Book Review: ‘War Comes Home’ Reveals VA’s Neglect of Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans

The Daily Item

March 5, 2009 – “Members of Congress and bureaucrats at the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs may not be attacking vets with mortars and IEDs, but they are literally killing them with indifference.”
— Aaron Glantz

Coming on the heels of Martin Schram’s 2008 book, “Vets Under Siege: How America Deceives and Dishonors Those Who Fight Our Battles,” independent journalist Aaron Glantz’s new book, “The War Comes Home — Washington’s Battle Against America’s Veterans” (University of California Press, 2009) is yet another damning indictment of a broken bureaucracy whose mistakes and misdeeds are harming our veterans.

Glantz spent several months in Iraq following the U.S. invasion, covering events in Baghdad, Fallujah and many other locations. Upon his return to America, Glantz began to recognize symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in himself, and decided to investigate how veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan were coping with their experiences in combat zones.

Glantz interviewed dozens of veterans and their families and uncovered one nightmarish situation after another. He met veterans suffering from PTSD who were mislabeled with a personality disorder in order to deprive them of access to government services. “Soldiers discharged for a personality disorder,” writes Glantz, “are supposed to be dishonorably discharged for lying about their mental health when they joined the military.”

Glantz spoke with the families of veterans who committed suicide, either during their deployment or after their homecoming. Marianne Schulze attempted to get help for her stepson Jonathan, a suicidal Iraq veteran with two Purple Hearts and severe PTSD. The VA hospital in Saint Cloud, Minn., declined to admit him; a counselor was unavailable when he visited; and, when, Jonathan called the VA the next day, he was put on a waiting list. Jonathan hung himself using a household extension cord.

Glantz reveals that authorities turned a blind eye toward reports of sexual assaults on female military personnel in Iraq, with fatal results. Women who wanted to avoid the risk of assault during a nighttime trip to a dimly lit bathroom at Camp Victory stopped drinking fluids in the afternoon. Some of them died from dehydration in their sleep.

Glantz writes with an edge, and a purpose. He is no fan of the Bush administration, but levels equal criticism at Democratic administrations as well, including that of President Jimmy Carter, who seemed oblivious to the growing crisis surrounding victims of Agent Orange exposure after the Vietnam War.

Glantz includes a wealth of information in several “resource boxes” throughout the book on everything from the VA Claims Process to Finding Mental Health Care outside the Government System. “The War Comes Home” is not just an angry finger pointing at wrongs — it is a helpful hand pointing toward supports for our veterans.

Fifty years from now, our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans will be turning old and gray. Our government and our nation must address the problems detailed in “The War Comes Home” long before then — if we do not, then we will prove that we did not deserve our veterans’ sacrifices.

— John Deppen lives in Northumberland.

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