Congress took steps [Oct. 23] to reduce the high rate of suicides among former members of the armed forces, but only after a gun-rights senator succeeded in removing a plan to track veterans treated for mental illnesses.
[Oklahoma Republican gun nut] Coburn succeeded in making changes to "help protect the privacy of veterans' medical records" because of his concern that a provision requiring the VA to track the veterans it cares for could result in veterans treated for mental-health issues being denied the right to purchase guns.
Because it's the job of the federal government to make it more difficult for states to enforce their laws, I guess. Republicans are all for state and local control -- except when they're not, then they're big fans of big government.
Meanwhile, according to Veterans' Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Bob Filner, suicide among veterans is a national tragedy of massive proportions. "It's a terrible statistic: As many Vietnam veterans have now committed suicide as died in the original war," he said. "That's over 58,000."
But it's all-important that they be able to get guns.
Never mind that that wasn't the purpose of the provision. In Coburn's paranoid little mind -- a mind that once concluded showing Schindler's List on network TV was "an all-time low, with full-frontal nudity, violence and profanity" -- it was a creeping federalism designed solely to take people's guns away. Coburn is one sick little nutjob and, every time the people of Oklahoma re-elect him, they do the nation a terrible disservice.
Here's the real reason for the provision:
One major hurdle in stopping suicide is getting people to ask for help. From 20 percent to 50 percent of active duty troops and reservists who returned from war reported psychological problems, relationship problems, depression and symptoms of stress reactions, but most report that they have not sought help, according to a report from a military mental health task force.
If you're already having trouble getting people into the system, you really need some way to try to keep them in the system. Most of the people tracked would be sufferers of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and PTSD patients tend to drift away from treatment.
And this is especially dangerous if they move. If they have to seek help again, the odds are they won't. It's smarter to have the care follow them automatically.
But, of course, Coburn and the NRA know better than mental health professionals. Better to be paranoid than wise.
Not helping matters any is the fact that PTSD is still poorly understood. According to the Washington Post, a study by the National Academies shows, "The majority of treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder that are used to treat hundreds of thousands of veterans lack rigorous scientific evidence that they are effective." That doesn't mean that no treatments work.
"The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today agreed with a new Institute of Medicine (IOM) report finding exposure-based therapies for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to be effective," says the VA in a press release. Exposure-based therapies "utilizes techniques to promote confrontation with feared objects, situations, memories and images. It involves use of psychoeducation, breathing retraining, prolonged exposure to the memory of the trauma through imaginary reliving, and repeated exposure to safe situations being avoided because of traumatic fear."
It's not much of a stretch of the imagination to conclude that some of those safe situations being avoided are within the VA system and that this is why the numbers for vets seeking help are so low. And why the stakes are so high.
Veterans for Common Sense:
Experts worry that the numbers will grow as more soldiers come home with mental wounds. Dr. Bentson McFarland, an Oregon psychiatry and public health professor and an author of the recent suicide study, said veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan face many risk factors, such as repeated tours and the constant stress of urban warfare.
"I hate to say it," McFarland said, "but I think it's going to be worse than Vietnam."
We need to start taking this seriously. We're literally creating these cases with our wars and we don't really know what to do about them. This is a problem that won't end with the eventual peace. The fact that we're still dealing with suicides among Vietnam war vets is proof enough of that.
How much are these wars worth? How many lives are we willing to sacrifice -- long term and short term -- to fight them? Clearly, the death toll will continue to rise long after the wars are over.
How many minds are we willing to scar and, in some cases, destroy? We have almost no idea what we're dealing with now and we need to create more? And how often are we willing to let politicians like Tom Coburn and lobbyists from organizations like the NRA get in the way?
We need to answer those questions. We need to do it now. We treat troops as disposable on the battlefield, there's no good reason to treat them that way at home.
Technorati tags: politics; Iraq; Afghanistan; Vietnam; mental illness; PTSD; Veterans' Administration; Veterans don't stop dying when the wars end