Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ehren Watada, PTSD, homeless veterans and more

ehren watada rosa and bob
From a legal standpoint, there is no doubt that Watada won. The Army failed in its attempts to court-martial the first U.S. officer to refuse to fight the Iraq war. After a three-year legal battle, the Kalani High School graduate will leave the Army in early October, discharged under "other than honorable conditions," as the Army recognizes the insurmountable double jeopardy threat raised by his earlier mistrial.
He has been working a desk job at Fort Lewis in Washington state since refusing to deploy with his artillery unit in 2006, on the grounds that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq were illegal and participating would make him a party to war crimes.
Since then, his 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team has served three tours in Iraq. President Bush, whom Watada publicly denounced, has been replaced by Democrat Barack Obama, who campaigned against the war but, once elected, found it difficult to rapidly withdraw U.S. forces. Thousands of military men and women remain in Iraq, praised for their sacrifices even as American support for the overall effort wanes as the war grinds on.

The above is from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin's editorial "Watada victory bittersweet" on the announced discharge of 1st Lt Ehren Watada, the first officer to publicly refuse to deploy to Iraq. He is scheduled to be discharged this Friday (Ehren's pictured above with his father Bob Watada and his step-mother Rosa Sakanishi). Ehren knew the Iraq War was illegal and that put him in an ethical bind as an officer because he would be issuing orders to those serving under him. As 2005 drew to a close, he considered the various options and then made his decision not to deploy. He phoned his mother Carolyn Ho as the new year began to inform her of his decision. When he informed his superior officers of his decision, they gave the impression that they wanted to work something out -- in reality, they just wanted to attempt to keep the matter hush-hush, delay any decisions and hope that when the deployment came in June (2006), Ehren would depart with his unit. After proposing several alternatives -- including resignation as well as deploying to Afghanistan instead, Ehren went public in June 2006. His service contract ended in December 2006 but the US military kept him on to court-martial him. When that was obviously not going well, Judge John Head (aka Judge Toilet) gifted the prosecution with a mistrial over defense objection. Toilet thought that's how the law worked. The Constitution -- and US District Judge Benjamin Settle -- begged to differ. Kim Murphy's "Army to discharge officer who refused to go to Iraq" (Los Angeles Times) quotes Kenneth Kagan, one of Ehren Watada's two civilian attorneys (Jim Lobsenz is the other):

"I think the Army came to the conclusion that it was not going to be able to prevail in a prosecution," defense attorney Kagan said. "And I think when the new solicitor general came in, her office had a fresh look at it, and as it was not bound by any of the decisions that had been made previously, they saw fit to put a stop to the appellate process."
In a statement, Watada's lawyers described him as "a hero and a patriot . . . [who] took a lonely stand as a matter of conscience, never attempted to spread discord within the ranks, and never sought to evangelize about his ethical convictions. . . . It is our belief that history will treat Lt. Watada far more favorably than the United States Army sees fit to regard him now."

Staying with service member news, Gordon Lubold (Christian Science Monitor) reports, "Just eight officers graduated from an experimental training program for the MQ-1 Predator, a remote-controlled aircraft or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). But it marks a shift for a service that has defined its leaders by their prowess as flyboys and that is now coming to terms with the less glamorous but critical demands of the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan." The program is to remote control bomb peoples and places. The drone wars aren't coming, no, look, they're here. Over the weekend, the second US drone this month crashed in Iraq (at least the second). Cindy Sheehan (Cindy Sheehan's Soapbox) weighed in last week on the drone wars:

Don't get me wrong, I am not in favor of "Manned Aircraft Systems" raining down bombs on civilians, but the idea of Murder by Joystick with the "Unmanned Aircraft Systems" (UAS,) is especially sickening to me.
UAS, more commonly known as "drones," are controlled from thousands of miles away and are increasingly becoming the new wave of the Air Force. The Air Force was recently devastated by Congress cutting off funding for the obsolete F22 fighter jet and is very excited about robot killers.
Even the names of drones are monstrous, such as: Predator and Reaper:. The Grim Repear drone, choosing who lives or who dies from an air conditioned bunker at Creach Air Force base thousands of miles away from the bombing site:
Thousands of miles away from the carnage;
Thousands of miles away from the screaming and dying;
Light years away from morality and compassion.

Still on the subject of service members, Jason Swensen's "'A miracle' -- Aiding children with drawfism" (Church News -- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) reports on Russell Hayes who is a Vietnam veteran and now an Iraq War veteran as well. He was deployed to Iraq in 2007. He had read an article on Abdul Salman, an Iraqi fire fighter with "six children -- three of whom (Seja, Ali and Bara) were born with various forms of dwarfism. The story evoked a deep emotion inside Brother Hayes. He and Sister Hayes are the parents of six children. Their youngest, 11-year-old Corina, has dwarfism." While serving in Iraq, he met the family and was able to work on assisting the family with gaining asylum in the United States (where they now reside). Joanna Richards (Watertown Daily Times) reports on Fort Drum's 10th Mountain Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team's ceremony Friday to send off 3,500 members of the brigade who are deploying to Iraq:

During the ceremony attended by thousands of family members and friends, Maj. Gen. James L. Terry, commander of Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division, reflected on the changes in Iraq since the brigade was last deployed there in 2006-07.
"That was a deployment of deeds, not words. You paid a heavy price over those 15 months, losing 54 of your comrades and hundreds more wounded in combat," he said.

Meanwhile Kim Lamb Gregory's "More cases of post-traumatic stress disorder are diagnosed as two wars continue" (Ventura County Star -- link has text and audio) explores the PTSD cases of several individuals and notes these statistics:

Of the 289,328 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have come home, 21.8 percent were diagnosed with PTSD. Almost 37 percent received some form of mental health diagnosis and 17.4 percent received a diagnosis of depression.
"What's really striking is the dramatic acceleration in mental health diagnoses, particularly PTSD, after the beginning of the conflict in Iraq," said lead author Dr. Karen Seal, in a press release.
She added that no such trend was seen after U.S. forces first began fighting in Afghanistan in 2001.

Meanwhile Pamela Lewis Dolan (American Medical News) notes a new study into treating PTSD which uses the video game Virtual Iraq: "Josh Spitalnick, PhD, director of research and clinical services for Virtually Better, which developed "Virtual Iraq" and several other virtual reality games designed to treat posttraumatic stress disorder, said preliminary testing -- a two-year open clinical trial of 20 participants funded by the Office of Naval Research -- showed positive results. But more rigorous testing is needed to fully understand the advantages or disadvantages of using virtual reality as a treatment method." PTSD in a veteran or service member does not mean the person will self-harm (or harm others) but some with PTSD will self-harm (and some without will as well). Kim Ruocco works with Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. It is a personal issue for her,her husband Iraq War veteran John Ruocco took his own life. Josh Allen speaks with her for "Preventing suicides in the military" (Christian Science Monitor):

As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue, so, too, do military suicides. This year, the MCSPP counted 34 suspected suicides among active duty marines from January to July. It recorded 42 suicides in the same group for all of 2008. The US Army lists 96 reported active-duty suicides for January to July 2009, up from 79 from January to July 2008.
Ruocco, who lives in Newbury, has told her story to military personnel around the country, encouraging individuals to seek help. She has also become a support to survivors of suicide -- family members who may suddenly be crushed by grief, rejection, guilt, and shame.
"When many people would have slammed the door shut on the world and hunkered down with their grief, Kim has left the door open," says Bonnie Carroll, the founder of TAPS. "She has allowed others to learn from her experience as a survivor and a caregiver."
"Suicide is very complicated; every individual case of suicide is different," Ruocco says. "It's important to decrease the stigma attached to suicide by the military and to offer services to support both troops and survivors."

Among the many issues veterans deal with is readjustment. In good times, readjustment can be difficult. In bad economic times, it can be very difficult. Terry Brown (Albany Times Union) reports on a workshop scheduled for Saturday October 3rd from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm. The worshpo is Homeless Veterans Stand Down and it will be Coloniel Elks Lodge, 11 Elks Lane:

The unemployment rate among Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans was 11.3 percent in July, compared to 5.9 percent the previous year, according to a U.S. Labor Department report. The overall jobless rate is 9.7 percent.
"We will add more booths in order to accommodate the expected greater need," says Doug Williams, Elks Lodge member and stand down organizer.
Veterans can tap free help finding shelter, clothing, food, employment, medical screening, legal advice, spiritual help and Veterans Affairs advice regarding benefits, programs and services.

They will also offer meals, flu shots, haircuts and more. "For transportation, call the nearest veterans service bureau: Albany County, 447-7713; Columbia County, 828-9511; Rensselaer County, 270-2760; Saratoga County, 884-4115; Schenectady County, 377-2423; and Washington County, 746-2470. For transportation on the day of the stand down, call 785-3557." Jane Roh (Daily Record) reports on a similar event that took place in New Jersey:

As is the case nationwide, most of the veterans at the armory served during the Vietnam era. But organizers said that young men who'd done post-9/11 tours in Iraq and Afghanistan were also seeking help.
"These young men and women are going over, they're fighting, and they're coming back. If their job isn't waiting for them and they don't have a strong family support or don't have money in the bank" they can end up homeless, said Kate O'Hara, a VA nurse and one of the event's organizers. "Now it's women and children (too) because you have women fighting in the current war. It's a major problem."

We'll again note this mailed to the public account yesterday from the VA:

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki announced the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has authorized checks for up to $3,000 to be given to students who have applied for educational benefits and who have not yet received their government payment. The checks will be distributed to eligible students at VA regional benefits offices across the country starting October 2, 2009.
More information on
emergency checks.
Information on
VA regional benefits offices.

The following community sites updated last night:

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thomas friedman is a great man

oh boy it never ends