Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Veteran, not victim, part 6

Peter Erlinder, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law writes in the StarTribune yesterday about two recent stories on veterans.

First, the professor praises several states that have set up special courts for recent combat vets.
These courts provide support services, counseling and diversion from the punishment-based criminal prosecution system in recognition of the natural and predictable consequences of combat, which have been present in every war from Revolutionary to Iraq. From debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to substance abuse to feelings of alienation and disconnection that make reintegration difficult, many young men, trained as warriors, naturally find it difficult to admit that they need help.
Unfortunately, this law professor doesn't take the time to ask why we need special courts for veterans. Rather than simply giving a regular judge the authority to take a vet's combat service into consideration when a criminal case is heard, these special courts have reinforced the notion that Iraq and Afghanistan war vets are damaged goods, unable to be held accountable for their actions.

Next, the professor castigates the Pentagon for its recent decision to not award Purple Hearts for post traumatic stress disorder. Not content with having special courts for special veterans, the professor believes we need to award medals for PTSD, so that a soldier afflicted by trauma from combat can announce it to the world.
...the Pentagon announced that it would not award Purple Hearts to veterans who suffer from PTSD as a consequence of military service. According to the Pentagon announcement, PTSD injuries do not qualify because "the condition had not been intentionally caused by enemy action … and because it remained difficult to diagnose and quantify." The Pentagon seems to have decided that physical injuries, whether debilitating or not, are more worthy of recognition than psychological wounds that can destroy lives and families.

The Military Order of the Purple Heart is awarded for wounds sustained while in contact with the enemy. It can't be awarded in peacetime, nor is it awarded for accidental injuries even in a combat zone. Which means that while on a combat mission, if my truck rolled over and ripped my arm off, I would not be entitled to a medal. It can only be given to a soldier who has a documented combat injury that was treated by a medic or doctor. Which means that even if a medal was awarded, the very nature of PTSD is such that it is rarely documented at the time it occurs. Most trauma victims see the effects weeks, months, or even years later, meaning that documentation for a PTSD Purple Heart claim would be incredibly difficult. It would also open up the possibility of fraud, which would taint the honor and prestige of the Purple Heart for everyone else.

And there is a quick yet none too subtle jab at President Bush and the war in Iraq-

In the early 1980s, many of us thought the growing understanding that psychological damage would always result from war and that these enormous personal costs were usually borne by veterans and their families would eventually provide another measure to decide whether going to war was worth it.

Avoiding war to avoid the psychological cost that comes with it didn't work out so well for us in the early 2000's. Thousands of civilians were killed, and many thousands more were left traumatized by the Sep 11th attacks. And civilians are much more susceptible to PTSD than soldiers are. Soldiers are trained and desensitized to the rigors of war.

In advocating Purple Hearts for PTSD, Prof Erlinder is following the logic of the late Sen Wellstone that every mental disorder and condition is involuntary. Therefore every person who suffers from a disorder or condition is a victim, worthy of and entitled to government care and compensation. And that is of course, the business that liberal Democrats are in. Creating classes of victims and giving them money.

By all means, show compassion and respect for the men and women in uniform that fight for their country and come home with mental or physical scars from battle. But don't ever pity them.


Veteran, not victim part 5
Vets not victims, part 4
Veteran, not victim part 2
Veteran, not victim

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