22 Veterans a Day

22 VETERANS A DAY

The number “22” is quickly becoming an iconic number. Especially among those of us whom have served during this time of war for our nation. The number 22 has come to remind me of the devastating loss of possibly the best human beings I have ever had the ability to even be around, let alone live with, sweat, bleed, and cry with. More Soldiers have died by our own hands, than the enemy has even come close to achieving through direct combat action in the 14 years of war we have endured.
The causes for our Soldiers could be attributed to many things. One of the biggest things I personally think is a contributing factor, is what we expect of our Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen is just the vast expanse of rolls we expect them to perform. Focusing primarily on the foot soldiers that are on the ground inside the combat zones, we expect them to execute their job’s of bringing death to the enemy with extreme prejudice, and efficiency. We then as a society expect them to literally flip the light switch sometimes within seconds of bringing death and destruction to the enemy, to becoming “ an ambassador” of the American people.

The case in point that received national attention was a few years back when some young junior enlisted Marines got reprimanded (fairly harshly I might add) because they “relieved themselves” on the corpse of their enemy. There was another case where a Platoon Sergeant (PSG) , whom had just fought through an ambush initiated by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED), was still dealing with the friendly wounded and dead, an unidentified car with busted out suspension rolled up to the scene. Fearing a secondary attack, the PSG ordered his men to engage the vehicle. Killing the occupants inside. It was later discovered that the vehicle’s occupants contained a doctor and his family whom had stopped to offer assistance ( so goes the story anyway). The PSG was “extradited” to Germany to face court martial. Though I believe the case was thrown out, it goes to show the extreme circumstance we expect our Soldiers to perform, and the extreme threats to ones career/life if they make a “wrong” decision in the heat of battle.

Despite the litany of things that could be attributed to the depression, and PTSD epidemic that is ravaging our ranks, there is a theory that with proper mental health treatment some relief could be granted to these soldiers who are fighting the demons that have manifested inside their heads. The first step would be diagnosis, without the diagnosis its hard to know if you have PTSD. In my case, I knew I was easily enraged by incompetence, and when my body finally does an “emergency system shut-down” from lack of sleep ( insomnia), I get the Night Terrors. But PTSD didn’t even occur to me. Once diagnosed the next step would be treatment. And here we get into the rabbit hole that has claimed so many lives.

A year or two ago, News reports started to come in of Soldiers who had died due to the caucophony of narcotic medicine that VA doctors were throwing at the Soldiers to battle the monsters in their heads. Stories of “whacked out vets” doing horrible things while on these narcotic cocktails began to surface. Once again, it was easy for various members of both our government, and the media to be able to paint all of us as some kind of lunatic fringe society that needs to be squashed. And shortly there after, the number 22 was being used.

I retired after 22 years of service last July ( literally two weeks short of one year ago today). It has taken from then until the end of May to get a “partial decision” letter from the VA, with the PTSD still being “reviewed”. However, with the partial decision percentage rating, The VA covers all health care issues even the ones that are not “service connected”. So, now I could actually pursue treatment for my insomnia. To keep the time frame correct, this is 11 months after separation, I could start seeking treatment through the VA. My coping mechanism was Marijuana. The VA so far as I know hasn’t fully endorsed that type of medication, though there is a lot of talk about it becoming approved and available within states where its legal through the VA. It is not legal in Texas. In Texas if they were to catch me, the drug laws are so strict that a popular saying is a rapist can get out of jail faster than a person who gets caught with a joint.

As a prior senior enlisted Soldier, it kills my soul to be doing illegal stuff, and I no longer utilize that avenue. I was finally seen this morning at the local Veterans clinic, now quickly approaching 12 months after separation. After spending three hours in the clinic to be seen, I was notified. “Mr. McDonald, we are not allowed to prescribe anything more than benedryl for the problems you are having because that is a mental health issue” ( not arguing that). I was notified the process was I would have to make an appointment for their mental health care givers, which would likely take till the end of August ( another 2 months).
Though the VA is required to outsource appointments that will take longer than a month to fill on their end, she informed me that many doctors have stopped accepting VA clients. Primarily because, the VA has not been paying their bills to the care providers. So as it looks now, barring the almost certain further road blocks, it will be 14 months before I can get any type of professional treatment through an organization that was instituted to provide timely medical care to those personnel whom have sacrificed (in some cases) everything short of their own life.

These problems are not new. I illustrate my problem as its first hand knowledge, of the bigger picture. The VA has been like this for decades. And somewhere along the line we as Veterans, and the private sector just brushed it off as “that’s just the way it is”. It has become so bad that even our elected officials in the House and Senate, and on the hill in Washington are powerless and cannot hold anyone accountable. In the 2 years since the situation has gained national attention, nothing has changed. The rates of suicide have climbed, and Veterans are waiting sometimes over a year to get any form of treatment. In the 2 years since the situation was recognized, 22 Soldiers a day end their own misery, in poverty, and by their own hands. Luckily, at least we can say the beuracracy works well enough that the senior politicians managing the VA can still get their annual million dollar bonuses. But the Soldiers are still left to die.

John McDonald
SFC(R) US ARMY
June 1992-July 2014

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