Friday, March 30, 2012

Close to My Heart - Awareness of Pre- and Post-Deployment Evaluation Processes for our Military

Afghan massacre: Sgt Bales case echoes loudly for ex-soldiers on hotline for vets

This story has just broken my heart from the beginning.  As the proud sister (and loud cheerleader!) of a U.S. Marine veteran who was among the first to enter Iraq on the march to Baghdad in 2003, this is so close to me it hurts - literally and figuratively.  It is so sad that even with the warnings of those veterans who served in Vietnam, there was no effort really made to improve the evaluation processes for those mentally fit to serve in a combat zone or the evaluation of post-combat stress upon return.  Its still a sketchy process and largely subject to the macho-man personality of military officials with their own biases - these evaluations, both pre- and post-deployment would be so much more accurate and objective if done by non-military professionals.  Many soldiers are sent simply because they need the numbers rather than a true evaluation of fitness for combat.  In cases where there is a pre-existing history (both from life prior to service and from military service) that professionals agree may create a person who is substantially more likely to be traumatized by combat, the individual should not be deployed further.  Pre-deployment training often focuses more on exposure to realistic combat situations and provides very little in the form of teaching how to release stress and refocus after trauma.  This leaves soldiers (who are often just out of high school) with little knowledge of how to deal with the stress and trauma beyond substance abuse which can then trigger even more stress, PTSD, and violence.

In many cases, there are soldiers who are missing the post-deployment decompression period and welcome home because they stay at the rear to help get the unit's equipment shipped back to the states.  While it appears the stigma of appealing for help is lessening since my brother's experiences in returning, it appears that many are still not getting the help they need even after asking for it.

Often there are incidences that occur that never make it on the "official" record of the soldier.  Things that occur while on leave or off base, covert operations, PTSD episodes, black-outs, nightmares, contact with law enforcement who might be inclined to waive incidences because the person is a soldier or veteran.  Families are hesitant to communicate with military officials about their observations and knowledge due to fear of repercussions to their loved ones.

In cases like this where clearly the military and government have a political loss or gain based on the "who", it is mind boggling that even the most basic evidence that would be required for arrest here in the U.S. is not present and yet Sgt. Bales has already been fed to the wolves.  For those who serve and their families, is should be a big concern that the military is not required to come up with the same evidence as a civilian trial and is allowed to try soldiers even where there is a huge conflict of interest.  While at the same time in the other primary case in the media here, Trayvon Martin's killer who admits he shot the kid (and a vast amount of evidence is available) still walks free with a weapon.

I'm not certain what the truth is in the Bales case, but experience has shown that the military certainly knows exactly what happened and in the end politics will likely cast the final vote.  I feel horrible for innocent people who are murdered and it is always heart-wrenching when children are involved.  Its easy to forget that in many of these countries young children are taught how to use a weapon and to use them against Americans.  We don't really know the full circumstances because the crime scene was not preserved.  At the same time, those with experience, know that people can who have black-out episodes truly do not "see" reality and do not recognize who they are even talking too - especially when alcohol is involved - they are often reliving a moment of extreme fear.

I've seen several stories over the past several months where veterans had violent episodes and did the unthinkable and were totally crucified by the public and media.  I wish compassion could be more easily taught.  The military takes regular people with hearts, values and morals, and puts them through mental and physical conditions that most of us would find abominable and unbearable in the name of protecting us and our country and then expects them to operate like robots and disconnect from the "human" factor.  Those regular people who are appalled at the circumstances they face are still buried in there somewhere struggling to define reality from the horrors and come to terms with morals and values they are asked to violate in the name of war.  Those people need to be helped, not sacrificed.

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