DARK HORSE: Bernie Sanders 2016- Death of a Soldier

22.

The number of veterans who commit suicide daily in the US, according to the Veterans Administration is 22.

In November 2013 CNN reported that the figure might be low. The VA figure was based upon data from 21 states and did not take into account deaths from three of the five largest states, Illinois, California and Texas. Considering the VA figures take into account only 40% of the nation, the reality indicates a daily suicide number in excess of 50 veterans daily, or an annual figure of an astounding 18,ooo annually. By comparison there were 14.748 homicides of all types in the US in 2010, and yet the tragedy of suicides among the nation’s veterans has gone largely ignored.

In April 2007 Afghan veteran Levi Derby, haunted, according to his mother, by seeing an Afghan child blown apart by a landmine as he handed her a bottle of water hanged himself. According to CNN, Illinois does not send data on suicides, like Derby, to the VA. In September 2014, Iraq and Afghan Veterans Against the War, #IVAW activist, who had served three combat tours in Afghanistan Jacob David George committed suicide, the ultimate therapy for sufferers of the aftermath of combat, violence and trauma. George, who struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD was critical of treatment by the VA, saying in an speech that the VA, “isn’t designed to address the depths of the wounds we have. They don’t really look at the soul and how the soul has been injured in war.”

The irony is that in a society which was relatively untouched by the war, and in which reporting on the war was filtered and sanitized, American veterans may be more susceptible to suicide than countries where warfare has occurred. A study titled, “Suicide in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the city of Sarajevo” found no significant increase in the number of suicides pre and post war (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24197489). Bosnia was involved in a bloody civil war, with its capital Sarajevo besieged, from April 1992 until April 1995. Bosnia’s overall official suicide is moderately low, according to worldlifeexpectancy.com. who takes its data from the World Health Organization, UNESCO and other databases (http://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/cause-of-death/suicide/by-country/). While the numbers coming from Bosnia are suspect, the author’s experience in more than 20 years in the Balkans indicates a cultural ‘understanding” that indicates shared trauma on a community-wide scale. They all suffered through the war and now commiserate in its aftermath, even after more than 20 years. There is no such understanding on a national level in the US. As with Vietnam and Korea, veterans return to a nation with little or no understanding of the traumas and moral transgressions of war veterans must confront.

It was only in the last several years that tens of thousands of veterans, dishonorably discharged for PTSD related behavior could apply to upgrade their discharge in order to receive VA benefits. The Pentagon did not formally recognize PTSD until 1980. Indeed, the culture of the military still is far behind in understanding, let alone dealing with PTSD. In 2012 Blue Star Families, an advocacy group for military family members, in a report s aid that inadequacies in treatment were to blame for the high number of suicides among veterans. They also pointed to the military culture as well, and a system of soft retribution for soldiers admitting to PTSD.

Congress has been painfully slow in action regarding the PTSD crisis. While there has been legislation regarding mental health care and quality of life issues for veterans facing lifelong disabilities, it has continued to ignore the unique characteristics of PTSD (http://mic.com/articles/3400/despite-combat-ptsd-act-congress-is-falling-short-in-providing-for-veterans-with-ptsd). For veterans the primary issue is one of trust in the therapy and the therapist. PTSD is unlike other mental illnesses, in that there are multiple dimensions to the disorder from a myriad of causes and is highly individual in its nature. Compounding the disorder is the social nature of PTSD as family, friends and coworkers feed and become part of the disorder for a returning veteran. PTSD becomes community. True lasting an substantive therapy should combine individual psychological and physical therapy with family therapy as well. America must become part of its war making process and be a full agent in its aftermath. Currently it is not. Uncertainty, such as Joblessness and the economy factor greatly in the long term recovery of soldiers and civilians suffering PTSD. Insolated, isolated from warfare and its horrors, propagandized by a burgeoning and greed-centered defense industry and harboring jingoistic notions of war and violence, the nation has created a climate encouraging suicide rather than minimizing it.

Donald Trump did indeed call attention to veterans’ issues, though not in the way he believes. Trump, in assaulting and insulting the not just McCain, but all former American Prisoners of War, as well as veterans overall. What he did was to underscore the ultimate ignorance of the American government, the Pentagon, lawmakers and the American people regarding the plight of veterans, who are all but forgotten once they return home from war.

Trump is all but out of the race. Since his candidacy was far more about his ego than about the country, and based upon defiant comments to critics, and a refusal to back down at all over the McCain comments, Trump won’t leave quietly. Supporters flooded phone lines equally redoubling support for Trump as well as supporting his attacks on McCain’s service. Within that narrative is a glimpse into the direction the Tea Party and hardliners are taking the GOP. To observers it is no secret that support for veteran’s issues is a populist ploy to further corporate and power interests. To be accurate, the DNC has pandered here as well, both parties using the military as a gateway into the heartland while promoting policies that ultimately are anti-vet, anti-minority and anti-poor.

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Sometimes you meet someone: Charles K. Lewis. A Revolution and Beer exclusive

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It wasn’t planned this unseasonably cool and breezy July day, but sometimes someone stumbles into our lives. That’s exactly what happened at the corner of Adams and Wabash in downtown Chicago today. I was biking along the lake and detoured into the city where I ran into a friend. I’d helped Tom Turner put together a homeless nonprofit on Chicago’s southside a bit better than a year ago. At the time Tom was on the street, struggling at the margins, when he hit upon the idea of what to do with the abandoned and foreclosed houses blighting predominantly black neighborhoods across the city. His plan worked, and this week he filed a lien in court to take full possession of the house he’s lived in and all but rebuilt for better than a year.
We were sitting in front of a little florist on Wabash, below the rattling and noisy El tracks, next to Miller’s Pub with its kitschy orange neon sign. Tom was working on the last half of a saved cigarette when a middle aged man walks up and asks Tom for a cigarette. Dropping the oversized green duffel bag to the sidewalk, the guy didn’t miss a beat when Tom replied that was all he had.
“Can I finish off that shorty, just a few puffs?”
“You bet,” says Tom.
He claimed to be a homeless veteran. You see a fair number of people in the city claiming to be. Some are. Some are not. There was something about this guy that was different.
“Charles K. Lewis, is my name,” he said immediately, and aside from Tom’s partly smoked cigarette, didn’t ask for money or anything else.
I picked up a vibe from this guy that he was not just down and out, but truly bewildered by it, and that shock and disillusionment was rather new to him. Charles in the picture is to the right of Thomas Turner. 20130729_104032[1]

Still, sensitive to people claiming veteran status, I respectfully and conversationally plied a few questions. What was his MOS? When did he deploy? Where did he deploy? With substantial military knowledge, a brother, friends and UN acquaintances deploying to Afghanistan, and a near visit myself to the region back in the early Nineties, I can spot BS a mile away. Not that I honestly make any greater distinction between a homeless vet or a homeless civilian. Need is need, but don’t BS me.
Charles fired back his MOS, or specialty, in the Marine Corps. He’d trained as a gunners mate, but saw combat as part of a Combined Reconnaissance Team, or CRT. He’d served from 1997 through 2008, deploying to Afghanistan at the end of his military stint. It was quickly clear that his experiences there deeply affected him we commiserated over shared combat experiences. Anyone who has suffered or experienced PTSD firsthand easily can distinguish a pretender.
Charles related how his VA benefits had been sent by mistake to his ex-wife, and could not get the issue resolved. Forced to move in with family involved, he said, with drugs, an untenable situation for Charles, he left with nowhere to go. Charles, who had been looking for work for sometime without luck had been on the street a traumatic and confusing 8 days. A friend had offered him a room in West Engelwood, but it wouldn’t be ready before the end of the week he said. Facing another 4 nights homeless, for the first time in his life, was almost too much for this proud man who is about to turn 50 in August. As we were talking another African American man overheard that Charles was recently made homeless.
“You a Devil Dog?’ said the man, a euphemism for the Marines
“Oo-rah!” replied Charles.
“Semper Fi,” the other man shot back. “Don’t you know about Safe Haven? They should have told you about that at the VA. They will get you into a place tonight.”
Safe Haven, according to their website at http://www.asafehaven.org/veterans/, has “three types of Veteran housing based on individual need, assessment and eligibility, including transitional housing, per diem housing and permanent affordable housing. Veterans have access to the appropriate level of housing which may include full wrap-around services; supportive housing and employment services; to independent permanent affordable housing. Based on the assessment and eligibility, a Veteran can start at the transitional housing stage and work their way progressively through our housing programs.”
But Charles had not heard of Safe Haven. Asking both men what they were told of veterans benefits and support when leaving the military, they simply looked at me as if I was speaking Chinese. Which begs the question of how that could happen? But the reality is that war is devastating well beyond the battlefield for many veterans. It is even more devastating when so-called support is token or hypocritical, and tendered grudgingly by politicians who use the military or their families as a populist placebo to placate and seduce working class and poor families against their better interests.
As for Charles K. Lewis, there is a sense of hurt and betrayal by a government he calls “the real criminal,” for what it has done to its veterans, and for what it is doing overseas. Charles and I are keeping in contact. There will be more on him later. Once he gets settled and catches his breath a bit we’ve vowed to sit down and tell his story in greater detail…and that we shall.

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