January 14, 2008 – This weekend, while the 24-hour primary coverage raged on, the New York Times published a very well researched and stunning report on the number of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans involved in killings, here in America. They found at least 121 cases, now, where a veteran was charged with involvement in a homicide.
The trend of our newest veterans being involved in killings on the homefront can be largely attributed to four letters — PTSD. Our failure to properly screen for and treat this mental injury is the source of so many problems our newest veterans face — from drug and alcohol abuse, to homelessness, to joblessness, to spousal abuse, to suicide, and now, to murders.
We have got to get serious about this issue, and do three key things:
• First, we must make it a requirement for troops and veterans to get periodic mental evaluation — and we must appropriate the money to ensure there are enough qualified counselors to do so. If a veteran lives too far to get an evaluation from a VA center, we should allow them to see a board-certified mental health professional, and reimburse the cost. The military and VA must get serious about these screenings, the same as they have for HIV. Every member of the military must constantly be tested for these diseases, period. Mental health screenings should also become a part of the culture of the military. Period.
• Second, we must do away with all the red tape and hurdles a veteran must go through to “prove” they have PTSD, when they take it upon themselves to seek help. Far too many veterans are denied a “full PTSD” diagnosis because the cost of providing them with full disability is too much for the VA budget to handle. We need to scrap the entire process, and no longer put the burden on the veteran to ‘prove’ they have PTSD.
• Third, we must rigorously screen all returning troops for mental strain — not ask them to fill out a simple questionnaire.
Until we tackle this serious issue, and treat it like the serious injury it is, we will continue to see these disturbing trends — many of which also applied to the Vietnam veterans. Time is of the essence, now. The question is, will we leave a new generation of veterans behind?