RIP Travis N. Twiggs, USMC PTSD Sufferer
May 17, 2008 11:40 AM   Subscribe

PTSD: The War Within. A Marine writes about his PTSD experience. This article from the January issue of the Marine Corps Gazette was written by USMC Staff Sergeant Travis N. Twiggs. Twiggs killed himself and his brother after a long police chase in Arizona earlier this week.
posted by homunculus (64 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Jesus. .
posted by orthogonality at 11:48 AM on May 17, 2008

Maybe it would have been different, if he's given up golf.

In other news, while the war profiteers selling faulty body armor rake in millions in government contracts, VA Administration bureaucrats are telling doctors, please don't diagnose PTSD, it's too expensive.
posted by orthogonality at 11:55 AM on May 17, 2008

VA Administration bureaucrats are telling doctors, please don't diagnose PTSD...

I blew a gasket when I read about this earlier in the week. Un-fucking-believable., it's believable these days.

In related news -- Pentagon advisory group considering awarding Purple Hearts for PTSD.
posted by ericb at 12:08 PM on May 17, 2008

Related and interesting from the New Yorker's Annals of Psychology: Virtual Iraq: Using simulation to treat a new generation of traumatized veterans.
posted by Miko at 12:21 PM on May 17, 2008


Wasn't Jenna's wedding dress lovely?
posted by PlusDistance at 12:29 PM on May 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

According to this article from the APA publication Psychiatric News, claims for PTSD more than doubled between 1999 and 2006 -- not because of returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan, but because of more claims from Vietnam veterans. The alternate diagnosis suggested by the VA bureaucrat above is "adjustment disorder" -- which diagnosis is apparently somewhat controversial, with one researcher going so far as to call it a "waste-basket diagnosis, used in such a vague and all encompassing manner as to be useless."

If the information here is correct, "adjustment disorder" is currently considered an appropriate diagnosis for a patient who has symptoms similar to PTSD, but doesn't meet the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria. It's not so clear to me from the written criteria how hard it is to diagnose somebody with PTSD -- it's true, at any rate, that the symptoms have to be present for more than a month.
posted by escabeche at 12:33 PM on May 17, 2008

My brother-in-law's story is pretty similar (we're pretty close if that matters), as I imagine all PTSD stories might be. He was overmedicated in a different way, though... daily mystery injections in Afghanistan should make anyone suspicious.

As far as dealing with the problem, he went the opposite way - he's gone to great lengths to remove the "shared adversary" factor from his environment, and he does great, but a popping balloon can still turn a family gathering into... something else.

I don't think I wish I knew what PTSD was like, but I can imagine the recursive feeling of fear spiraling all the way back to enlistment. I've known a good many kids my age (18-25) who have enlisted and I think i can identify one common factor - and that's fear. My brother-in-law was afraid that he couldn't support his new wife and pending daughter. I've (disturbingly) known far more that were afraid in an "I don't know what to do with myself so I'll go kill some stuff" way. From here on out they're taught (rightly) to be afraid all the time. How can you expect people to be functioning members of a peaceful society when they've been broken and remade in a mold of violence and mistrust?

I'll cut myself off before I ramble. There are just some things that I can't assimilate in a satisfactory way.
posted by cmoj at 12:40 PM on May 17, 2008 [5 favorites]

Another vet's PTSD testimony.

From a CBS study last fall, the suicide rate among veterans (all wars, not just Iraq) is double that in the general population. More than 120 veterans commit suicide every week.

There are about 1000 suicide attempts by vets every week.

One in 5 returning Iraq/Afghanistan vets has PTSD symptoms. Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) is trying to get something done about it.
posted by beagle at 12:50 PM on May 17, 2008

Wow. That first link... such a stripped-down and humble story he told. So much more heartfelt and human than any TMI blog post. It must be so hard to speak that truth after you've been taught for years to be mentally and physically tough.

I wish his story could have ended well. So tragic.
posted by loiseau at 1:05 PM on May 17, 2008

I attended a military conference with a research psychologist not too long ago. When he introduced himself there was a groan among the 150+ soldiers in the room. My impression is that there are a lot of conflicting views about PTSD within the military at large. At first glance there are the obvious camps: those that think PTSD is a real, serious problem and those who think it is a lot of sissy non-sense. Somewhere in between the two are a number of young men and women who have become very annoyed at the constant screening and attention surrounding PTSD. I got the impression that they were insulted by the constant screening while simultaneously worrying about being labeled the, "crazy PTSD vet."

With respect to suicide I overheard a few things that really bothered me. For instance, I heard one gentlemen say, "Our suicide prevention guy committed suicide - but that stuff was just CYA anyway." This may have been totally out of context so I would take it with a grain of salt.

I got to talk to a number of enlisted men and officers and got the impression that PTSD is really a multifaceted condition. There is the more primitive shell shock component which brings about the fear, anxiety and on-edge behavior, and then there is a higher-level component to it. These guys deal with some really heavy moral issues which are difficult for their friends and family back home to understand. The one unifying thing I noticed was a sense of inescapable guilt; if they didn't feel guilty about something that happened in theater, they felt guilty for leaving their family, or leaving their buddies behind to return home.
posted by kscottz at 1:40 PM on May 17, 2008

I see that the pharmaceutical industry stands to profit off the war, too! Cigars all around.
posted by not_on_display at 1:58 PM on May 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

How can you expect people to be functioning members of a peaceful society when they've been broken and remade in a mold of violence and mistrust?

That pretty much hits the nail on the head, doesn't it? My dad is one of the most violent, angry, distrustful people that I know, and it's only been recently that I've come to believe that it could be caused by decades of untreated psychological issues, not the least of them caused by the time he spent as a Marine in Korea during the Korean conflict.

How utterly sad, and completely criminal to actually be in a position to know what is wrong with these men and women, and to deny them any type of comprehensive support and treatment because that would mean facing the fact that war breaks people in ways that might be impossible to put back together and that it would cost so much to return them to some semblance of sanity that financing future wars would be nearly impossible.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:21 PM on May 17, 2008

Patton was visiting a field hospital when he came across a soldier who didn't appear to be wounded. When Patton asked what was wrong with him, the soldier responded, "It's my nerves." Patton blew up: "You cowardly bastard! You're going right back to the front. Although that's too good for you. You ought to be lined up against a wall and shot. Although that's too good for you, too. I ought to shoot you myself, goddamn you!"

Patton then pulled out his (ivory-handled) gun, repeatedly slapped the soldier, and ordered doctors to get the GI out of the hospital. Hirshson adds that as Patton left, he shouted, "There's no such thing as shell shock! It's an invention of the Jews!"

posted by dhartung at 2:48 PM on May 17, 2008 [4 favorites]

PTSD is a real thing. I know of two Nam guys treated for it. One has a book about his attempts at recovery. The citation to the New Yorker article in the comments is a good one and ought to be read! LSD has been used experimentally by a Dutch doctor for concentration camp survivors, with some success, and of course the funding for VA hospitals had been cut under the present administration.

There is an ongoing debate between "real" wounds and "emotional ones" and that is what is being argued now about the Purple Heart. From my own limited experinces, I had a trauma that needed treatment. The doctor told me that the "talk cure" was scarcely fuinded by the health insurance industry but the more "scientific" u\se of pills was :"real" science and thus paid for--so many therapists switched from talk approach to pill approach, with a touch of talk mixed in.
posted by Postroad at 2:50 PM on May 17, 2008

It seems as if he may have felt that being in control of his exit was the only thing he could control, at that point.

posted by batmonkey at 4:06 PM on May 17, 2008

Another vet's PTSD testimony.

Another vet at that hearing publicly announced his refusal to deploy to Iraq.
posted by homunculus at 4:28 PM on May 17, 2008

On NPR yesterday: Military Wives Fight Army to Help Husbands
posted by Guy Smiley at 4:50 PM on May 17, 2008

What a shame. I hope the VA system gets proper funding once Bush is finally out. And if we're lucky, maybe some new ideas on PTSD prevention and treatment (for example, those of Dr. Jonathan Shay) will start to gain some traction in the system?

posted by vorfeed at 6:48 PM on May 17, 2008

Our ruling regime claims to be all for the troops. All their grand plans have produced so far, that I can see, are ruined lives, terror, and despair.

I wonder if it's easy to send someone to do a job you shied away from?

Imagine thousands of dots here. Imagine all the dots that are yet to come.

I have to go smoke, drink, and weep now.
posted by SaintCynr at 7:03 PM on May 17, 2008

There's a condition in combat. Most people know about it. It's when a fighting person's nervous system has been stressed to it's absolute peak and maximum. Can't take anymore input. The nervous system has either (click) snapped or is about to snap. In the first world war, that condition was called shell shock. Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables, shell shock. Almost sounds like the guns themselves. That was seventy years ago. Then a whole generation went by and the second world war came along and very same combat condition was called battle fatigue. Four syllables now. Takes a little longer to say. Doesn't seem to hurt as much. Fatigue is a nicer word than shock. Shell shock! Battle fatigue. Then we had the war in Korea, 1950. Madison avenue was riding high by that time, and the very same combat condition was called operational exhaustion. Hey, were up to eight syllables now! And the humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase. It's totally sterile now. Operational exhaustion. Sounds like something that might happen to your car. Then of course, came the war in Viet Nam, which has only been over for about sixteen or seventeen years, and thanks to the lies and deceits surrounding that war, I guess it's no surprise that the very same condition was called post-traumatic stress disorder. Still eight syllables, but we've added a hyphen! And the pain is completely buried under jargon.
-- George Carlin
posted by kirkaracha at 7:55 PM on May 17, 2008 [6 favorites]

I feel an overwelming sense of sadness for those poor boys. Such a criminal waste of lives.
posted by francesca too at 8:27 PM on May 17, 2008

I grew up in a family in which PTSD from Vietnam was present. It's definitely real, doubt that not.
posted by Miko at 8:55 PM on May 17, 2008

The damage won't stop with this generation, either-- studies of war veterans--and Holocaust survivors-- have shown that PTSD can be contagious to children.
posted by availablelight at 9:31 PM on May 17, 2008

These guys deal with some really heavy moral issues which are difficult for their friends and family back home to understand. The one unifying thing I noticed was a sense of inescapable guilt; if they didn't feel guilty about something that happened in theater, they felt guilty for leaving their family, or leaving their buddies behind to return home.

My fiancee and I call this a loss of the "acceptable self". I don't mean to be indulgent by quoting here some previous writing of mine:

It is my suspicion that an "unbearable" X is one that interferes with our ability to plausibly imagine an acceptable future beyond X. I don't think that's terribly controversial. But it means that something can be considered unbearable not just by virtue of being unacceptable, but also by its ability to affect your ability to imagine. It is a great comfort to be able to imagine an acceptable future beyond X, even as X is still here, inflicting its discomforts...

I think that trauma that compromises our sense of self is much more likely to result in PTSD. Natural disasters can be terrible things, but we are usually still ourselves when we experience them. But situations of violence are different, forcing us through motions we would not go through otherwise.

After the self-concept has been compromised with the behaviors that accompany traumatic situations, it is so much easier to imagine the self breaking down in future trying situations. Until you have resolved that- by modifying your self-concept, by putting the situation into a broader perspective, whatever it takes- situations that would simply be ambiguous or anxiety-provoking become unbearable.
posted by a snickering nuthatch at 10:49 PM on May 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

What occurs to me when I read this: When we consider the effects of PTSD on soldiers and society once they return home, we might also want to ask ourselves what the effects of PTSD have on soldiers and society that are still in-theater. It seems to me a lot of the "guns blazing in all directions after a IED" events that we hear about are also a symptom of the same disorder. Were we to address this, it might have some significant effects on the whole "hearts and minds" thing. (Ultimately, I don't think you can address it, except by avoiding the situation entirely. Which is just another reason why "wars of choice" are a bad idea.)
posted by moonbiter at 5:04 AM on May 18, 2008

But, we're still winning right? America F-yeah!
posted by Flex1970 at 5:24 AM on May 18, 2008

For some reason this really gets to me. More so than the dead and physically wounded, which of course are equally terrible by any objective standards. But the way that we are (mis)treating the psychologically wounded really hits me right in the gut. The US will be paying for this for a long time to come.
posted by brevator at 7:24 AM on May 18, 2008

. But the way that we are (mis)treating the psychologically wounded really hits me right in the gut. The US will be paying for this for a long time to come.

There is damage caused to families when soldiers die, grief and loss that is lifelong for their families. And there is damage caused to soldiers and their families when they receive physical wounds - damage even to their careers and relationships and daily lives (besides which, physical injuries are often accompanied by PTSD). But I have a feeling if we really called to account all of the social ills caused by the psychological aftereffects of war, we'd be amazed to see how deeply and insidiously post-war wounds of the mind have affected all of us. There are people who grew up with WWII-veteran PTSD sufferers as fathers - men who, according to the ethos of the time, packaged away their emotions as best they could, only to have them surface as nightmares, in bed with their wives - screaming, sweating nightmares that took a terrible toll on the families. Or as drinking, habitual calm evening drinking night after night, at home or in a corner pub. Or as emotional distance, coldness, numbness. Or as control and command, strictness and even abusiveness. Or as unpredictable explosions of rage. Or as chronic failure in a profession, or chronic obsession with profession to the exclusion of family life. Or as hypochondriacal illnesses - symptoms manifesting themselves with no obvious cause medicine could find. Any way to keep everything in check to prevent a blow.

I think if you add up the damage visited upon families by untreated PTSD, then carried on to the next generations by children who grew up in homes tiptoeing around whatever Dad's symptoms were, without any context in which to understand that they might be related to the war, assuming that they caused it or it was the booze or that was just the way men were, the cumulative damage is pretty damn heavy.

I don't mean to suggest that veterans are somehow ticking time bombs walking around ready to burst. In fact, an odd aspect of PTSD is that, in some way, it works - most veterans who have it are remarkably able to live functional lives. I think there is a disservice done when people assume that all veterans must be deeply damaged, or that some people will never recover. People do; they go on to give and recieve love, have families and careers, self-treat to whatever extent they can. It's just that there's a tremendous energy cost in doing so, a sense of absence from one's own life and of numbness, according to accounts I've heard and read and to my own observations. I think some people with resilient personalities and a supportive environment are able to reconcile the actions of war to some degree; many veterans become the gentlest people you've ever met. But I think they are still, and always will be, bothered and troubled by things they saw and did, things war brought out in them and demanded of them. What PTSD treatment needs to do is to help absolve them of that wracking guilt and release the tight rein they have on daily emotional experiences, so they don't miss out on everything else that might happen in their lives if they aren't on 24-7 lockdown.

Although I'm not a psychologist, I'm not even convinced PTSD is really a psychological aberration. It seems like a fairly normal, common, and predictable human response to the activities of war - though, as we see, that would be dangerously expensive to admit. It doesn't surprise me to hear that recently returned vets would be dismissive of "all the screening" and would assert that they're fine, really, fine -- the most desperate wish of a soldier on return is to feel normal, look normal, act normally. It's just that for some people, perhaps those who saw the harsher end of the spectrum in the line of duty, or those who were not already good compartmentalizers, the realization very slowly comes that there is not going to ever be that kind of normal again. It may take months or years for PTSD symptoms to be taken seriously enough, or become crippling enough, for people to seek treatment for it. They may be the same people who, on the flight home, were just anxious to see their SOs again and catch a football game and didn't foresee a single problem with adjustment back to civilian life. Of course they can handle it! Jeez, they're tough. They went to war, right? But it's a different world when you're no longer surrounded by people who shared those experiences and contextualized them with you.

An excellent book on how deeply war experiences cut, and how despite appearances to the contrary, many soldiers will struggle with them for a lifetime even while living a full life, is Brave Men, Gentle Heroes.
posted by Miko at 7:47 AM on May 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

I know MetaFilter is probably ... a little more left-leaning than a lot of public forums, and I have certainly seen a great deal of education here, so I must ask: amongst the people who enlist in the Armed Forces currently, have most of them at least heard that they will essentially be treated like pieces of equipment, that they will not actually be taken care of for life, that the pay will suck, and that they are mostly disposable? Is this not common knowledge? I've heard enough hair-curling stories from friends who have served in one way or another, and it the only duty discharged seemed to involve serving as necessary proxies so that money could be spent by various combines and contractors, while my friends get sketchy excuses as to why their GI Bill money is not available to them.

I'm having a hard time reconciling with what seems to be public awareness of this sort of thing with the fact of people actually signing up for this treatment. Short of a need for martyrdom, complete disbelief in "lies spouted by the granola-munching librul media," or a kind of patriotic bloodlust, what's the factor that makes the Armed Forces more appealing than, say, AmWay?

Exactly who gets taken in by the lie-spouting recruitment guys, anyway? At this point, I can only think that some people are desperate enough for education/jobs that they willfully disbelieve everything they hear about what will actually happen to them.
posted by adipocere at 8:34 AM on May 18, 2008

The Carlin quote is great. The military loves them some jargon: Collateral Damage, Extraordinary Rendition, etc.
posted by chunking express at 8:53 AM on May 18, 2008

amongst the people who enlist in the Armed Forces currently, have most of them at least heard that they will essentially be treated like pieces of equipment, that they will not actually be taken care of for life, that the pay will suck, and that they are mostly disposable? Is this not common knowledge?...
Exactly who gets taken in by the lie-spouting recruitment guys, anyway?

Oof. I think you might have to just understand that they're mostly approaching this question with a different framework than the one you propose. I don't really disagree with your observations about the way the government treats its armed forces veterans. And yet there are many reasons why a rationally-thinking young person would choose to serve, and if we don't approach those with respect, we're going to get trapped into a dialectic where the country-loving patriots who care about something bigger than themselves are forever pitted against the lily-livered, unwilling-to-sacrifice affluent who are content to let other people do their dirty work. It's more complicated. For one thing, if you come from a family with a tradition of service, in which your connection to a branch of the military is personal and familial instead of just one abstract choice of occupation among many, that's a strong pull. If it means something to your father, mother, teacher, or older brother that you serve, then it's going to mean something to you, too. Many people are motivated by sincere belief that the United States needs active military and that the nature of the world will demand conflict from time to time, and someone has to serve, and they would like to be that someone. Also, the job training and leadership training available in the military is pretty significant. My grandfather (who became a tradesman and homeowner thanks to GIBill help) and my father (who became an engineer thanks to Army electronics training) and my mother (who learned basic principles of journalism first at the feet of her mother, a civilian information officer on an Army base) and my other grandfather (career Master Sergeant) all received job training that lifted them and their families from working class rural/immigrant poverty to middle class, professional careers and homeowning lifestyles. When this has been your family's experience and their tale to tell, and you grow up with it, the decision to serve definitely does not seem crazy. A service ethic is pretty rare in the dominant culture, but if you have grown up in a military town or know military families, you will see it in action - people working in concert to a greater degree than our society usually encourages. That has attractions, too. Money for college is a huge, huge draw, as are active military benefits, which are unparalleled. Add that to the natural desire of very young people to shake off the dust of their nowhere towns and do something really seriously adventurous which is draped in nobility and honor, somewhere exotic and far away, with other people your age whose life experiences are much more diverse than anything you've encountered before, who get to play with the big toys, and you have a fairly potent attraction. And there's a generational component - even if your mom doesn't want you to enlist, what does she know? She just wants to keep you around home, working in the same dead-end job.

In some ways joining the military can be a very smart, upwardly mobile decision. But it is a gamble. How great were my decisions when I was 18?

That's not to say we have a post WWII GI Bill - we don't. And the fact is that the VA has profoundly let down all American veterans and that we've let support for veterans sink to an abysmally low level. And that history reveals how deeply they were lied to about their actions. But to me, contempt for people who serve is at least in part responsible for our comfort in supporting the erosion of post-duty benefits. Military service is a complicated phenomenon - it has arguably accomplished good in the world as well as evil, and many people want to be part of that doing good. Regarding people who choose service as duped tools of the empire strikes me as the wrong way to go about addressing their problems after service - especially given the fact that it seems likely, in this world, that we're probably always going to have a military and that it will probably have to go into combat from time to time, even if we exercise much better restraint than we do today. My beef isn't so much that there is a military or that people enlist in it - I can understand why they do that. My beef is that we're content to use our representatives to approve and then hemorrhage money toward a poorly conceived and unjust war, and then content to let them strip veterans services to almost nothing.
posted by Miko at 9:12 AM on May 18, 2008 [5 favorites]

In related news -- Webb: Bush Would Be First President In History To Veto Benefits For Vets
"No president in history has vetoed a benefits bill for those who served. … The Republican party is on the block here, to clearly demonstrate that they value military service or suffer the consequences of losing the support of people who’ve served. … The president has a choice here to show how much he values military service."

Watch it.
posted by ericb at 10:41 AM on May 18, 2008

If it were any other organization, if you were led to believe one thing, but got something else, wouldn't you regard that as "duped"? Just imagine, for a moment, subtracting the patriotism out of it and regarding this with the same critical eye as we might Scientology. At some point, a choice was made, to willfully believe in one thing and disregard a preponderance of evidence on the other hand.

I agree - eighteen year olds don't make wonderful choices, usually, which is why we have that whole "get 'em in high school" philosophy.

There's lots of other ways to serve, besides service that includes, whatever else might be part of it (engineering, medicine, etc.) picking up a gun and pointing it at people. However many support people are behind any given soldier with a rifle, that's still the point of the military: coordinated, armed aggression. You can dress it up and say "deterrent," "keeping our nation secure," and "bringing democracy to the people," but that's still what is going on.

I guess what I'm getting at is that, patriotic service and all of that aside, these are still the equivalent of people who go for religious cults, for Double Your Money in a Week kits, and various scams. As much as they have been victimized, they were part of the duping process. I don't think that the military is going to get any better until that fact has been addressed, because if it isn't, you'll continue to have a steady stream of people marching in one end of the machine and then stumbling out the other, trying to figure out where it all went wrong. If this stuff "just happens" and nobody's somehow responsible (except for this cabal of leaders ... who somehow get elected by the victims), then nothing will ever change.

Pull all of the flag-waving out of it, and what you have is a bunch of folks who believe in lies told to them by some recruitment people, select representatives who will also lie to them, then get sucked into something and are occasionally spit out - mangled in the heart or in the body, and then they feel victimized.

I need to dig up this great NPR piece that talked about some of the mental health issues in the military. One guy, in the first part of the piece, was really denigrating all of that in your head stuff that the sissies couldn't take, it doesn't really exist, and some folks just need to BUCK UP ... in the last segment, aired a week or so later, he's ended up with PTSD and has all kinds of issues ... that guy is part of the problem. Just because he's a victim now, and hurting, doesn't mean that he wasn't a victimizer to some other guy whom he pressured to just "get his act together."

It bears repeating: Just because he's a victim now, and hurting, doesn't mean that he wasn't a victimizer too. The military doesn't exist as some kind of nebulous entity - it is composed of people, and those people are the ones who give other people substandard medical and mental care. That responsibility doesn't just evaporate in the "stuff just happens" sense. For every ass getting kicked, there was someone's foot in the boot behind it. And that foot belonged to a patriotic guy or gal who was serving just like anyone else. Who might get the boot themselves.

Why aren't more of these folks getting out to high schools and saying, "Kids, don't join?" Even people I have known who have had a really bad hand dealt to them by the military will continue to exhort its virtues (another cultish behavior). It's a vicious mess, and while I don't see an easy way clear of it, washing people clean in the blood of victimization doesn't absolve them of some responsibility.
posted by adipocere at 10:53 AM on May 18, 2008

This is why I support a return of the draft. We'd sort our real quick where we're going to fight and the reasons for doing so if it effected more of us.

Those that serve seem increasingly cut off front the very society they protect. If a military and necessary for protecting our freedoms, then all of us should be willing (if able) to go do so.

I think the powers that be will cynically exploit our servicemen and women as long as they remain on the fringes.
posted by black8 at 11:31 AM on May 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

these are still the equivalent of people who go for religious cults, for Double Your Money in a Week kits, and various scams

Jesus Christ. You really do have contempt for soldiers. Do you know any? Anyone who served? Have you ever asked anyone why they enlisted? If only it were this simple; we could send our dim thinkers off to die with a clean conscience and be done with it.

Why aren't more of these folks getting out to high schools and saying, "Kids, don't join?"

Why aren't you?

washing people clean in the blood of victimization doesn't absolve them of some responsibility.

I think we collectively, as a nation, bear the responsibility for allowing the situation to have evolved, and to continue.
posted by Miko at 11:47 AM on May 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

I agree, black8. If we don't start from the position of honoring the impulse to serve the country, even when taking issue with the strategies and policies surrounding service, we're not going to improve matters.
posted by Miko at 11:48 AM on May 18, 2008

these are still the equivalent of people who go for religious cults, for Double Your Money in a Week kits, and various scams

Yeah, you're kind of an asshole. One of my closest high school friends enlisted as a medic in the Army three years ago to make sure that kids like him come home alive. He's in Iraq now, at the same time helping to run and advocate for Iraq Veterans Against the War. Very few of the soldiers he knows have any illusions about the goodwill or ability of George Bush or his cabinet. Calling them cultists and dupes is the equivalent of spitting on them, and you should be ashamed of yourself.
posted by nasreddin at 12:13 PM on May 18, 2008

If it were any other organization, if you were led to believe one thing, but got something else, wouldn't you regard that as "duped"? Just imagine, for a moment, subtracting the patriotism out of it and regarding this with the same critical eye as we might Scientology. At some point, a choice was made, to willfully believe in one thing and disregard a preponderance of evidence on the other hand.

Yeah, just like nearly every other life choice poor and middle class American 18 year olds can make! Let's take a look at the options:

College -- sure, if you can afford it, if you can graduate without failing, running out of cash, or getting kicked out, and if you are lucky enough to end up working in your field at the end of it. Sorry, but I know too many people who were "duped" by college (as in, they went into major debt for the promise of a good job, did everything that was asked of them and graduated with honors, and now have their framed degree hung in the passenger seat of their Domino's pizza delivery car) to believe that this is much more than a pyramid scheme in which only "the best" cash in, and the rest mysteriously "aren't good enough" to get the full extent of what they were promised.

Peace Corps -- you know how they don't tell you that you'll drop 50 pounds, get dysentery, and start smoking? Yeah.

Retail/Service jobs -- same as for the Peace Corps, plus you don't get to go to Africa or Eastern Europe. Seriously, though, people working two and three jobs at 39.999 hours per week as benefit-less "part time" employees are the norm here, not the exception, and it's not like they explain that to you when you start. The extent to which companies take parts of people's paychecks hasn't been seen since the days of the Company Store, either. Psychological problems and workplace injuries are common, and often keep people from finding other work.

Working a trade -- this is about the only option that isn't a gigantic scam... thus why we discourage it with all the societal disapproval we can muster. In a society that holds pointless consumption as its highest value, the working equivalent of the US Bond is not all that attractive, by design. This option is not all that likely to lead to a significantly better life for your kids, either.

Sorry, but I'm not seeing a whole lot of options that are worlds better than the military. For one thing, many soldiers do get their service benefits, and those benefits are often better than what most of them could have gotten with a college degree. The guy in beagle's link describes people who turned down $40,000 re-enlistment bonuses -- that's close to a year's salary for most of the poor and lower middle class! And the benefits during service (such as free health/dental care, free housing, free training, free food, free flights, a month's leave every year, dirt-cheap education) are things that most Americans only dream of.

I agree that the recruitment lying, benefit cuts, and stop-loss bullshit needs to end, but IMHO painting the military (and nothing else!) as some kind of scam is vastly overselling your point. Some people end up having major problems with the bureaucracy, but others don't, and the potential rewards are great. That makes it worth a try for many. And in this day and age, when stop-loss and recruitment lies are openly described on TV and even the article on joining the military, I don't think you can call these kids "dupes" -- more like people hungry for an option and willing to take a chance to improve their lives.

We used to call people like that "Americans", but I guess times have changed, and now they're just dupes. Sad.
posted by vorfeed at 12:15 PM on May 18, 2008 [4 favorites]

In related news -- Webb: Bush Would Be First President In History To Veto Benefits For Vets

Just when you think Bush couldn't sink any lower...

Speaking of Webb, here's an excerpt from his book "A Time to Fight": What It Means To Be a Leader
posted by homunculus at 12:25 PM on May 18, 2008

Oh, hey, the usual urban legend about spitting on Vietnam soldiers is being trotted out. Great. It's good to see the familiar standbys. Here's a picture of Jane Fonda you can burn in effigy. And Miko, didn't I just say that I knew people who joined? *checks again* Yup, I did. Did you ... just read for the bits that would serve your outrage? Please read more thoroughly.

If you're not capable of stepping back and removing the boo-yah flag-waving from the situation, I don't know what to tell you. The cult stuff wasn't just pulled out of thin air. Ritual shaving of the head? Check. Special titles? Check. Complete obedience to authority expected? Check. Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished? Check. Us-versus-them outlook? Check. Outsiders are either to be recruited or looked down upon? Check. Control over when the members eat and have sex? Check. I could go on.

If you remove the flag-wrapped zealousness, the whole thing starts to look like any other organization that wants to keep existing at the cost of the people who join.

Free health and dental care? One of my friends, who worked as a nurse in the Navy, likened the free health and dental care to the free food and sex you can get in prison - yeah, it's free, but not exactly your first pick. Another, who signed up to get his education paid for, that mysteriously didn't happen for him. And let's not forget that free chow, mmm. I've had MREs. We all know the jokes about military food - so much so that it's probably the lifeblood of Beetle Bailey.

Why don't I go out and talk about it? Gee, what would carry more weight with a bunch of teens who are interested in the military, a guy who has been in it and didn't care for it, or someone who hasn't? I'll give you two guesses. You know what the first retort would be - "You haven't been in it, so how would you know?" Tell me I'm wrong. I don't even know why you would bring this idea up.

If you want to keep crying over the people who got a bum deal, keep on doing what you've been doing - because we've been doing that for a long time, and it hasn't changed anything. If you want to solve the problem, do something different. You won't be able to "fix" the military as long as you keep protecting it and failing to recognize its problems. Like any other dysfunctional group, that includes (not limited to, but still includes) the people who are in it. I'm not sure how you plan to hold them utterly blameless and still have culpability fall upon someone's shoulders.

Soldiers should speak up, because they are more likely to be believed over anyone else. And the most effective intervention would be to get people before they enter. Only then would there be enough bargaining power to create a saner, more humane organization - rather than this "the US military is the only kind of military that can be otherwise it is nothing and then the Commies overrun us" nonsense. If they're struggling for recruits, maybe they'll stop looking askance if someone gay wants to join. Other countries have managed a more civilized service, and I don't think they did it through hysterical defense of an inflexible, penny-pinching institution.

Remember, the guys who decided that PTSD is too expensive of a diagnosis, thus sending discharged soldiers down an endless hallway filled with blank forms and red tape, were once recruits themselves.
posted by adipocere at 2:44 PM on May 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

You just seem very ill-informed, adipocere, and very distant from anyone actually involved in military service. You might know people who have joined, but it's clear you don't think much of them and don't seem to know them very well. You certainly don't have very much information about life in the service.

As for "boo-yah flag-waving," this is certainly the first time in my life I've ever been accused of that, so please lift your assumptions off of me. As I said, I'm the kid of a Vietnam vet (who is now a pacifist) and come from two generations of Army staff and enlisted. I know quite a bit more than I think you do about soldiers and their experiences. I do care about the issue and, as a Quaker and as a frequent political activist, am already pretty involved in changing things, thank you. What repulses me is your outright eagerness to slander and look down on people who you don't know and motivations you're incapable of understanding. You yourself admitted you haven't a clue why people enlist and came here appearing to ask a question. I took it for something other than the sneering axe-grinding that it is, and gave you an honest answer, which prompted you to heap further insults on people who, presumably, deserve their fate and on veterans whom you imagine do nothing to discourage young people from enlisting.

I'm no great fan of the US military, but my closeness to the topic means I'm able to be sophisticated enough in my critique to understand that there are people, many of them, whose thinking is quite rational and legitimate when they enter service. I also think the system is well set up to take advantage of people whose youth and life experience have not led them to encounter viewpoints like yours. Unfortunately, when they do, they too often find that their interlocutors live up to every stereotype they might have of people who look down on and don't understand them, so yes, your arguments would probably fall on deaf ears. However, if you are as concerned about change as you would like us to think, you wouldn't let your status as a non-vet stop you from talking to people who might enlist, if you thought that was the best way to intervene. You'd be joining the ranks of generations of parents, pastors, teachers, friends, guidance counselors, social service agencies, and others who attempt to do exactly that. You might want to see how could help with an organization like this, for instance - perhaps you can start a chapter in your own area. You don't need to be a veteran yourself. What about assisting them in finding and funding veterans who would go speak to youth groups? What about calling colleges near you to find out who's recruiting on campus and working with any groups trying to stop that? What about donating to the ACLU to help them curb activities? There really is a lot you could do if this is an issue concerning you deeply right now.

Soldiers should speak up, because they are more likely to be believed over anyone else

You seem to think that they're not, and yet they are. They are everywhere, involved in political campaigns, serving on your local government bodies, volunteering at the VA and elsewhere, and at every wreath-laying and demonstration I've been to. It's pretty easy to get to know them, and if you can open your mind enough to approach them without signalling that you think they are morons, you might stand a chance of understanding our system and our society enough to change it. Condemnation rarely motivates people to change. Contempt is a killer.

As for whose foot is in the boot the ass is kicking: if you're a U.S. taxpayer, look down.
posted by Miko at 4:05 PM on May 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

adipocere, I was initially going to answer your question, as a 29 year old civilian with a girlfriend currently in the military, and who is working towards joining the military myself, why she joined and I probably will join, for just two examples, but I think Miko's assessment is correct, so I don't think it's worth the effort. If you're so curious, why don't you ask all your friends who've been in the military? Or is anything other than open condemnation "boo-yah flag-waving?"

As tho the Vietnam spitting thing, that may be an urban legend, but you're a fool if you think unpleasant things that aren't all that different from spitting are done to members of the military by civilians from time to time, and I'm not even sure why you brought it up, except to deflect criticism of your statements by attacking a strawman.

Oh, and as to your statement of PTSD and diagnoses being too expensive being made by people who were once recruits, I'm afraid you got that wrong too, being that memo was from a civilain, not from the DoD but a different agency, staffed by civilians, as shown here.
posted by Snyder at 6:38 PM on May 18, 2008

There are good people who chose consciously to serve in the US military. I know some of them.

There are drooling borderline morons who signed up too. Living in Korea, where tens of thousands of US soldiers are stationed, I've met many of those.

It's the same in any group of sufficient size: there are the best and the brightest, and the ordinary folks, and to be blunt, the rest. But the democratic freedoms we (tell ourselves) we enjoy are predicated to some extent on the idea that adults under no external compulsion are responsible for the decisions they make. It can't be any other way, if we really believe in the things we claim to about the ways our societies work.

There are a lot of greater questions in play -- the wisdom of the wars America is waging, the modern international economic system of which arms trade is such a major component and war-profiteering is so blatant, the degree to which the American government actually does back its avowed support of its soldiers and veterans with action, the socio-economic environment in which joining the military has, for (for some of) the less-privileged strata of American society come to be seen as a 'last-resort', the wider breakdown and cognitive disconnect between the rights of citizenship and its attendant duties, hell, even the structure of and perceived need for military might in a world that considers itself civilized, and much much more.

But what we have here is a soldier, who went overseas, for good reasons or bad, his own or his nation's, who experienced such terrible and terrifying things that it broke him.

Some people are broken by their experiences in life without going through military combat -- the deaths of children, breakups of marriage, injury and illness and accident and all the other awful things that can happen to us. It doesn't take much of a stretch to understand and empathize that some people can be and are similarly shattered by their experiences of war.

It doesn't matter, it really doesn't, I don't think, whether the military is a good or bad thing, whether war in general is necessary or right or whether the current conflicts are necessary or right, it doesn't matter if some people are duped or shellgamed or led by economic or psychological need into the military and others sign up out of noble and perfectly-informed decision.

What matters is that some of those people, the ones that survive the experience, even survive it without being physically maimed, come through it damaged, and if we (and I mean we loosely, because I'm not American) are anything like the kind of societies we claim to be, leaving this unaddressed cannot be permitted.

It's been five years that America's been fighting this current war. Like Vietnam, it'll be five decades and more that the lingering damage will still be causing grief and loss in America -- and that will be nothing compared to the effects in Iraq and elsewhere.

And that would be just as true if the war were right and necessary.

All that's obvious, I know, but once I got started, I just felt like getting it off my chest. Neither Miko nor adipocere, I don't believe, would disagree with the basic tenet that doing the right thing, given the cards that are on the table, would be to take the best care that can be taken of those who chose to serve their nation, for whatever reasons.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:09 PM on May 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

Free health and dental care? One of my friends, who worked as a nurse in the Navy, likened the free health and dental care to the free food and sex you can get in prison - yeah, it's free, but not exactly your first pick. Another, who signed up to get his education paid for, that mysteriously didn't happen for him. And let's not forget that free chow, mmm. I've had MREs. We all know the jokes about military food - so much so that it's probably the lifeblood of Beetle Bailey.

What you're not getting is that many of the people who go into the military do not get these kinds of easy choices. The people I know who fit the recruitment profile (17-20 years old, low to lower-middle income) do not HAVE any dental or medical insurance, much less their "first pick". If they get hurt or sick, they often can't afford to go to the doctor. They can't always afford enough good food for their families, MREs or not (and you're being more than a little disingenuous, there, since even soldiers on deployment usually eat at the chow hall, unless they're out on a mission or something).

When you're in that sort of situation, military benefits are a substantial improvement over what you can get by playing the lower-class working game. You can go on about how much the military is a "scam" or a "cult", but it's important to realize that your perspective is not typical of the people who are joining.

Or, I guess you can continue to act like they're all stupid -- I'm sure that'll solve everything.
posted by vorfeed at 8:26 PM on May 18, 2008

As an example of what I'm talking about: I live in one of the poorest cities in the 48th poorest state. I work in the richest city in the state, which is close nearby. My town (population ~10,000) has a Vietnam Memorial and a Desert Storm memorial, and will almost certainly have an Iraqi Freedom memorial within the next decade or so. There are three or four times as many ACUs hanging at the dry cleaner than suits. I see soldiers everywhere, every day -- at Wal-Mart, at the grocery, at the convenience store.

Then I wake up in the morning and get on the bus to work in WealthyTown, and it's like we've never even been at war. Ever, or at least not since WWII. The war is something that exists in the newspaper, not in town. The difference thirty miles of commute (and ~$50,000 median income) makes is astonishing... and makes me really, really understand how rare my nice, safe, well-paying job truly is around here.

So yeah: most people who can afford to make other choices don't go to war, and other people with fewer choices do. Feel free to come to my town and tell people not to sign up. They're not likely to answer you with boo-yah flag-waving (for one thing, it's "hooah", "hoo-yah", or "ooh-rah", depending on the branch of service!) or abstract notions about freedom; rather, they will ask you if you intend to find them a job or feed their families for them. And if your reply is "lol MREs! Wotta scam!", I'm afraid they're not likely to be convinced, because as crappy as MREs are, they represent a lot more opportunity than food stamps, FDPIR, or WIC.
posted by vorfeed at 9:08 PM on May 18, 2008

One of the facets of PTSD is that it is a social disease, of course. All the inner pain and suffering that it brings is much harder to bear when it comes in the context of what has been so eloquently expressed in this thread: that soldiers, far from being the heroes of America they would like to be, are in fact viewed as "drooling borderline morons" by the people whom their superiors tell them they are privileged to be "protecting." It is no secret that this war, unlike WWII, has almost no popular support at all. This is understood by every soldier.

It makes the sacrifices and the suffering of each individual soldier that much more painful when it is so easy for them to believe that their actions as soldiers are meaningless at best, frankly evil at worst.

Patton's tirade, heartless as it may seem, existed in a very different context. To Patton - and most everyone at the time - there was no moral ambiguity. There was a cause, there was courage, and there was the option of cowardice. Lasting psychic damage from a neurotic fixation on moral conflicts, however, was not an option. As a result, far fewer veterans suffered PTSD from that war.

The horse is out of the barn, of course; America is not likely to unify to support a war in the foreseeable future, especially not the morally questionable ones that are being waged.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:11 PM on May 18, 2008

ikkyu2, did you even read what I said? You appropriated and threw scare quotes around my phrase to try and make a blanket point about a lack of respect accorded soldiers that is in direct opposition to the thrust of my argument, which is that regardless of who the soldiers are, and why they joined up, and whether they are 'best and brightest' (some of whom, as I have said, I've met and call friends) or morons (many of whom I have met, and I do not apologize for the characterization -- many of those young men were appallingly dim, drunk and violent), they should be provided with the best care, during and after their service, that we can give. Regardless of our feelings about this war, about the military, or about war in general. And regardless of whether they joined because of duty and devotion, or to get out of going to prison, or for any reason in between.

So, you know: don't.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:29 PM on May 18, 2008

Iraw Veterans Against the War's Counter Recruitment program
Vietnam Veterans Against the War
GIs, Veterans, and Military Families Against the War
Veterans for Peace and their Recruitment Education links
Gold Star Families for Peace
West Point Graduates Against the War
AFSC's Counter Recruitment page
UPRISE Counter Recruitment Tour

I agree with stavros that there are assholes in the military. But there aren't only assholes, and the idea that all servicepeople are dumbasses who deserve whatever they get (or don't get) is just repugnant. Sorry my words above were harsh, but really, it is because we have two parallel nations right now, as vorfeed says: one at war and feeling it daily, and the other with the luxury to opt out, that contempt for veterans and servicepeople (as well as enemies and civilians in enemy territory, and the laws of conflict in general) has found its way into policy from the White House and CIA on down.
posted by Miko at 9:39 PM on May 18, 2008

Stav, it doesn't matter whether you said it or someone else did - I didn't even bother to see who said it. That idea, unqualified, is out there. The amount of contempt and derision for this war and these soldiers is pretty high. Soldiers are hearing it and feeling it - if not from you, Stav, then from the guy or girl down the block. I pulled your phrase out because I remembered it - because it was particularly derisive and eloquent - but that stuff doesn't matter when it comes to the context that these soldiers are working and living and dying in.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:59 PM on May 18, 2008

Well, ikkyu2, I hear what you're saying, but I also think that's tantamount to declaring that we should not make nuanced arguments because some people won't get the nuance.

I can't really go along with that. That's half the reason we're in the terrible place we find ourselves now.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:18 PM on May 18, 2008

As someone who served in the USAF (and had more than decent dental/medical care, food, benefits, recruiter, etc.) and as someone with some temptation to not bother responding to what comes across as (charitably) weak.... To relate anecdotal evidence and opinions--about medical care, food, benefits, day-to-day realities and responsibilities, etc.--as facts might lead one to wonder who's the dupe... as would relating colossal generalizations.

But someone who's not had any direct involvement in something knows how it is--and sharply questions the intelligence/wisdom/judgment/knowledge of those who are involved or have been involved.

There can be moments of wondering if some people set out with a goal of embarrassing themselves or if it just comes naturally.
posted by ambient2 at 10:27 PM on May 18, 2008

According to this article from the APA publication Psychiatric News, claims for PTSD more than doubled between 1999 and 2006 -- not because of returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan, but because of more claims from Vietnam veterans.
My personal experience supports this report I have a friend that was destroyed by Vietnam. He's an older guy that looked after our pups and us when we were neighbors and we've continued to look after him in return.

He was a "functional" alcoholic until the first Gulf War. That war triggered his PTSD to bloom out of control. He cannot function -- he is paranoid, doesn't sleep well, doesn't concentrate well, and his cognitive thinking is impacted. He has been given medication. He said they did a group therapy thing that was not useful. The treatment offered by the VA is lacking and lags behind knowledge of what works in the private sector. Unfortunately, the worst symptoms of PTSD can be triggered much later. I have a feeling that soldiers from other conflicts will be similarly affected by reports about this war.

On the other hand, I've recovered from PTSD from childhood/teen trauma thanks to private insurance, private psych hospital and extensive one to one therapy. The difference in treatment and thus, results, is unbelievable...and sad.
posted by Librarygeek at 7:17 AM on May 19, 2008

I wonder what the chances are of contract soldiers developing PTSD are. Do Blackwater provide counselling to their employees? Does the fact that they have a choice to leave as and when they want mitigate the chances of them developing any mental disorders? Does their increased pay, freedom and the fact that they clearly chose to go to Iraq or wherever mean they are unlikely to develop symptoms?

Obviously a number of PMC employees are drawn from elite units but there are men who are ex cops or just ex-enlisted men. What difference does the ability to walk away mean for these men?
posted by longbaugh at 8:44 AM on May 19, 2008

There is nothing crazy about joining the military. I did it. Many in my family and many of my friends did it. They did their time and got out. Yes, some were chewed up and hurt for life. Yes, there were those who didn't come back. You understand that this could happen when you join -- particularly now, when there's no draft and you volunteer.

Joining isn't crazy. Serving isn't crazy.

What's crazy is how the military gets used, and the fact that we the people keep allowing them to be used this way through continually electing the same thoughtless, heartless morons again and again.

What's crazy is that our media continually ignores this behavior and this treatment of our troops.

I really thought about going back in after 9/11. The thought that stopped me from picking up the phone and calling a recruiter was that I knew, I just KNEW that with the current bunch of reprehensible bastards in the White House, we'd go killing the wrong people over it.

Yes, I said, "the wrong people," because I do believe that there were folks who we should've gone after for it. Sadly, we half-assed that war (at a terrible cost to our troops and to the people of Afghanistan alike) in order to pursue this current fiasco.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 1:43 PM on May 19, 2008

I <3 Miko.
posted by longbaugh at 5:14 AM on May 20, 2008

America's Medicated Army
posted by homunculus at 3:42 PM on June 9, 2008

‘Anything Not to Go Back’
posted by homunculus at 5:31 PM on June 9, 2008

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