Editorial – Politics Are Put Ahead of Our Soldiers’ Mental-Health Concerns

Walla Walla Union-Bulletin

May 14, 2007 – Two recent studies – one initiated by the Pentagon, the other by the Department of Veterans Affairs – found that the military’s health system is unprepared to handle mental-health issues created by battlefield stress.

These two studies make it clear that the military leaders and the Bush administration allowed U.S. soldiers to be sacrificed for the sake of political expediency. The administration downplayed the need for funding for stress-related issues so the cost of waging war would seem lower.

Unfortunately, too many soldiers and Marines are paying – and will continue to pay – a very high price.

And not just those fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The backlog for treatment at VA medical centers is hurting those who served in Vietnam and the Gulf War who are still suffering the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Pentagon study, which focused on the impact of stress on the battlefield, concluded that misconduct – such as mistreatment of civilians – increased with stress levels. The study found that longer wartime deployments, which are occurring in Iraq due to a shortage of military personnel, can erode morale and negatively affect mental health.

The study prepared for the VA found that the agency was not prepared to deal with the recent surge of PTSD claims. Claims increased from 120,265 in 1999 to 215,871 in 2004. Payments jumped from $1.72 billion to $4.28 billion.

The VA uses only crude criteria for rating disabilities due to mental illness and is not consistent for relapsing conditions, the report said.

“As the increasing number of claims to the VA shows, PTSD has become a very significant public-health problem,” said Nancy Andreasen, chairwoman of the committee that prepared the report.

Clearly change is needed throughout at the VA and in the military.

But it shouldn’t have taken even one study to figure that out.

Common sense would suggest that as more soldiers go to war, and as soldiers are being ordered to stay in combat for longer periods of time, mental-health issues would increase dramatically.

Yet, the government is ill prepared. Why?

Because our leaders, including President Bush, downplayed the gravity of the situation in Iraq. They didn’t seek the funding that was needed to handle the mental-health concerns.

Politics have been put ahead of the health of our soldiers. That’s wrong.

Changes are being made, which is positive.

Sadly, many lives – too many lives – have already been shattered as a result of this policy.

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