What would it take to move our nation to care about our troops who are returning from war with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? Ilona Meager lays out the argument, trying to help us understand the issue, the lack of response we as a nation have shown, and the solutions to dealing with the issue. Meager takes us through the history of post-traumatic stress disorder, the lesson we have learned from each war, and how we are applying and how we are failing to apply those lessons in our current wars. She introduces us to soldiers like, Corporal Ken Dennis and Marine Private First Class Mathew G. Milczark who did not fall on the battlefield, but fell from their own hands; committing suicide, unable to come to terms with their war experiences.
We went to war unprepared to deal with the influx of returning veterans and their needs. According to Meager, “as of the end of 2006, one-in-four discharged Iraq and Afghanistan veterans (nearly 150,000) have filed disability claims, over 60,000 of which have been for mental health reasons.” We have failed to provide adequate funds for the Veterans Administration to deal with these disability claims. The Government Accountability Office in 2006 found that the Veterans Administration had based its budget requests not on the projected demand for health care services but on the amount the president was willing to request. Senator Daniel Akaka, ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee remarked, “This administration does not count caring for veterans as part of the cost of war.” Leader of the American Legion, Thomas L. Bock said, “this budget model has turned our veterans into beggars, forced to beg for the medical care they earned and, by law, deserve.” There are good reasons for providing mental health care for our veterans early on, while they have the best chance to recover. According to Steve Robinson, Director of Veterans Affairs for Veterans for America, “If a 24-year old soldier with one child were to develop PTSD to the degree of unemployability, that soldier could receive compensation payments from the VA of over $2,400 a month for the remainder of his life. Over an average male lifespan, such costs could amount to more than 1.3 million, not counting inflation.”
Modern warfare creates stresses that increase the probability of suffering from PTSD. These stresses are from Time, using night vision goggles and other industrial age tools, soldiers are able to conduct around the clock operations, resulting in fatigue and sleep deprivation. Space, unlike traditional battlefields there is no front or rear lines; danger comes from all directions. Target, guerilla warfare conditions make it difficult to distinguish between the enemy and civilians. PTSD specialist, Dr. Arthur Bank in discussing the transition soldiers have to make back to civilian life said, “ The biggest adjustment is going from 18-hour days, seven days a week, with no days off, to working a 40-hour week based on the clock.” Meager points out that, “Up through the Korean War the slowness of travel ensured a gradual re-entry for the soldier returning from combat. Plodding along by horse or train or ship meant that, instead of being thrown back into society without a chance to decompress and process their wartime experiences, soldiers could spend time dealing with what they had experienced in a safe and quarantined environment.”
Having made her argument for why we should care, Meager spends a chapter showing us how to make a difference. She provides resources for learning more, for communicating with veterans, for lobbying our politicians. She provides resources volunteering and making sure our veterans and their families have the information they need to cope with PTSD. This book is an excellent resource for anyone concerned about our returning Veterans.