesday November 13, 2007, was posted on and sent out as a “call to action” to individual Veterans, Veterans groups and their supporters, you all have rallied to the cause and forwarded the link on to friends and family nation wide. The result of which was, that the Mayors Office, City Council Members Offices and the Parade Committee Chairperson were inundated with telephone calls and letters.

Our call to action link was recieved and sent by retired USAF Major Bobby Hanafin to a friend of his, Wade R. Sanders, Esq., who is currently the Senior Military and Veterans Advisor to the Lt. Governor, John Garamendi, of the State of California. A Vietnam Veteran himself and a true American Patriot in the best tradition of the “Winter Soldier”, Wade Sanders took the bull by the horns and placed calls to the Mayors Office, the City Council Members and the Chairwoman of the Veterans Day Parade Committee.

I’m proud to report that the battle has been won. A 34 year old wrong has been righted in Long Beach. I spoke with Mr. Sanders this morning and followed up, as he suggested, with a phone call to the Chairwoman of the Long Beach Veterans Day Parade Committee and was informed that a letter will go out to the Veterans and Military Family groups denied entry in this year’s parade inviting them to participate in the parade in 2008.

From this day forward, hopefully, all Veterans’ and Military Family groups that desire to march and be honored for their service and sacrifice on behalf of our country will be permitted to march in future Veterans Day Parades in Long Beach California, and anywhere else in America for that matter; regardless of their personal political beliefs about this war or war in general. In Long Beach, Ca., at least, they will hereafter be honored and ARE WELCOME to march behind their organizational banners and SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER, a tradition that is American as Apple Pie.

Each and every one of you played a critical role in reversing this abuse of power that has gone unchecked since 1973 when the City of Long Beach first denied the Vietnam Veterans Against the War the right to march in that Veterans Day Parade 34 long years ago. You can be proud that you rose to the challenge and stood up to the politics of intolerance and defended the rights guaranteed to all Americans under the Constitution of free speech and to peacefully assemble.

We have engaged the politics of intolerance and injustice, and they have been vanquished on the field of battle. The war, however, is far from over. We have much work to do to bring the ship of state around and to restore America to the principles and ideals that this great nation was founded on. Re-engage in the political process at the local, state and national level. The 2008 Presidential Election cycle is critical for our country and the world. You can make a difference.

I’m looking forward to helping IVAW, VFP & MFSO form a large contingent to march in the 2008 Veterans Day Parade in Long Beach and invite veterans and supporters from across the country to come March with us in 2008. Your service to our country continues and for that America is a better place today than it was yesterday. God Bless you and yours. Semper Fi.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Veterans Day Parade 2007, Long Beach, Ca

IVAW, Vets for Peace, & Military Families Speak Out
Denied Access to March
What follows is yet another of those Deja vu flashes that remind us that in spite of so much change since Nixon and his cronies were either imprisoned or chased from the White House in disgrace; not much has changed at all when it comes to this governments treatment of it's Veterans, seemingly all the way down to the city council level. A phenomenon that we have pointed out in several previous articles and pieces on these pages with reference to the Walter Reed debacle, and the growing PTSD crises. A phenomenon that we first recorded on film in Still At War, 1976. We here at will continue to shine the light of Truth on the likes of these, as long as they continue to disrespect America's Combat Veterans, and Veterans' family members and supporters. Deja vu: I and Jan Rhuman, the author of the following text which he personally presented before the Long Beach City Council on 11/13/2007, along with many other members and associates of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War from throughout Southern California, were denied access to march in the Long Beach Veterans Day parade, way back in 1973. WH, Ed.
Here is Jan's presentation to the Council...

Good evening, I’m J. Allan Ruhman. I live in San Diego. I am here as an American Citizen deeply concerned over this government body’s decision to uphold the Parade Committee’s unilateral decision to deny American Combat Veterans and Military Family Members their right to March in this years Veterans Day Parade. The theme of which was “A Salute to Those Who Served “ One Team...One Mission", honoring all Veterans.

Voltaire said, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

That what America’s Veterans of all wars do. They protect and defend the U. S. Constitution, the bill of rights, our civil liberties, our freedoms They go into harms way for us prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice.

I find it ironic that these young men and women were good enough to fight and die in the streets of Baghdad but are not good enough to march peacefully, silently and reverently in the City streets of Long Beach, California in 2007 in America in a Veterans Day Parade held to honor the service and sacrifice of all veterans, while carrying their organizational banners and flying old glory. These are bonafide Veterans Organizations that are incorporated as 501 (C3’s) Nationally and in the State of California. How un-American to deny them simply because their organizational names include words like PEACE or Against War.

Former President and Five Star General Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, it’s stupidity.” Would he be denied entry as well? Why are these Veterans Organizations seen as political, and other Veterans Organizations seen as apolitical when clearly many of them are not?

As a United States Marine Corps Veteran who served two tours in Vietnam, back to back on the ground, from September 1966 through May 1968, I am appalled at the disrespect shown these American Patriots. But most of all I am concerned with the continued precedent that this City first set in 1973, when you denied the Vietnam Veterans Against the War a permit to march in that Veterans Day Parade, that continues to this day.

Let’s call it what it is. A clever but blatant attempt to marginalize, to silence thru denial and, by inference, question the motives, impugn the reputation and call into question the Patriotism of an unwelcome, knowledgeable, and experienced citizen with whom one disagrees politically. A tactic employed all too often in our public discourse, and one that does a disservice to all Americans. This City can ill afford to continue to allow these Patriots to be discriminated against in a City Sponsored event held on city streets, that receives the benefit of tax payer dollars spent for police & fire services, street cleaning, park services, etc. I question whether standing behind the thin veil of a discriminatory 501 (C3) Corporation serves this City well. I am confident that put under a micro scope, good intentioned or not, those abuses would become quite evident. The eyes of a nation have been focused on Long Beach.

In Conclusion:

I implore you to seriously give this issue further deliberations. I’m asking you as Elected City Leaders to take a role of moral leadership on this issue and to use your good Offices to intercede and open a dialog between the Parade Committee and the affected veterans in order to address their legitimate concerns about theirs and the Veterans and Military Families’ being denied the right to march, and to right this wrong so that in 2008 these groups are accorded the same rights and respect as other Veterans groups, and so that this outrage is never repeated again against another Veteran in this fine City.

Thank You,

Jan Allan Rhuman
P.S. Jan told them what he, you can too...WH
Long Beach City Council members' office numbers:
Bonnie Lowenthal (562) 570-6096
Suja Lowenthal (562) 570-6684
Gary DeLong (562) 570-6300
Patrick O'Donnel (562) 570-6918
Gerrie Schipske (562) 570-6932
Dee Andrews (562) 570-6816
Tonia Reyes (562) 570-6139
Rae Gabelich (562) 570-6685
Val Lerch (562) 570-6137

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

War & Natural Disasters:

Post-traumatic Stress and Combat Operational Stress
Dr. Ray Scurfield

Ray presenting at 2d Annual National Symposium on Combat Stress Injuries at Florida State University, Feb, 2007. Ray is the author of a Vietnam Trilogy, Veterans and Post Traumatic Stress: 1968,1989,2000, Algora Publishing. He has appeared on the pages of on two prior occasions. He is the Director of the Katrina Research Center at the University of Southern missippi. The following is from a presentation that Ray did at the national U.S. Navy “War Time Deployment Support Conference,” sponsored by Commander, Navy Installations Command, Family Readiness Programs. August 30, 2007, San Diego, CA. [I have updated this presentation on 9.7.07, to reflect some of the additional comments and changes that I made during the actual presentation.]

Presented here at VetSpeak in the spirit of speaking Truth to Power:

I’m appreciative that the Navy has invited me—in spite of the fact that I am an Army veteran J ---to this extremely important conference in support of our nation’s finest who serve their nation in harm’s way and their families. On the other hand, I do feel at least somewhat like a Navy spouse having been married to Margaret, Director, Seabee Fleet & Family, in Gulfport, MS, who has worked with the Navy for over 20 years and bleeds Navy blue. Yes, I have almost become accustomed to being introduced as “Margaret’s husband.” J

I am truly humbled and honored to have been asked to speak with y’all here today. If anything I say helps even one of our nation’s finest or his or her family, then my time with you has been worthwhile.


Before talking about war and its impact, which is the primary focus of my presentation today, I would be remiss not to briefly mention August 29th, the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina---in many ways the most devastating natural disaster in the history of the United States. Just a few significant facts about the destruction caused by Katrina in the state of Mississippi (Scurfield, 2006a):

  • More than 235 confirmed deaths and 68 missing as of December 7, 2007
  • 68,700 homes and businesses destroyed, 65,000 sustained major damage, and 60% of the forests in the coastal communities destroyed along with much of the shipping and fishing industry
  • There was a 34 feet high storm-surge from Katrina in western Mississippi that was propelled inland as far as 10 miles or so from the coast, through the myriad rivers and bayous, severely damaging or destroying homes and communities that had never previously been flooded by storm surges. And numerous hurricane-level winds and tornadoes swept through central and north central areas of the state.
  • About 350 buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places were destroyed, along with most of the evidence of 300 years of Mississippi Gulf Coast history. This makes Katrina the worst historic preservation disaster in our nation’s history.
  • As of March 13, 2006, about 100,000 Mississippians were living in FEMA trailers and hundreds of other displaced residents not eligible for FEMA trailers. As of last week, some 17,200 FEMA trailers were still occupied.

Do you know how to tell the FEMA Mardi Gras float? It’s the one that came three days after the parade ended.

Do you know what the FEMA evacuation plan was? [I will clean up the language here.] It was on many t-shirts on the Gulf Coast; “Run, mother-f, run.”

And two days after Katrina when I found my university office and building for our department destroyed, with ruined contents scattered everywhere, I just had to sit on my colleague’s small couch that was perched in the middle of the debris, pick up a water-logged book, and look studious, as my wife and daughter took a photograph of the sight. If I had not done that, I probably would have broken down sobbing at the irretrievable loss of 30 years of my professional life’s records, data from three research studies, et al. And my loss paled in comparison to so many others.


The connections between Hurricane Katrina and the military are quite substantial. Firstly, the Seabees in particular were extraordinarily helpful in post-Katrina debris removal and reconstruction efforts. And many FFSC staff volunteers rotated through Gulfport over months to assist the overwhelmed Gulfport FFSC staff in their services to the military community.
Furthermore, as a Vietnam veteran I am acutely aware that there are significant parallel experiences and reactions post-Katrina and post-war that triggered war-related symptoms and issues in a number of active duty personnel and veterans (Scurfield, 2006a, b). These included:

  • The physical devastation—markedly similar to what one might have seen in a war zone. Indeed, one combat vet described Katrina’s destruction as “just like a war zone, except there was no gunfire.”
  • The overwhelming smells—from gasoline and generators to the terrible stench from the debris, storm surge muck and rotting organic materials strewn over miles.
  • The marked heat and humidity—oppressive and omnipresent;
  • The marked disorientation—returning (from war or after Katrina) home to a world that was now so unfamiliar and strange. In fact, I still, two years later, find myself getting lost and missing turns driving down Highway 90 due to the destruction of almost all familiar landmarks.
  • Being forgotten—the powerful and painful reminder of how forgotten many war veterans have felt and feel is now intertwined post-Katrina with how many Mississippians (as well as Louisiana survivors of Hurricane Rita) have discovered how forgotten we seem to have become—versus the media coverage of New Orleans—and we do not begrudge New Orleans receiving all the attention and assistance possible as the destruction there is extraordinary. Is “out-of-sight” also now “out-of-mind” for much of the rest of the country and our national officials? Oh, yes, too many of our nation’s war veterans and their families know exactly how that feels.
  • Being in Iraq and Afghanistan—or home on the Gulf Coast? There were a number of letters and e-mails in the local newspaper about the anguish and agony of various Mississippi active duty personnel being deployed to or who were overseas at the same time that their own families and communities were suffering terribly from Katrina.
  • The financial costs of post-Katrina recovery and the federal response. How can we possibly adequately fund and wage a war oversees and rebuild an entire nation while doing justice to our own citizens in Katrina-ravaged Mississippi and Louisiana (and some in Alabama and Texas)? As one protestor said, “Make levees, not war.” Yes, the clash of national priorities is an extreme challenge.
  • There is great concern that much of our National Guard units and their equipment and their energy have been depleted by being overseas, as well as reserve units. Has this compromised their ability to be able to respond adequately to a new natural disaster that might befall the United States? Can our military units really do justice to serving the OEF/OIF mission and the historic missions back home?


I want to spend the remainder of my first presentation discussing war-related post-traumatic stress and combat operational stress. I especially want to give y’all a historical context to the extent, duration and nature of the human impact of serving in wars.

I had two pivotal experiences prior to going to Vietnam that have had a life-long impact on my understanding of war-related combat stress and post-traumatic stress:

Firstly, when I received my commission as a 2nd lieutenant in the Medical Service Corps in June, 1965, I obtained a two-year deferment to get my MSW degree—just up the interstate at the University of Southern California. During my second year internship at the Sepulveda VA Hospital, I was assigned a young former Marine on the locked psychiatric ward who was diagnosed with schizophrenia. It turns out that he had suffered a psychotic break while in Vietnam and had been medically evacuated back to the U.S., and eventually discharged and transferred to the VA hospital system. And, by the way, it is important to note that it is very rare for combatants to break down in the middle of battle. Rather, typically such breakdowns occur later—days or weeks later while in the war zone--or months, years or even decades later post-war. Every now and then, this young former marine would have periods of lucidity; at one such time, with tears welling in his eyes, he looked directly at me and said, “Ray, can you please help me get back to Vietnam? I deserted my buddies, and I have to go back . . . to prove that I am a man.”

My heart sank; I knew this young marine would never be back on active duty, let alone sent back to Vietnam. And I had my first critical lessons about war and combatants. In combat, nothing is more important than the bonds forged in danger and blood among comrades-in-arms, and doing your part to protect the welfare of the men and women in your unit—nothing. And if something happens about which you feel that you did not do your part, or that you felt you did not do it perfectly—and, of course, since no one is perfect---mistakes, errors in split-second judgment, and events beyond your control do occur that do have tragic consequences and comrades are maimed or killed—this can haunt you for a life-time. [And even when, logically and reality-wise, trauma occurs that is literally beyond your control to prevent, you still may well feel responsible.] And extraordinarily deep-seated guilt and shame can become unwanted companions that can haunt you for decades.

By the way, I have found that war-related guilt and issues of responsibility and blame are perhaps the most frequent and disturbing significant issues that face many combatants and veterans. To address such issues, I have developed a cognitive-reframing strategy and technique, “determining the percentages of responsibility,” that is described in one of the handouts in your packet. [This technique also is described in detail in two clinical case transcripts in my third war trauma book (Scurfield, 2006b)]. I have found this technique to be remarkably palliative in addressing such issues in literally hundreds of war zone veterans I have treated from WW II onward.

The second profound pre-war experience occurred after I boarded a civilian plane in Pittsburgh, in March, 1968, on my way to Vietnam. I was in my uniform with my 2nd lieutenant’s shiny single brass insignia (also known as “butter bar”)--which I came to learn was the absolutely lowest rank one could possibly have in the military—indeed, much lower than a Private. And the plane filled up, although the aisle seat next to me was vacant—and I thought, “Wow, I get to stretch out, relax and not have to talk to anyone.” And then, appearing at the front entry to the airplane entered the last passenger, a Vietnam veteran—obvious by his veteran’s garb—and the fact that he had a patch over his eye and had prostheses where his legs used to be, walking with two forearm crutches, ever so slowly down the aisle. And as he got closer, I realized that he was going to sit next to me! And he did. And I was awkward, saying hello and then becoming self-absorbed in my own thoughts about the irony of being on my way to Vietnam and my own fantasies about being wounded.

And a little later, this vet started talking to me. I distinctly remember to this day one particular part of the conversation. “Sir, it sure was hard going home for the first time from the hospital on convalescent leave---some of my high school buddies told me that it was shame that ‘I had to lose my eye and legs for nothing.’ That really hurt . . .” And, after a pause, he said, “but you know, sir, I’m the lucky one—no one else in my foxhole survived.”

. . . And I was struck by how terribly hurtful comments from others can be when interacting with military personnel returned from deployment. But also I was amazed at how this so severely wounded and disabled—but not handicapped---combatant was attempting to put a positive onto something so tragic. And I pray that he and his family feel that way today---counting his blessings and not cursing his severely damaged body.

The profound meshing together and imprinting in veterans’ psyche and bodies of both the horrific lows, coupled with the remarkable highs is part of the legacy of war that all veterans carry with them for a lifetime. And I have written about how this remarkable intertwining of the polar highs along with the unforgettable traumatic memories is a powerful dynamic that prevents many vets from being able or willing to let go of the lows—because they want to keep the highs. And there are important clinical strategies to address this profound issue that I have written about (Scurfield, 2004).

I then arrived in Vietnam, seven months after receiving my MSW degree, and served 12 months on one of the Army’s two psychiatric teams. There isn’t time to discuss that experience here. However, I would like to mention that I sent a copy of the first book in my war trauma trilogy, which was about my Vietnam experience and the ensuing 20 years, to Army Lt. Col psychologist, Kathy Platoni, while she was deployed with a Combat Stress Control unit in Iraq in 2005. Kathy, who has since become a good friend and dearly valued colleague, told me that she must have underlined at least half of my book---and was amazed that I was describing exactly what she and the troops she was seeing in Iraq were experiencing now—almost 40 years after Vietnam!

I might also mention that one of the most memorable experiences I had when I returned with three Vietnam veterans to a peace-time Vietnam as part of a study-abroad course with the University of Southern Mississippi in 2000 occurred on a very congested street in a city in Vietnam (Scurfield et al, 2003; Scurfield, 2006C). Coming towards me in the midst of a sea of Vietnamese crowding the streets was a young adult male Vietnamese who was wearing a baseball cap with the inscription (in English), “I know Jack Shit.” . . . It struck me a little later that this could have been our motto on our psych team in Vietnam. Yes, we did not really know practically anything about war-related acute stress, but we did as all good military personnel do in every war—we were dedicated to do the very best that we could, under the circumstances.

I also realized that while on the Army psych team treating acute psychiatric casualties, that in essence we were faced with a psychiatric paradox, which I write about in my war trauma trilogy. We had to decide—was the combatant psych casualty too sane to be evacuated back to the U.S.—or too crazy to be sent back to killing? And that is exactly the decision that must be made today by COS units in the Iraq/Afghanistan Wars.


I just have to mention, before going further, that being here today feels a little surreal, in that just two weeks ago in St. Louis I was making two presentations at the Veterans for Peace Annual Convention where I had flashes of being back in the 1960’s protest movement—with a major difference. I must tell you that it was my experience that even many of those against the war in Iraq are trying to differentiate that they do support our troops; indeed the Military Families Speak Out organization’s motto is” support our troop, bring them home now.”

Of course, there are those who would counter that this is an inherently conflictual message to give to our troops. On the other hand, even that message is in vivid contrast to the Vietnam War, where anti-war protestors “confused the warrior with the war” and denigrated and demeaned and discriminated against returning Vietnam veterans. We were like pariahs in our own country, strangers in a strange land, spit upon and called baby killers and dope addicts, and many were shamed into hiding their veteran identities from civilians [Note: one conference participant here came up to me and shared that in his coming home from Vietnam, his unit was met by screaming protestors at the airport and someone threw animal blood on him—a vivid event that remains seared into his memory as he rushed into the airport bathroom to try to scrub off the blood . . . ]. I pray that no era of U.S. veterans ever again is tarnished and tainted by elements of our society with such a heavy weight to bear—which is on top of the cost of serving in harm’s way.


By the way, I have been coached several times by my wife, Margaret, not to make any “political” comments, and this absolutely is not the place for such comments. Indeed, I want to emphasize that it many ways it does not matter whether you are vigorously pro-the Iraq War, vehemently anti the Iraq War, or somewhere in-between—there is, regardless, a profound and oftentimes indelible imprint from serving in a war zone. And this imprint is due mainly to what are the most profound universalities that transcend all wars and eras of service.

At this point, I wanted to show a brief (10 minute) video entitled Inside the Surge. It is a documentary by a British filmmaker, Sean Smith, who was embedded with a U.S. military unit in Iraq for two months. This video offers a brief window into the realities of daily life in a war zone. This video provides a meaningful reality-check about what is the context of war time deployment that is the theme of this conference and the context in which PTSD/Combat Operational Stress” is embedded.

I do want to also mention that there are some strong “political” comments expressed by some of the military personnel near the end of the video. Whether you or I agree or not with such political expressions is not really important; what is important is to grasp that what you see and hear in these 10 minutes is a slice of the brutal reality that many combatants, as well as Iraqi civilians, face day after day after day after day. And try to put yourselves in the shoes of these valiant men and women, American and Iraqi alike, and imagine how such experiences, multiplied many times over, can impact those who are exposed to such experiences.


When a former combatant, or a veteran, or a mental health professional, or any so-called expert, tells you that such war zone experiences have had no markedly enduring impact on those who have been there—the response should be, pardon my French, “bull-shit.” Combat always has an enduring impact—not necessarily post traumatic stress disorder---but always a markedly enduring impact on combatants.

It is critical to note that many experts. politicians and others, to include combatants themselves, will go out of their way to emphasize how different and how unique this current war is from previous wars. And of course, there are differences in different wars. However, over the decades of doing clinical work with over a thousand veterans and their families from WW II onward, I have become much more impressed with the universalities that transcend all wars and eras.

The most fundamental universality of war is that our country sends us into harms way and sanctions us to be perpetrators to kill and maim when necessary, and to be killed and maimed, and to put our comrades at risk for the same, and to put civilians in the country in which we are waging war at the same risk. And it is what men and women have to do to be able to function and survive day-after-day, week-after-week, month-after month and perhaps year-after-year in such a milieu that is brought home and into the families and into our communities. [I will be talking more about this in the clinical large-group combat operational stress workshop later this morning.]

A second and profound universality of war that has been documented in numerous studies from WW II through OEF and OIF is that the most powerful predictor of whether troops will develop post-traumatic stress is the amount of exposure to combat conditions. And current deployment patterns where many troops are required to extend their deployments, or must go back on second and multiple re-deployments, thus puts them at the highest risk to ultimately develop mental health problems.

This fact of the salient role of exposure (see also Cozza, 2003) is confirmed by recent Army surveys that indicate that those who have gone back on a second deployment have higher rates of mental health problems. By the way, perhaps the most troubling combat-related incidents that come with increased exposure, based on my decades of clinical work and various studies, include:

  • being wounded
  • witnessing comrades-in-arms being maimed or killed
  • feeling somehow responsible for the deaths of maiming of fellow and sister comrades-in-arms
  • being involved in the “unnecessary” or “mistaken” killing and maiming of civilians, especially women, children and elderly.

And the emotional wounds that accompany physical wounds are often obscured by the natural tendency for everyone involved—medical providers, the wounded veterans themselves and their families—to focus on physical recovery . . . An entire chapter in my second book was co-authored by my good friend, Steve Tice, who was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade at Hamburger Hill and describes many of the important traumatic experiences that those wounded in battle face from the moment they are wounded back through treatment at a stateside hospital.
(Scurfield, 2006c).

Of course, for a number of troops, exposure to one or two singularly traumatic events or experiences, regardless of how long deployed, can be deeply impactful for years or decades. Indeed, it is my experience that even when vets have been exposed to innumerable tragic events in the war-zone, almost always there are one or two singularly impactful experiences that stand out above all the rest. And it is uncovering and fully addressing those one or two singularly unforgettable, traumatic experiences that oftentimes is the key to helping to heal from unresolved war-related issues.

Another important point. Oftentimes I have been asked, “Well, what about W II veterans, or Korean War veterans? They don’t seem to have had anywhere near the post-war problems that Vietnam vets had. Why did they do so well?” This is an extremely important question—because, you see, the reality is that there is absolutely no factual evidence whatsoever as to the national prevalence of post-traumatic stress or combat stress or mental health problems among WW II vets following WWII, nor of Korean War veterans. Indeed, there is factual evidence concerning the national prevalence rates of PTSD or mental health problems among only ONE era of veterans—Vietnam.

Yes, the National Vietnam Veterans Resocialization Study (Kulka et al, 1990) (that I was the chair of the VA Headquarters committee that drafted the RFP and reviewed the research groups for this study) was the first and remains the ONLY national psychiatric epidemiological study of veterans of ANY war. Hence, any figures or impressions you hear about WWII vets, Korean War vets, etc., are impressions only. And most are based only on generalizations of studies of clinical populations of veterans—not a national randomized sample that is required for accurate prevalence data.

I wish I had a nickel for every time I have given a presentation on Vietnam (or later) wars and describing combat stress and PTSD, how many time afterwards someone would come up to me and say one of two things: (1 )“You just described exactly my father (or my uncle, or my brother) who served in WW II or in Korea;” or (2) “My father (or uncle or brother WW II or Korean War vet) only started talking about having serious troubling memories from his war experience in the last years of his life . . .”

As a side-note, a common lay-person’s expression to describe a number of WW II vets after the war was “nervous from the service.”

There is one 20-year follow-up study of WW II and Korean War vets by Archibald & Tuddenham (1965) published in the Archives of General Psychiatry that is particularly revealing). To quote one of the summary conclusions:

“The data presented above make it clear that tension and anxiety reactions still characterize these combat patients two decades after the [combat] events which traumatized them. While the man in the street, and some psychiatrists, are inclined to urge such patients to “forget it,” these particular veterans cannot blot out their painful memories. The passage of time, even after two decades, has not sufficed to free them of their symptoms. Indeed, there is a distinct possibility that changes incident to age are exacerbating their problems and reducing their power to cope with the stresses of civilian life.”

Six years after the study by Archibald and Tuddenham was published, I had a parallel clinical experience. In 1971 I co-led the planning process to establish the first methadone treatment program at the Brentwood VA Medical Center in West Los Angeles. This program was being established in response to the many studies and reports that drug abuse problems were rampant among Vietnam veterans.

Well, when we opened the doors to this clinic, we were shocked to find that we were flooded, not with Vietnam veterans, but with WWII and Korean War veterans! Because, of course, substance use and abuse in one of the most common ways that veterans use to try to detach and numb themselves from unresolved war trauma.

Finally, another 20-year follow-up study, this one by Solomon and Mikulincer published in the American Journal of Psychiatry (2006) concerning Israeli combatants, reported findings very consistent with Archibald & Tuddenham’s findings from 40 years earlier:

  • 52% of Israeli combatants who were diagnosed with combat stress reaction during the 1982 Lebanon War reported full-blown PTSD 20 years later, as did fully 26% of Israeli combatants who had not been identified as combat stress reaction casualties during the Lebanon War.
  • Indeed, 20 years later there was a “delayed” onset of war-related PTSD in 16.1% of combat stress reaction casualties and in 23.8% of non-CSR casualties! [Please note that this is one reason why the acute psych casualty rate always is less than longer-term rates.]

The bottom-line conclusions by Solomon & Mikulincer include: “these findings suggest that the detrimental effects of combat are deep and enduring” and “. . . the exacerbating effects of aging reawaken past traumatic wounds . . .”


I would be remiss not to mention that I don’t want the attention being paid to “negative” impact of war to obscure the fact that, clearly a substantial majority of our nation’s veterans have been much more positively impacted by their war and active duty experiences than they have been negatively impacted—pride, enhanced patriotism, convictions, strength, courage, ability to function well under severe stress, etc. Conversely, a substantial minority has suffered at least as much negatively, if not more than benefited positively. Indeed, the figures from various studies over the decades indicate that between 15% and over 30% have experienced serious post-traumatic stress and other mental health problems.

Another unlearned lesson involves how the troops and veterans themselves who are having problems oftentimes are blamed for having their problems---rather than the war being the primary explanatory etiological factor. In other words, it is not uncommon that military and civilian mental health practitioners oftentimes state and believe that the deployed or returned troops who are having problems are problematic people and the war has had little to do with their problems! What is the unfortunate (and false) message here? The message is that it is not the war that is an important factor in their current problems. This is a profound unlearned lesson—that war itself can be and often is (although certainly not always) the most important etiological factor in understanding current presenting problems.

Interestingly, two of the most common explanations given by mental health experts about why so many Vietnam veterans were having so many post-war problems were (1) that we were “a troubled, angry, rebellious generation” (I guess I could be an example of this stereotype!), and (2) because we were so young when we had been deployed—19.2 being the average age of a Vietnam combatant.

Ironically, guess what is being used today as an explanation as to why so many Iraq veterans are having mental health problems? It is because so many are in the reserves and guard units and are much older—thus having their established lives disrupted! So, is it younger, or older, vets who are most susceptible to having war and post-war related mental health problems? How about—it can be most anyone who is exposed to enough combat trauma and stress!

This dynamic is interrelated to another unlearned lesson: the acute psychiatric casualty rate during war ALWAYS is lower than the longer-term psychiatric casualty rate. For example, near the end of the Vietnam War military psychiatry proudly proclaimed that it was highly successful in Vietnam—the psych casualty rate in-Vietnam was ½ that of Korea and that was ½ of WWII. But, then there was an explosion of mental health problems years and decades later in which 15.2% of Vietnam veterans had full-blown PTSD and another 11.1% had partial war-related PTSD (Kulka et al, 1990).

The politics surrounding every war are extremely important for a couple of reasons. Is the country united behind the current war, or is our society divided within. And if divided, that typically evolves into hardened positions of being “pro-this-war” versus “anti-this-war.” This is extremely important for at least two reasons:

  • It mpacts deeply on how our deployed and returning troops are treated and received;
  • It impacts on the internal thinking and feelings of the individual member of the Armed Forces. If you believe strongly in the merits and moral rightness of this war you are fighting in, that belief can sustain you through the horrors you will experience and must commit and witness while deployed. Conversely, if while you are deployed, orsometime after returning from deployment, you become against the war,or are or become extremelyambivilant about it's rightness, this can be devestating to one's own rationalizations about how you feel about what you had to do to survive.
  • And, realistically, while on active duty and a member of the military community, there is a strong tendency for both war trauma issues as well as “political” issues, especially against the current war, to be suppressed or not discussed openly. And such issues might be at the heart of some of the inner turmoil being experienced by some of our troops.

The challenges are:

Can you be someone whose own strong feelings and issues about the current war make it difficult for a troubled vet to be willing to talk to you about his or her deep-seated issues .

  1. Does your attitude impede or filitate deployed or returning trooping willing to talk about that which is hurting them deeply and that they must sort out in their own minds and hearts?
  2. Does your attitude impede or facilitate deployed or returing troops being willing to talak about that which is hurting them deeply and that they must sort out in their own minds and hearts?


These terms have critical distinctions that cannot be underestimated. Firstly, the nature of “PTSD” as a diagnosis is such that it is by far the exception rather than the rule that someone “only” has PTSD, period. No, the prevailing rule is that you might have PTSD, and another anxiety disorder, and a possible substance use disorder, and a mood disorder, etc.

It is important to note that PTSD has become, in effect, the Purple Heart for non-physical wounds. If you believe that you have been damaged mentally, emotionally, socially and/or spiritually by the war, just about the only way that you can receive service compensation or recognition of such is with a PTSD diagnosis! “PTSD” has become, in effect, a lay-person’s term used to describe to being damaged (other than physically) by the war—and the fact that PTSD actually is a psychiatric disorder has become blurred or obscured. For example, I was requested to provide some editing input on two recent information books prepared for veterans and their families. And both booklets/pamphlets had the phrase in them that “PTSD is not a psychiatric disorder.” Wrong. PTSD is a psychiatric disorder; PTS (post-traumatic stress), CSR and COS are not.

I totally agree with the military practice to talk about “combat stress reactions” or “combat operational stress” rather than about PTSD. If we really went by the actual DSM-IV-TR criteria for a PTSD diagnosis while seeing troops in a war-zone—we would have epidemic numbers of psychiatric casualties. Absolutely no doubt about it.

One reason is that the DSM does not do a very good job in differentiating between a “normal” and a “disordered” response to trauma. In other words, many who are experiencing what could be considered within a normal range of response to trauma are inappropriately labeled as having a psychiatric dis-order! This is partly because many of the core psychiatric symptoms of PTSD actually also describe common functional and coping behaviors in a war-zone (Scurfield, 2004, 2006b):

  • Detaching from or numbing ones emotions
  • Denying or minimizing the horror of what one is seeing and experiencing
  • Hyper-vigilance
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Experiencing the environment as surreal. [Duh, isn’t this what the heck a war-zone is!!!]

Yes, the above are both official DSM symptoms of PTSD—and common, functional coping behaviors during war! And so, the catch-22 is that we too often are labeling normal and expectable responses to the trauma of war as a psychiatric disorder! No, this is part of the human cost of going into harm’s way to serve our country, and in most cases is not a psychiatric disorder per se. But, unfortunately, the service-connection compensation system requires a psychiatric disorder diagnosis to warrant receiving compensation for damage that is not physical in nature—and you are, in effect, paid to remain “sick” and financially penalized if you improve or become “better” in mental health terms. This is a terrible quandary and practice.

To me, as a clinician, it is irrelevant if someone has PTSD or PTS. What is most critical is—what is the impact of combat or war on this person, period?

Indeed, I suggest that the most important red flag to screen for possible war-related PTS is not even a symptom of PTSD in the DSM:

  • Does the vet’s significant other say: “He or she is really a different person since returning from deployment”? Or, “The war changed him (her).”
  • Or, the vet says something similar: “I am not the same person I was before I went.

Of course, if there is one DSM PTSD symptom that is ubiquitous among psych casualties, it is sleep disturbance.


It is important to mention the powerful role that military training and combat world realities of “dehumanizing the enemy” play—in all wars. During the Vietnam War, we were inculcated in basic training—and it was reinforced daily in Vietnam—the enemy was called “gooks, chinks, slopes, dinks, slant-eyes, Charlie.”

And what is the enemy in Iraq/Afghanistan referred to today? Hajji’s, towel-heads, and a particularly heinous slur that also reflects racism towards minority Americans among those who use it—sand-niggers. What does such terminology and thinking do? It helps you to not consider the enemy as human beings like we are—they are less than us, bad people, not really humans like us with morals, beliefs, values, etc. And that makes it easier to kill them—and to live with yourself afterwards. In VN we had the mantra (pardon my French): ““F___it, it don’t mean nothin’.” If you say a little kid dead alongside the road, F___ it, it don’t mean nothin’.” . . . If you saw a dead woman, “F___it, it don’t mean nothin’.” And what are you doing? You are anesthetizing yourself to the horrors that you must be in the midst of, day after day after day.

And too many VN vets ultimately generalized their dehumanization of enemy Vietnamese to ALL Vietnamese—and some even to ALL Asians. And how many WWII vets I have met over the years who still hate all Germans or all Japanese. And Korean War vets who still hate Koreans . . .

And now, I hear increasingly about OIF vets who hate the Iraqi people. As an example, one family member mentioned that their son was so full of hatred towards Iraqis that “he was obsessed with returning to Iraq to kill as many Iraqi’s as he could.”

What is unique about the war in Iraq that is worth mentioning? To me, there are only two such elements:

  • The unprecedented usage of reserve, guard and contract personnel
  • The unprecedented usage of extended deployments and sending troops back on multiple deployments (and this is something we will discuss in the following workshop).

Conversely, there are many profound similarities to the Vietnam War. These include:

  • The guerrilla/insurgent/terrorist nature—a war in which enemy combatants do not wear uniforms and are not easily identified as enemy—until it is too late.
  • Having to take, and retake, and retake, the same terrain over and over and over again.

Both ofthese similarities provoke profound numbing and detachment behaviors, frustration, hatred---and acting out violently. It is no surprise that alleged violent acts by American military personnel against Iraqi civilians have been reported; indeed, it is at least partly a testimony to their excellent training and when good leadership is present that the incidents of such are as infrequent as they are (as well as the “code of silence” that inhibits combatants from reporting such violations).

Also, there are three more very important similarities to mention here:

  • The increased usage of IA’s (individual augmentees)—which, by the way, is very similar to the deployment pattern utilized for most military personnel sent to Vietnam—going and returning as an individual, which has profound impact on experiences while in the war zone (such as being the “FNG—F—ing new guy”), as well as support for the family while the veteran is deployed and after the veteran returns from deployment.
  • The growing divisiveness back here at home about the war, and
  • Severe criticisms of and problems with the active duty and veterans health care services, and the fairness and timeliness of the administration of disability ratings.

These last two similarities are critical to mention. Because, you see, when our nation sends us off to way, our nation vows a sacred covenant: in return for going into harm’s way and putting our lives and our comrades’-in-arms’ lives and health at risk, our nation promises a life-long commitment to honor our sacrifices and provide humane and timely war-related financial benefits, health and medical/mental health services (Scurfield, 2006b).

And when this sacred covenant is perceived as being broken, or worse yet, is broken—even though I know very well that the vast majority of military and civilian care providers are committed, dedicated and skilled---there is despair, isolation, rage and alienation that cascades in turbulent waves over our war-wounded and their families. As one mother of a severely wounded Iraq vet said, “When he was no longer of use to the military, they forgot about him.”

Let us not allow Walter Reed to be only a wake-up call. I know that you here agree and are committed that our nation must rally to support the full range of services to address the duration of physical, psychological and social casualties of war, and that our nation must be held accountable to fully honor that sacred covenant that has been forged in blood and sacrifice and heroism . . . We owe our troops and veterans and their families no less. (Scurfield, 2007)

Thank you.

Archibald, H.C. & Tuddenham, R.D. (1965, May). “Persistent stress reaction after combat. A 20-year follow-up.” Archives of General Psychiatry, 12: 475-481.

Cozza, S.J. (2005). “Combat exposure and PTSD.” PTSD Research Quarterly, 16 (1), 1-7.

Kulka, R.A., Schlenger, W.E., Fairbank, J.A., Hough, R.L., Jordan, B.K., Marmar, C.R. & Weiss, D.S. (1990). Trauma & The Vietnam War Generation. Report of Findings From the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study (New York: Brunner/Mazel).

Scurfield, RM., Root, L., Wiest, A., Coiro, FN, Sartin, HJ, Jones, CL & Fanugao, MB. (2003, Fall). History lived and learned: Students and Vietnam veterans in an integrative study abroad course. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad., Vol. IX: 111-138.

Scurfield, R.M. (2004). A Vietnam Trilogy. Veterans & Post-Traumatic Stress, 1968, 1989 & 2000 (New York: Algora Publishing)

Scurfield, R. M. (2006a). “Post-Katrina aftermath and helpful interventions on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.” Traumatology, 12 (2), 104-120.

Scurfield, R.M. (2006b). War Trauma. Lessons Unlearned from Vietnam to Iraq. Volume 3 of A Vietnam Trilogy (New York: Algora Publishing).

Scurfield, R.M. (2006c). Healing Journeys: Study Abroad with Vietnam Veterans. Vol. 2 of A Vietnam Trilogy (New York: Algora Publishing).

Scurfield, R.M. (2007a). “Military’s medical problems go beyond Walter Reed Army Medical Center.” Hattiesburg American. March 11, 2007.

Solomon, Z & Mikulincer, M. (2006, April). “Trajectories of PTSD. A 20-Year Longitudinal Study.” American Journal of Psychiatry, 163: 659-666.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Special Update on VCS Lawsuit Against the VA

The following E-mail just came in from Paul Sullivan, Executive Director for Veterans for Common Sense (VCS). VCS has launched a class action suit vs the VA re inefficiency and neglect and baseless denials of benefits, regarding Veterans' claims. As you know by now, this is a subject near and dear to my heart, and falls right in with VetSpeak's current campaign to share the Veterans' perspective regarding PTSD and Government failures to properly address it for what it is. The lawsuit reinforces the fact that nothing has really changed in this regard in over thirty years, as evidenced in a video clip taken from the documentary film Still at War, VVAW circa 1976 . The legal-beagles are asking for input from Veterans who are currently in the process of claims to submit their stories, in order to bolster the case with documented Objective Reality...or, as we call it here on these pages; Truth, spoken in VetSpeak. In this case, truly the language of the "first responders...". It is with that in mind that I post this appeal from Paul on on behalf of VCS, so that we can all assist and participate in the success of the lawsuit...after-all, it will take all of us to finally win this one. I am placing the VCS Lawsuit Link on our bulletin board, for future reference, as well. Here is Paul's letter, edited for our pages...WH:


I wanted to provide our supporters with a progress report on our landmark VCS class action lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In addition, VCS needs your help today so we can gather and document individual "real-life" examples of VA horror stories - veterans who experiencing difficulty such as delays or denials getting PTSD treatment or PTSD disability benefits from VA.

First, a status report on our case. VA says our lawsuit is only a "policy gripe." VA tried to dismiss our case on the grounds that our complaint fails to state a claim. Our legal team is currently drafting a response that outlines the government's mistakes and the merits of our suit. We expect a ruling from the Judge by Spring 2008.

Second, an important element in the success of our lawsuit will be our ability to present "real-life" stories to the Judge and the Jury. While the overall statistics demonstrate how the government has failed our veterans on a grand scale, we must show the Court how these systematic failures ruined individual veterans and their families.

While all stories involving PTSD claims and healthcare are important, some of the most compelling stories are:

  1. Tragic situations resulting in suicide or attempted suicide
  2. Cases where VA turned away or delayed a veteran for PTSD care because of a lack of VA healthcare providers
  3. Situations where VA denied PTSD medical treatment and/or disability benefits where a personality disorder discharge was involved in any way with VA's decision.
    If you have a compelling story regarding delays or denials of PTSD medical treatment or PTSD disability benefits, and you would be willing to have your story documented in support of our lawsuit, now is the time to step forward.

While we have many horror stories on file, each additional story from different parts of the country can help the hundreds of thousands of our veterans waiting now. Your story can also help the hundreds of thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans still in the service who are about to get discharged and enter the VA.

To learn more about how you can help our lawsuit, please go to our website,, or contact Paul Taira from our legal team at (415) 268-7610 or Someone from our fantastic team of lawyers will contact you for an interview. Veterans, family members, and former VA employees or VA consultants are encouraged to contact us.

VCS will be sending out up-dates on a quarterly basis to keep everyone informed on developments. In the meantime, please contact me at VCS if you have any questions. Your support for our lawsuit is appreciated.

Thank You,

Paul Sullivan, Executive Director, VCS

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Promise...

Promise to Veterans?
It’s the great American myth; an urban legend of epic proportions. But, there was no promise made, so there’s nothing to keep. Now, it’s time for a new, in-your-face attitude: WE ARE U.S. MILITARY VETERANS – YOU OWE US!
Larry Scott
I’ve searched high and low for a promise made to veterans. I can’t find it. Surely, it must exist. From George Washington to George Bush, we have reams of flowery rhetoric praising the good deeds of those who have served in the U.S. military. But, where is the promise? Washington said the nation owes veterans a “debt of honor.” Bush often speaks of “honor,” “support” and “compassion” in speeches about veterans. In between, Abraham Lincoln said our mission is “…to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and orphan…” All of this sounds good, but it’s not a promise. The elusive promise to veterans has been used by politicians since the earliest days of our republic to raise armies to fight wars and to pass legislation to care for veterans when they come home from those wars. But, what actually was promised?It’s a simple fact: that nothing was promised to veterans. There was no promise made, so there’s nothing to keep and nothing to break. It’s the great American myth; an urban legend of epic proportions.
This myth is promulgated by politicians who want us to think they are keeping a promise to veterans or want us to think some other politician isn’t keeping a promise. A quick Google search will show thousands of entries about a promise to veterans. Many are from those claiming to keep the promise. Others are from those who loudly declare the promise is not being kept. But, nowhere will you find exactly what this promise might be. So, why do we believe there’s a promise to veterans? Because we want to believe it. We want to believe that our country will care and provide for those who have given years of their lives to military service. We desperately want to believe that our country will care for those who return from the fields of battle with physical and emotional wounds. Anything else would not fit the standards we have set for ourselves as Americans.
However, the truth is something different. Veterans of the Civil War have left us volumes of their post-war battles with the Commissioner of Pensions who parceled out medical care and disability compensation. One document tells of a veteran’s struggle with the Commissioner to get a wooden leg to replace the real leg he’d lost in combat. After years of denials, he carved the leg himself. Military retirees of the World War II era were under the assumption they would have free, life-time health care at military hospitals. Those hospitals were closed. And now, the retirees find themselves in a HMO. Vietnam veterans fought for years to get benefits for exposure to Agent Orange. Now, many of them who served in the “Blue Water Navy” find their adversary is the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) who is in Federal Court trying to deny them benefits.Our new veterans coming home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan find themselves faced with military and VA health care systems that are underfunded, overcrowded and incapable of caring for their needs.All of these veterans thought there was a promise and found out otherwise.
Veterans have been accepting the constantly-changing hodge-podge of laws and regulations that, sometimes, provide disability compensation and care. And, “sometimes” is the operative word. A check of federal regulations covering veterans’ benefits shows an abundant use of the phrase “the Secretary may.” The “Secretary” is the Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs who “may” or may NOT provide the benefit listed in the specific regulation. But, could there be a promise to veterans buried somewhere in mountains of laws or hidden deep in the recesses of the Federal Code?
The Herculean effort to see if such a promise existed was undertaken by David F. Burelli, a National Defense Specialist for the Congressional Research Service. Burelli’s research paper is titled Military Health Care: The Issue of “Promised” Benefits. The 23-page paper makes this determination: “Many…military retirees…state that they were promised ‘free health care for life at military facilities’ as part of their ‘contractual agreement’ when they entered the armed forces. Efforts to locate authoritative documentation of such promises have not been successful. Congressional report language and recent court decisions have rejected retiree claims [of] a right or entitlement.” While Burelli’s paper deals with military retirees, it can be extrapolated to include non-retiree veterans, as well.

Others, realizing Burelli’s findings to be accurate, have tried to reframe the language of a promise to veterans. Dave Autry of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) likes to use the concept of a “moral obligation” to veterans. That high-minded verbiage has been used thousands of times by politicians, authors and veterans’ advocates. But, it still doesn’t equate to a promise. And, it assumes that Congress, who supplies funding for veterans’ care and disability compensation, understands what is “moral” and has the fortitude to commit to an “obligation.” Those are two dangerous assumptions. But, this verbal posturing leaves us where we began; there is no promise to veterans.

The government can’t keep a promise that was never made. And, it’s not realistic to assume that they are breaking a promise they never made. Will there ever be a promise to veterans? A real promise that is codified? A document that positively states what veterans will receive for their service to country? Not unless we, as veterans, force the issue. No politician is brave enough to step forward and say, “We lied to you,” so it’s up to us. We must raise hell about the issue. I, for one, am tired of the hand-in-glove relationships our veterans’ service organizations (VSOs) have established with Congress and the VA. Every year the VSOs go to Capitol Hill and grovel for next year’s VA budget handout.
When the budget is passed and doesn’t meet their expectations, the VSOs politely thank the politicians for doing a good job and then politely urge them to do better. Whatever happened to in-your-face, do-it-or-else political lobbying? We pay our VSO dues so they can represent us on Capitol Hill. They are currently failing in their mission. They allow politicians to ramble on about a promise to veterans and never ask the questions: What promise is that, politician? The one you never keep? And, the politicians keep playing us for fools. As long as veterans buy into the myth of a promise, the politicians win. We, as veterans will continue to scrap and fight for our justly-deserved benefits.
It is time that we adopt a new attitude. It’s time to stop accepting piecemeal legislation that gives a few budget dollars to slap a Band-Aid on a chronically-underfunded VA health care and benefits system. It’s time we stop accepting the nonsense of politicians who openly view VA benefits as charity, to be handed out only to those who fit their warped definition of the deserving. We owe it to all of our Brother and Sister veterans. And, let’s be honest; we owe it to ourselves.

This is not the time to be humble. It’s time for the in-your-face type of confrontation that our VSOs are incapable of providing. We must take our elected representatives to task and demand that they stop talking about a promise and actually give us one. We must tell Congress what we want. We must tell the American people what we want and that we earned our benefits through our service. Most “civilians” live under the assumption that “the VA takes care of it” when it comes to veterans’ benefits. It’s time they were educated. It’s time to stop asking and start telling. No more “Yes sir” and “No ma’am” and “Thank you very much” for what little we get. If we don’t force this issue, we can only blame ourselves.
The next time my Senator or Representative holds a town hall meeting in my area I’ll be there asking about The Promise. I want them to tell me what The Promise is and where I can find it in writing. They won’t be able to do that. But, maybe, just maybe, they’ll listen as I tell them it’s time to make a real promise and it’s time to really keep it. And, I’ll be wearing the T-shirt with this slogan printed in large letters: WE ARE U.S. MILITARY VETERANS – YOU OWE US FOR YOUR FREEDOM!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Some thoughts on PVS, PTSD & Combat Stress Injury

Still at War
~VetSpeak 2007~

You are happy when they come home, and you see them and hold them again. You think that they are safe because they are back home with you where you believe nothing can hurt them. This is an illusion.

In reality, too many are still at war. Too often, they won’t tell you about the war, or how hurt inside they are, from the things that they can’t reconcile in their own minds; the things that they did, and the things that they experienced. The things that keep coming back to haunt them, whether it be in dreams or in flashbacks. Things that drain one’s self esteem, stimulate one’s depression, repress one’s motivation, and ultimately; destroys one’s relationships. It has been thus since just after “The Greatest Generation” won their war. As a society, we just didn’t ever want to admit it.

The good news is, that it can be dealt with. However, the Veterans cannot do it alone. They need hands-on peer guidance, brought about thru a support network coalition of peers, programs, and non-political institutions and infrastructure (re Orange County Veterans Advisory Council Needs Assessment Survey, Orange County, Ca., 1974). However, just as importantly; they need comfort and validation while moving through the labyrinth of a society torn apart over the very war which stole their youth and their innocence (Still at War, Calif/Nev VVAW, 1976).

Friday, September 28, 2007 Betray Us Vs Patreaus

Betrayal is in the eyes of the beholder, or; context is everything…
Willie Hager
xbetray 1: to lead astray 2: to deliver to an enemy by treachery 3: to fail and desert esp. in time of need...Merriam Websters Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition

The last time that I tread in these waters, there weren’t just ripples; there was, relatively speaking, a resultant tsunami of vindictive rhetoric (ABC'S SPIN ON 9/11 ). Therein lies the culturally and politically destructive nature of Political Correctness and Political Spin (see Don't Think of an Elephant, George Lakoff , ironically; an apparent move-on founder) and lock-step politics. My pen now, once again, says Engarde! to those enemies of Truth who wield the swords of political spin.

In this particular instance, the literary gauntlet is thrown at the feet of Today, one of the major political foils now currently in service to the Democratic Party. Somewhere in the fog of the Blogosphere, has transformed itself from a pioneer grassroots electronic Community Meeting Hall and soap-box for Truth, as seen through the eyes of the Beholders of those Truths. Beholders who before the advent of the Blogosphere and the creation of groups such as Move-on and Alter-net, had seemingly very little input into the public debate on issues that directly effected their day to day lives.

Beholders of Truth who made Move-on a cyber-media giant. Before groups like Move-on, there was no voice for the unwashed masses. Sadly, the Move-on of today's political content is controlled by the mainstream media's and party political operatives' choice of issues; not the Grassroots'. And, even more sadly, is now directly in the hands (pockets) of the Democratic Party, and no longer in the service of those unheard and disenfranchised voices of the politically downtrodden; The Grassroots. Move-on had originally created a cyber-port into which anyone with something to say could guide their cyber-sled, and be heard when they got there. A cyber-port that developed the ability to seriously impact social and political thought at the grassroots level…in my mind; the most important political base of all. This transformation was much like "mild man and reporter, Clark Kent" stepping into the phone booth and then bursting forth from it as Superman, an ever vigilant threat to evil doers of all stripes.

Move-on’s first major political impact came about when they focused their agenda on support of Cindy Sheehan’s emotionally powerful message, back when she was encamped out on Bush's doorstep in Crawfordville, Texas (see For Move-on, she was an immediate Blogosphere “hit generator”. One that demonstrated that the anti-Iraq and anti-Bush True Believers and the anti-war types out there had finally found some traction, with Cindy as their poster person. This was a successful tactic, and it sent Move-on's hit counters spinning out of control! Thier cyber-ratings and political influence soared in geometric proportions, much to the thanks of the Cindy Sheehan spirited campaign for peace, as did Democratic Party Grassroots support. And then, just as suddenly, driven by Democratic Party dwindling supporter donations due to internal divisiveness on party direction with regards to the Iraq war, and in face of the up-coming Presidential elections in '08; unscrupulous Democratic Party operatives eased Cindy off the platform, and off the agenda. Move-on chilled it's jets on Cindy as a result of this in-house Democratic Party power struggle with Cindy and those who marched at her side. The one that ended up with very public "Resignation" by Cindy of her anti-war leadership role. They simply dumped her over the side, and sailed off into the sunset, hand in pocket.
This Party loyalty put Move-on in tight cahoots with the Democratic Party power brokers who, ultimately, through major Democratic Party contributions and techno-cyber corporate funding; politically co-opted Move-on’s site, took control of their agenda and used Cindy’s commitment and resultant political rage to further their own agenda, as well. So much for the grassroots. To my mind, as one of those grassroots voices; this was a major sell-out of principle.
Together, shrouded in that fog of the blogosphere, they became a powerful alliance, with Cindy Sheehan as the unifying standard bearer (see Her courageous actions were the earliest attempts by anybody to foster a cohesive anti-war strategy regarding Iraq, and to bring cohesion to a badly fragmented since the '80s (see Cracker Swamp Manifesto) Democratic Party base. Today, however, despite these major successes; and the Democratic Party are uneasy with the company of the likes of Cindy Sheehan and her supporters, and, for the most part, consider them as loose cannons. is no longer a premier soap-box for the unwashed masses. It is now a powerful political foil employed for the most part by the Democratic Party to further it’s political agenda, leading up to the ’08 Presidential election. Superman has managed to sully the bright red cape...and all that it stood for, with smudges of political and economic opportunism.
The Democratic Party is now using in their public personal attacks on General Patreaus in their efforts to undermine his credibility with the American people regarding his character. They present no documentable facts that I am aware of, nor do they provide any viable alternatives to counter his arguments. Instead, they offer 527 funded, unfounded public insults that they are hoping will take America’s objective and pragmatic eye’s and ears away from the conclusions of Patreaus's report to Congress and the American people. A job for which he was Presidentially commissioned, and Congressionally approved for by The People's elected Representatives and Senators, to research and report back to Congress and the nation, regarding his assessment of the current situation on the ground, in Iraq. Move-on, in paid for major newspaper ads, labeled him as "General Betray Us", in spite of his well documented history of Honorable Service to America, and their lack of hard evidence to the contrary, before he uttered the first word to Congress and the American People.
Just prior to the date of the presentation of the report to Congress and the American People; Move-on paid for and enacted a character assassination campaign of the General. This campaign was strategically calculated to kick-off just prior to the General's presentation of the report for the specific purpose of literally "killing the messenger", in a very insidious attempt to re-frame the argument for the eyes and ears of the American people from the assigned results of the report, to one of the credibility and allegiance of the of the General to America, and our Constitutionally legitimate form of government; thereby seriously underarming confidence and belief in the General's findings in the field. This report was his assigned duty, as a high ranking military officer with vast command experience. It is beyond rational comprehension that anyone could question the man's loyalty and dedication to service and country, without even having heard what he had to say.
As a Combat Veteran of Vietnam, as well as a past Regional Coordinator (1972-1974) of Vietnam Veterans Against The War, I am insulted by this blatant, politically motivated disrespect of an American fighting man, despite his political party affiliation…whatever happened to “Honor the warrior, not the war…”? But, that’s what political spin-miesters do; cloud up the Truth and attempt to re-frame the argument (Lakoff/Don't Think of an Elephant) with this kind of despicable rhetoric, rather than with factual reporting and empirical documentation of their assertions that he lied in his report to Congress on behalf of the Bush administration. If I am wrong about all of this; me your evidence, for mine and the American People's consideration, that this man betrayed his country, his service, or the American People's trust...and I will apologize, right here on these very pages, to you, and all who have read this, and take issue with it. But don't respond with rhetoric; bring facts to the table for debate.
In my humble opinion; the American Peoples' response to should be “Put up, or shut-up". Show me the facts, or some hard evidence of wrong doing and betrayal, otherwise; put a public apology to General Patreaus and the American People in the very same newspapers that you paid to print your libelous and politically inflammatory political rhetoric. You know; the one everybody's talking about; the one that your "organization" produced which portrys General Patreaus as General Betray Us, and accuses him of ‘cooking the books’ for the White House. Oh, yes; I also, unless proven wrong with empirical and pragmatic evidence, believe and will continue to believe that you owe the General a personal and public apology, as well...on all of the news networks, at prime time.
And, finally; I think that you also owe an apology to the American People for attempting to color and influence the American Peoples perspective on the Truth of this critical national issue. This report is too important to America’s future to be the subject of political machinations, from either side of the aisle, or from political operatives from either Party. Hello! It is our very future as a nation that is at stake, here, folks. We better examine the FACTS before we act, and given the fervor and dedication of the jihadists; we better get it right, before we act or speak as a nation, or allow others to speak for us, without regards for empirical and pragmatic Truth. if the report is factually wrong; demonstrate your evidence, don't assassinate the reporter.
Like the Swift Boat Veterans (Not So Swift Vets or NSSVs, in VetSpeak-ese), who coincidentally are still in business under the guise (see Cyber-camouflage) of Vets for Freedom, fronted by an Iraq Veteran named Wade Zirkle; believes that if they say something loud enough and often enough, it will become truth...facts be damned! These are the very same despicable tactics the Republican Party and the NSSVs used to undermine John Kerry’s campaign as a Presidential candidate, last time around. On either side of the vast political divide between "Conservative" and "Liberal"; "Swiftboating" (a term in popular use these days for smear campaign politics by 527s) is "Swiftboating"; whether from the left or the right, and should be denounced as such, by all, regardless of political party affiliation.
The NSSVs did this through character assassination and lies regarding Kerry’s military record in Vietnam, and his stand as an anti-war Veteran. This last as a result of his association with Vietnam Veterans Against The War (VVAW), which he, like thousands of other Veterans joined upon his return from a combat tour in-country, Vietnam. That and his speaking out against the Vietnam war before Congress, as a spokesperson for VVAW. This in spite of having Honorably served combat tour in-country, for which he was highly decorated for his actions as a Swift Boat Commander. These were illegal campaign tactics, for which the NSSVs, as a 527 political organization, have since been heavily fined (Swiftie campaign fine). If these tactics were illegal for the NSSVs and the Republican operatives then; they should now be deemed illegal for and the Democrats' operatives involved in the Patreus smear, and they should be prosecuted prosecuted to the fullest extent Constitutional law.
The moral of the story; no one is safe from the minions of Political Correctness, unless they learn to think for themselves...Truth is not about content, it is about context.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Honor The Warrior, Not The War

Jan Allan Rhuman

From the Editor, In response to a posting to the, my friend Jan Rhuman wrote the following. He has asked me to post his response on our pages as well. WH

Dear Sir/Madame,
I am respectfully submitting the letter below in response to Mr. Robinsons’ letter regarding “Those who oppose Bush, oppose the troops” of Sept. 20. I am aware that it is 485 words, almost twice your preferred limit, but feel that the topic of “Free Speech” in our public discourse is, at this point in time, of critical importance to all Americans. Edit as I did time and again this was as short and concise as I could be. I hope that you find it worthy of publication. Thank you.
Sincerely, JAR:

I’m compelled to respond to Mr. Timothy D. Robinsons’ letter “Those who oppose Bush, oppose troops” in the September 20 issue.

In my opinion, nothing could be further from the truth. As a United States Marine who served two tours in South Viet Nam, back to back, on the ground in I Corps from Sept. 1966 to May 1968, I too am “someone with military experience”.

I’m reminded of the saying, by Voltaire, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” A sentiment I took to heart when I swore an oath to protect and defend the constitution of the United States of America. Fredrick Douglas said, “Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants.” Mr. Robinsons’ statement is an attempt to marginalize and question the patriotism of those with whom he disagrees and it leads me to question if he has ever read the United States Constitution that he swore to protect and defend and if he has, does he believe it to be an out dated and passé rambling of old fools?

I recall and take solace in what these Founding Fathers, of this great nation, said so long ago: “The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse” and “The truth is, all men having power ought to be mistrusted”, James Madison. “They that give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety”, Benjamin Franklin. And a more contemporary patriot was right on target when he said, “It doesn’t take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of the men who goes into battle”, General Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf.

Questioning authority and speaking truth to power is as American as Apple Pie. I fully support our troops. It breaks my heart to watch the news night after night after night and to see the faces of those beautiful young men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for this misguided and failed foreign policy blunder.

While George W. Bush may be the President and thus “The Commander in Chief” I do not support this President and I did not and do not support his illegal preemptive war in Iraq, in violation of all international laws. Quite frankly he’s arrogant, cocky and an embarrassment and unfortunately dangerously deadly for the world, for America and for all U. S. Military personal. I wonder if we, as a people, will we ever truly understand that freedom isn’t free and that “The Price of Liberty is eternal Vigilance”, Thomas Jefferson. I choose to “honor the warrior, not the war” and certainly, not this President.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Some Personal Thoughts on VVAW's 40th Anniversary

Horace Coleman

Forty years ago this year, in 1967, a group of Vietnam veterans who’d met each other at anti war rallies, marches and demonstrations started a group. There were fewer of them then you have digits on two hands. They had ambitious goals.

They wanted to end the war. They wanted to dethrone the politicians and fire the bureaucrats who’d started and continued it. They wanted to change the mindset of the people who supported it, those who had fought in it and those who would be sent to fight it.

Getting the Veterans Administration to acknowledge and provide better treatment for people affected by Agent Orange, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the usual physical ravages of war and improve the sub par treatment and conditions that existed in too many VA hospitals for too many veterans was also a priority.

Forty years, as human things go, is a long time. Four times as long as the Vietnam war lasted. Ten presidential terms. Many marriages, bands and companies don’t last that long. So, when VVAW celebrated it’s 40th anniversary more than a milestone was reached.

More time than a generation (a life time for some) has passed. Styles, economics, politics and different national concerns, priorities and needs--as well as new wars—have come about.

No longer is this “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” It never really was. That statement was just jingoistic and chauvinistic trash talk set to music.

Certainly there are brave and free people here. But an entire nation of them? We’re the land of the some what free where a minority of the world’s brave live. War wimps, not all of them politicians, run and put on the show that an audience of mostly armchair patriots watch.

It’s been that way since the Revolutionary War when there were Tories, people who were for who ever was in the area with force at the time while the basically indifferent were every where.

There VVAW was in Chicago—more wear and less hair for some, varying health ailments for others--people who hadn’t seen each other for years or never met but might have exchanged e-mail or phone calls. Those who were always up for a demonstration or a march and sometimes organized them. The spirit was as strong as ever and the flesh was still willing.

There were those who counseled vets about VA issues, psychological problems or helped an active duty service members (or a relative seeking help for them) with a problem. Those who visited and spoke at high schools, colleges and churches with students and congregations. Or provided literature, showed movies, took pictures, participated in debates, wrote articles or letters-to-the-editor, maintained and edited web sites. Those who organized and participated in stand downs. Those who did some or all of that—and more.

Founding members—like Jan Barry—and living legends like Al Hubbard and Bob McLane were present. Work horses like Jeff Machota were there. Willie Hager showed up with arm loads of a well put together tribute booklet that he and Diane Ford Wood edited and she and Gerald Nicosia funded. Many vets contributed remembrances and shout outs. W.D. Ehrhart, poet / writer, teacher, and anthologist read at a panel. VVAW stalwarts Marty Webster, Ann Hirschman and Ann Bailey were on a panel.

The booklet that VVAW put together for the 40th anniversary was crammed with historic photos, reproductions of newspaper stories, ads and flyers, prose pieces and poems by vets about key events, experiences and issues that happened during VVAW’s existence.

The last panel of the 40th anniversary celebration consisted of Iraq veterans, most of them members of IVAW, Iraq Veterans Against the War, was chaired by Aaron Hughes (president of Chicago’s IVAW chapter). Being last on the program was proper. It made everything else an opening act.

They’re veterans of another dubious war, more ignored than Nam vets because there’s no draft now. Civilian chicken hawks preen and squawk as loudly as politician chicken hawks about the need to protect America. Which doesn’t ask for their precious participation. These veterans are saddled with PTSD the Army too often attributes to “prior existing conditions” it can ignore, inadequate VA service, extended—and repeated—tours in the War Zone, new war related illnesses and diseases. And, a primarily indifferent public that thinks disapproval alone is enough to stop this stubborn stampede.

The Decider has decreed that 62 is `”young” so VVAW will be around for a while.

During the last visit I made to a high school, I said “I’m opposed to stupid wars.” That’s the essence of VVAW. That and changing the poor treatment given war veterans by the country they serve. A soldier can’t be the guard dog that bites any time fools with bad judgment say “Sic ‘em!”

VVAW still stands, “fighting for veterans, peace and justice,” honoring the warriors but not the bad wars. Those are tasks and a legacy I can live with. So can quite a few others.