Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day

There's another thing that veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq wish the public would do for them: Resume paying some attention to those two conflicts, which the vets stress are still going on.
The veterans fought there, often on multiple tours. They saw friends get wounded or killed. They care deeply about the progress and outcome of the two wars.
The nation, however, has lost interest. There was virtually no debate about the wars in the campaigns leading up to last week's congressional elections.

The above is from Robert McCartney's "Honor our newest veterans by paying more heed to the two wars that produced them" (Washington Post). Today is Veterans Day. Last week, at Truthout, Sarah Lazare reported on Iraq War and Afghanistan War veteran Jeff Hanks who has self checked-out in an attempt to get treatment for his PTSD: "I am just trying to get help. My goal in this situation is to simply heal. And they wonder why there are so many suicides." Kristin M. Hall (AP) reports that Jeff plans to return to Fort Campbell today and Hall explains what happened when attempted to get treatment before self-checking out: "He returned to Fort Campbell to seek behavioral health treatment, but when he was referred for a meeting with a therapist, he said he was told by his commanders that they wanted him medically cleared to return to Afghanistan the next day. He spoke to a therapist for less than two minutes and was instructed to get marriage counseling when he came back."

Iraq Veterans Against the War have launched Operation Recovery and this week they're doing outreach:
The Campaign Team and Chapters from across the nation are starting an effort to do regular outreach on and around military bases and universities.
The Campaign is in the popular research and base building phase. To win this struggle, hundreds of IVAW Members, Veterans, Service Members, and Allies are needed to help organize. Service Members and Veterans are in our communities and looking to be part of a community of people that understands them.
If you are a member of IVAW and want to learn more about how to get involved and do outreach click here.

Last week, Coffee Strong, the GI coffeehouse next to Fort Lewis, issued this statement:
November 2, 2010 JOINT BASE LEWIS MCHORD, WASHINGTON – An anonymous group of soldiers in 4-9 Infantry Brigade have released a statement detailing how the Army drove one soldier to suicide. It details the humiliation that soldiers who seek help for mental problems face from their superiors. This comes on the heels of a rash of incidents involving soldiers from JBLM who had untreated mental issues, including one soldier who shot a police officer in Salt Lake City, UT. The letter reads:
"On March 17, 2010, Spc. Kirkland returned home from his second deployment to Iraq. Three days later he was dead—killed by the Army. Spc. Kirkland was sent home from Iraq because the burden of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder became too great—so much that he wanted to take his own life. Many of us also struggle with the effects of PTSD, which is a completely natural, human response to what we are exposed to overseas. It is not a sign of weakness or cowardice, but the inevitable result of serving in combat. It is a burden we all share, and we all deserve adequate treatment and understanding for the sacrifices we have made.
Upon returning home, Spc. Kirkland was not more than three steps into the barracks before the acting First Sergeant publicly ridiculed him, calling him a "coward" and a "pussy," knowing full well that Kirkland was suffering from severe depression and anxiety. He was then carelessly assigned to a room by himself, and like every other soldier with PTSD, given substandard care by Army mental health doctors. Forty-eight hours after he was in the care of 4-9 Infantry, he was dead. Spc. Kirkland had a wife and young daughter. Before his blood had even dried off the floor, our respected leadership was already mocking his death.
Spc. Kirkland did not kill himself. He was killed by the Army. The Army inadequately treats PTSD, while it re-enforces a culture of humiliation for the soldiers who suffer from it. Spc. Kirkland was accused of faking his trauma. PTSD is a legitimate medical condition that is unavoidable in a combat zone. As soldiers who lay down our lives every day, we deserve adequate treatment for the wounds we receive in combat. We deserve to be treated for PTSD just like we would for a bullet wound or shrapnel. Spc. Kirkland received the opposite. But what happened to Spc. Kirkland is not an isolated incident. This is happening at such a high rate in the Army that it is becoming an epidemic. Now, more active duty soldiers commit suicide than are killed in combat. Every year, the number of suicides far surpasses the year before, and 2010 is already dwarfing last year's numbers.
How has the Army responded? Scandal after scandal has broken out about Army officers ordering doctors not to diagnose PTSD; to instead deny veterans the care they deserve, pump them full of pills, and return them to combat. It has become Army policy to do everything possible to avoid diagnosing PTSD. And when it is diagnosed, the care is inadequate.
Throughout the Army, soldiers have to fight for simple medical care. The Army doesn't care at all about us, our lives, or our families—and hundreds of us are dying because of it. We are denied care because the Army needs bodies to throw into two quagmires, and because the VA doesn't want to pay us the benefits we deserve. Maj. Keith Markham, Executive Director of 4-9 Infantry, put it very clearly in a private memo to his platoon leaders: "We have an unlimited supply of expendable labor." That's what we soldiers are to the Army and the Officer Corps: expendable labor. Spc. Kirkland was expendable, and we witness that fact every day. But soldiers all over the Army are standing up. At Ft. Hood, the base with the highest number of suicides, protests have been held both outside the base and in the hospitals, consisting of active duty soldiers demanding better treatment. All over the country soldiers are organizing in their units to fight for adequate care. The Army will never give us the care we deserve unless we force it to do so. As soldiers, we have rights. Mental health care is a right for the job we were made to do. We have the right to be adequately treated and compensated for PTSD -- but the Army is not doing that, so we have the right to collectively organize and demand proper treatment.
Actual defense spending in the U.S. is over 1 trillion dollars a year. Most of that money goes into the pockets of defense contractors, while only a tiny fraction is allocated for mental health care. There are hundreds of billions of dollars for new fighter jets, or to open Burger Kings and KBR facilities overseas, but when extra resources are needed to combat a suicide epidemic, we only get scraps from the table."
The Army has taken no disciplinary actions against the leadership involved with SPC Kirkland's death. Nor has the Army released any statements regarding the circumstances behind the incident.
GI Voice, DBA COFFEE STRONG, is a veteran owned and operated coffee house for soldiers, veterans, and military families to speak out about their experiences in a comfortable and safe environment. We provide free GI rights counseling, veterans benefit advocacy, and PTSD counseling for soldiers and veterans. Coffee Strong is located 300 meters from the Madigan Gate of Fort Lewis at 15109 Union Ave. SW Ste B.
For more information please contact:
Seth Manzel
Executive Director

The following community sites -- plus wowOwow, The Diane Rehm Show, and World Can't Wait -- updated last night:

And we'll close with this from Sherwood Ross' "How Affirmative Action Brought Willie Mays to the New York Giants" (Bodhi Thunder):

Willie Mays, thought by many baseball writers to be the greatest player who ever wore spikes, was passed up by three major league clubs due to outright racial prejudice or to quota systems that limited them to just one Negro star. Perhaps there is no better example anywhere of how affirmative action paid off for the New York Giants, the club that grabbed Mays, because manager Leo Durocher cared only about getting the best talent, irrespective of skin color. By contrast, Tom Yawkey, the owner of the Boston Red Sox, passed on Mays because he would not hire a Negro, period. And the Boston Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates passed on Mays because of their racial quota systems. (Imagine: the Braves might have an outfield with Henry Aaron and Willie Mays playing side by side for two decades! Imagine: the Pirates might have had an outfield starring Roberto Clemente and Mays!) Mays was batting a sensational .477 playing for the Triple-A minor league franchise Minneapolis Millers in 1951 when Durocher phoned him and said he wanted him immediately. Mays modestly told Durocher he didn't think he was ready for the majors but the profane Durocher wasn't going to take no for an answer, and so replied, “Do you think you can hit two blankety-blank seven in the major leagues?” The 20-year-old Mays was on the plane that night to appear in a game next day against the Philadelphia Phillies. In his rookie year for the Giants Mays batted .274, socked 20 homers and drove in 68 runs in 121 games. Even before starting for the Minneapolis franchise, Mays played briefly for the Chattanooga Choo-Choos and for the Birmingham Black Barons, where he demonstrated he could hit the toughest of pitchers. At age 18 he faced the great Satchel Paige of the Kansas City Monarchs and smacked a double his first time at the plate. Paige was so enraged the next time Mays came to bat he walked up to him and said, “Boy, I'm going to throw three fast balls and you're going to sit back down”---which is exactly what happened. Shortly thereafter, Paige was signed by the Cleveland Indians and three years later Mays was signed by the Giants, so, in that era before inter-league play, the two never faced each other again.

The story of how Mays broke into the majors is just one of the intriguing yarns in the well-researched “Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend,” by sportswriter James Hirsch and published by Simon & Schuster. Hirsch, who has reported for The New York Times and The Wall street Journal, was interviewed by professor Holly Vietzke of the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover(MSL) on the MSL show “Books of Our Time,” (broadcast nationally via Comcast SportsNet at 11 A.M. Sunday, November 14th.) Even though Jackie Robinson broke the color line in the National League in 1947 and was quickly followed by black stars Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Larry Doby with the Cleveland Indians, “most major league teams were still unwilling to sign black players, not because they doubted their skill but because there was still the belief that black players were bad for business,” Hirsch said. They thought, “If you had a black player on the field, that would keep away your white fans.” He went on to say the owners “didn't understand that, first of all, all fans cared about was whether your team won, and second of all, the black players were not just great players, but they were exciting because they would lead the league in stolen bases, they could do things on the field importing some of the style of the Negro Leagues that the white teams were not doing.” Far from hurting attendance, Mays whirled turnstiles in every city he played, drawing white fans as well as black to see the star who may or may not have been the greatest player of all time but who Hirsch says “was surely the most exciting player of all time.” Over his 24 years in professional baseball (1951-1973 in the majors) Mays now and again experienced racial bias but for the most part his teammates recognized Willie was “the best player on the team, the best player in the league, and maybe the best player ever,” Hirsch points out. “And so they were very devoted to Willie because they recognized he helped them win, he helped them win championships, and he put money in their pockets.” Willie was also a leader both on and off the field yet now and then one of his teammates made racist comments toward him so that his overall experience was not wholly sunshine and roses.

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