Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Veterans issues: suicides, widows, children left behind and more

Kimberly Hefling (AP) reminds that there are over "4,3000 children of U.S. troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars" and focuses on Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors' Camp Good Grief which holds a retreat for children of the fallen each Memorial Day. ("Camp Good Grief" is a popular name for similar -- but unconnected -- programs across the country. There's one in Florida, for example, which is for all children who've lost a loved one and has three or four retreats a year.) This was the 17th year for TAPS' Good Grief Camp (which is actually the name of the TAPS program, AP inverts the word order to get "Camp Good Grief"). Yesterday on PRI's The Takeaway, Celeste Headlee spoke with Iraq War widows LaNita Herlem (her husband, Sgt 1st Class Bryant Herlem, was killed in Baghdad April 28, 2006) and Tayrn Davis (her husband Cpl Michael Davis was killed in Baghdad May 21, 2007). Davis has started the American Widow Project.

Taryn Davis: I guess it all started when my husband Michael was killed in Baghdad, Iraq. I was 21-years-old and basically felt ostracized from society -- even though I had family and friends around -- due to my age and it being written off because I was 21. And I found myself on the internet looking for a way to embrace this title that I held as a military widow because I already knew it signified my husband's sacrifice and my own but I wanted to find the answers on how it could one day symbolize my survival. So I typed in "widow" and it came back with "Did you mean 'window'?" Which probably discouraged most. But it led me to doing more and more research and over half of those serving now are married so we're looking at around 3,000 military widows from Iraq and Afghanistan alone and over 83% of those are under the age of 35. So I just saw this need to bring together this new generation of military widows. Not so much find them counselors, but give them peer-to-peer support, let them see other twenty and thirty and forty-something-year-old widows that really had just started out this amazing lives with their spouses and had them torn apart.

Last week, Danielle Berger (CNN -- link has text and video) reported on the American Widow Project and explained, "When a widow first makes contact with the American Widow Project, Davis sends her an introductory packet that includes her documentary film. The website provides a 24/7 hot line that allows immediate connection to another widow, information on support and services, and personal stories from women who have lost their husbands. It constantly reminds the women that they are in familiar, accepting company."

Meanwhile, at CNN, Gregg Keeslin contributes a column on a very important issue:

Two years ago, my son, Army Spc. Chancellor Keesling, died by suicide in Iraq. He was 25 and on his second deployment.
Shortly after his death, my wife, Jannett, and I learned of a long-standing policy in which presidential letters of condolence are withheld from families of American service members who die by suicide.
We wrote to President Barack Obama on August 3, 2009, asking him to reverse this policy, and since then we have tried to keep up a steady drumbeat for change. There has been a fair amount of media attention, including from CNN, and recently U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, co-chair of the Senate Military Family Caucus, and a bipartisan group of Senate colleagues sent a letter to the president on behalf of this issue, echoing a bipartisan request from House members.
We learned in late 2009 that the White House would be reviewing the policy, when then-White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told then-CNN reporter Elaine Quijano that the White House had inherited this policy and was reviewing it. Yet as of this writing, we and the hundreds of other families whose children have died by suicide while at war wait for a result.
I wonder: What is the White House reviewing and why it is taking so long?
An action by the president would send a powerful message throughout the military ranks to take mental health issues more seriously. Suicide among those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan has become an epidemic. Last year a Pentagon report found that every 36 hours, a soldier commits suicide.

While Keesling wonders why the White House won't pay the proper respects to those who have lost a loved one in the service to suicide, Iraq War veteran Miguel Valenzuela wonders what the government's problem with his mother is? Will Ripley (9news.com -- link has text and video) reports that Miquel's mother, Celia Novak, was forcibly deported to Juarez after living in the US for 25 years, with legal residency, and working as a registered nurse. Ripley notes, "Novak's family has hired an immigration lawyer, but her appeal could take months or even years. The Denver Post reports there are 7,200 pending immigration cases in Denver, with an average wait of 501 days for a hearing. Her lawyer is hoping to take the case to federal court." We'll note that Barack has set a record on deportations and has far outdone Bully Boy Bush on this issue and we'll also wonder what US Senators Mark Udall and Micahel Bennet are doing to help this military family?

Yesterday Kat: published three reviews: "Kat's Korner: Give 'em the keys" on Death Cab for Cutie, "Kat's Korner: It was nothing, he insisted loudly" on Ben Harper and "Kat's Korner: The Master of the Teen Drama" on Phil Spector. In addition, Mike posted "Memorial Day" at his site. We'll close with law professor Francis A. Boyle' thoughts on war:

My father’s record in combat spoke for itself. I have here on display in my office his Asiatic-Pacific Campaign medal with three bronze service stars, each awarded for “action against the enemy” at Saipan, Tinian, and Okinawa, respectively. Furthermore, when I was a young boy, his fellow warriors elected him to be the Commander of the local American Legion Post, a distinct honor as he saw it. He brought along my mother, my sister, and me for the installation ceremony and dinner that night.

My father had nothing good and nothing bad to say about the Japanese Imperial Army and its soldiers. But it was obvious from his tone of voice that he considered them to be dangerous warriors who were prepared to fight to the death, as large numbers of them did at his hands. He never expressed any regret about killing them. Nevertheless, my father and mother never raised any of us eight children to be biased or prejudiced against the Japanese or any other people for that matter.

My father was extremely proud of his combat service in the Marine Corps against the Japanese Empire that had attacked his country, and for the rest of his life continued to consider himself to be a Marine, as is true for all Marines. But he never bragged about his combat experiences in the war to me or to anyone else that I was aware of. He never said that he was a “hero” or that he had ever done anything “heroic.” My father never said anything about being part of some “greatest generation.” Indeed, he never told me there was anything “great” about having fought that war. I never got the impression from my father that he believed fighting the Japanese Imperial Army had made him “great” in any way. In fact, my father was just “grateful” to the Almighty that he had survived the war.

As I learned from my father, there is nothing “great” about fighting a war. And fighting a war does not make you “great” either. All the rest is just pro-war propaganda.

Professor Francis Anthony Boyle, Junior.

Author, Protesting Power: War, Resistance and Law (Rowman & Littlefield)

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