Editorial Column: Veteran Suicide Epidemic, The Shame of America


September 3, 2008, Molalla, OR – The Portland Tribune and Peter Korn have provided an uncommonly great service to Oregon Veterans and their families in the paper of August 21, 2008. Even the Oregonian Newspaper seems to be pussy wussy about the subject.

Peter Korn points out that the battle Veterans suicide rate is at least twice that of non-Veterans with the rate of young war Veterans between 18 and 24 to be about seven times more than civilians. These are the guys doing the killing and the fighting.

This is far beyond “battle fatigue” or PTSD, the modern term. As a WWII Infantry Scout and point man with PTSD and as a physician who has treated at least 400 Vietnam PTSD battle Veterans, I think I may have the answer. This is shocking even to me. I may even have a partial “cure”.

The Army Infantry wanted 18 to 20 year old robust fighting “men” who would follow orders without questioning and charge a machine gun etc. without hesitation. If anything got in the way, kill it. These are the guys with the highest suicide rate.

I was in an Intelligence and Recon section of 6 privates and a sergeant. We were the Pointmen and Forward Observers. These jobs are the most dangerous and almost suicidal. I wonder at my own survival but I paid the price like any of my fellow pointmen or scouts. Most never got to come home.

My comrades were 18 or 19. I was the “old man”. I was 21 and 22. None of the young guys were able to talk of our mutual experiences. That is PTSD.

The Army Infantry wants its “men” to be macho when attacking or even off duty. Army beer helped but we ended up with a bunch of alcoholics and lung cancer from tobacco. One could not admit fear even to your closest buddy in your foxhole.

I read that the Army has changed. I scarcely believe that, and from what I read in The Tribune the Veterans want nothing to do with the VA Hospital System which doesn’t seem to have any idea what or how to treat some 300 thousand PTSD Veterans from the current extravaganza going on in Iraq etc.

Yes, I have PTSD. I earned it the hard way. I still have nightmares and I know that sound I hear in the night is a German Tiger Tank and the loud noise is heavy artillery and as I grab for my rifle and can’t get it I wake up in a sweat.

I got over some of the PTSD by hard work either as a heavy construction millwright or working for two doctor degrees. I still take medications to sleep after 60 plus years from the tanks and the bombs.

According to some, there is something worse than getting seriously wounded or picking up scraps of a buddy. That is killing another human even if he was trying to kill you. If it is women or children it’s even worse.

An Infantry slogan could be KILL OR DIE. That is the basis for PTSD and Veterans Suicide.

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