Crazy Veteran image (from a Hollywood movie, of course) from quickmeme.com.
Which really doesn’t deserve to be a headline, but media scum — almost all of whom are not veterans — enjoy portraying us as “damaged goods”. One such recently attempted to wring a quote out of us for MSNBC, whose typical take on veterans’ issues is here. Short version: they’re all ruined, maimed PTSD nutbags, and the answer, of course, is to give the bureaucrats at the VA more money, because giving away someone else’s money to unhelpful third parties is the way to assuage yourself that you’re concerned about somebody’s problems. “The trauma of war has become too unbearable,” Ari Melber mews. He’s twaumatized.
Can someone tell us who appointed Ari Melber, Alex Wagner, Michael Scotto or David Wood (MSNBC’s talking heads and reporters, none of whom spent a day in uniform; Wood, a 1970s “advocacy journalist” who slants every report in this direction, and sells himself as a military expert, is a Vietnam draft dodger) spokesmen for veterans? Or is it just coward’s guilt, a phenomenon frequently observed by veterans who study media issues, but seemingly unexplored by organized psychology?
There’s this December 9 editorial in the New York Times, calling for the overturning of tens of thousands of bad discharges of Vietnam-era vets who got into legal trouble for “going AWOL, taking drugs and disobeying orders” because they are now trying to cash in on the VA money cornucopia, and their bad paper is keeping them out. You’re breakin’ our hearts. The criminal vets have champions in their corner: the Vietnam Veterans of America, offshoot of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (Marxist-Leninist); a Yale Law School left-wing legal clinic (Yale admits extremely few veterans and drove out ROTC in the 1960s, only readmitting it grudgingly this year); and, of course, the Times.
Then there’s this tear-jerking report by New York megamillionaire politician Robert Morgenthau, who launched it into the Wall Street Journal. Unusually for someone from the Manhattan Jewish elite, Morgenthau is a veteran, which is explained by the fact that he is 92 years old (he served with great distinction in the Pacific as a naval officer. It is worth noting in that context that the Navy maintains even now the most paternalistic and isolated officer corps, which is often very thinly removed from contempt for the enlisted swine). He had seven kids in two marriages, and all those young Morgenthaus and all the young Morgenthaus after them were raised to think of military service as something beneath them, to be avoided if at all possible. Yet we’re supposed to consider his views on soldiers’ combat stress not only worthwhile (we’ll give him that), but dispositive.
The peg Morgenthau hung his story on was the suicide of one Peter Wielusnki:
Peter Wielunski was one of those veterans. His story is tragically typical of what is happening at VA facilities across the country. In May, the 63-year-old Vietnam veteran hanged himself with a cord from a window shade in front of the doors of the psychology department of the VA New York Harbor Healthcare System’s St. Albans Community Living Center in Queens, N.Y.
Now, we didn’t know Wielunski. Neither did Morgenthau. But we question the reasonableness of blaming a 2012 suicide on service in a war that saw the redeployment of almost all US troops over 40 years ago. What led to his death? Was it his one year in Vietnam sometime between LBJ’s reelection and Tricky Dick’s resignation, as Morgenthau seems to think? Was it something in the forty-whatever years since then? Or was it something intrinsic in poor Wielunski? We don’t know, and neither does Morgenthau.
But Morgenthau, with his born-to-the-purple conviction that he is infallible, knows it was Wielumski’s status as a veteran. Maybe it was, but accepting arguendo that it is, his prescription is completely counterlogical: to give more money to the shambolic bureaucracy that supposedly failed the tragic Wielunski. Yet there’s no evidence that growing outlays have turned the VA from a typical government operation like any state’s Registry of Motor Vehicles into some Platonic ideal of a philosopher-king’s administrative machinery. Paying the same bozos more money has never cured them of bozosity before, and it won’t do it here, either.
Morgenthau’s report met with widespread approbation, however. An example is this post to Time magazine online by Rep. Jeff Miller, a conservative Republican from the veteran-rich Florida panhandle. (Miller’s official bio is innocent of any taint of military service, himself. Instead, he trained as a journalist. A fine alternative to working for a living, that). A man more at variance with Morgenthau politically probably could not be found in public life, but he accepts Morgenthau’s diagnosis. Miller’s prognosis, however, is probably worse: as well as shoveling more money into Rick Shinseki’s cesspool at VA, he would open the military Tricare health network to VA patients. This would double (Miller’s emphasis) the amount of veterans’ mental health care available. (It would, of course, crater (our emphasis) the amount of mental health care available to the active element.
Tricare is what the military and their families have had fobbed off on them instead of keeping the health-care promises under which they were recruited. It is operated by a few of the lousiest health-care administrators in the industry — the worst of these regional administrators, HealthNet, systematically paid bonuses to its staff to deny, lose, or simply not pay legitimate claims. From the service member’s or family-menber’s point of view, being covered by HealthNet is tantamount to being uninsured. The rest of them are little better than HealthNet. They gravitated to this government program because the payments were high, the standards low, and the oversight nonexistent.
Kind of the same way the VA system works.
While the suicide of active duty servicemen and -women (although it seems to be predominantly men) is certainly an issue for well-meaning politicians like Morgenthau and Miller to take up, suicidal vets are not the mainstream. Most vets come home, use up their field uniform pants and jackets painting the house, raise a few kids who are disproportionately likely to serve themselves, something we can be pretty sure any service-age relatives of Morgenthau or Miller are not doing.
The problem with suicide and mental health is not a veterans’ or a military problem. It is a national problem, but it is a difficult, intractable problem. Talk to professionals who deal with mental health issues (at the VA, a public hospital, a mental-health clinic, a substance-abuse program) and you’ll understand much more. You’ll understand that well-meaning Masters of the Universe like Morgenthau, who will throw your money at the problem, or Miller, who will redeploy resources already inadequate to meet the pledges he and his mates in Congress have made to our serving families, don’t really have a handle on the problem.
Mental health outcomes have not kept pace with progress elsewhere in medicine. Despite a blip of progress from SSRI and other psychoactive drugs, the problems are poorly understood and the solutions simply not at hand. Ask about results from mental health interventions and you’ll see recovery rates that resemble early 20th Century cancer outcomes, or 18th Century infectious-disease outcomes. Ask about the relapse rate at a substance-abuse shop and you’ll learn that the counselors and workers who stick it out there, are truly remarkable people because they’re doing it knowing that most of their clients will not recover — at least not this time around.
We don’t have the penicillin-equivalent for mental health. Penicillin and the antibiotics that followed turned bacterial diseases from mass murderers to minor irritants. We don’t have the equivalent of vaccination that turned viral diseases from killers to curiosities — even, in the case of smallpox, making a human pathogenic organism extinct in the wild. We don’t know why people kill themselves, really. We don’t know why perfectly normal twenty-somethings suddenly come down with schizophrenia, either. We’re not even certain that things we see as single diseases are actually the same thing.
We can’t save Peter Wielunski, and we can’t save the next one either. Not by pouring money into an indifferent VA bureaucracy, especially, but probably, not at all. Nothing that has been revealed of Wielunski’s clinical history suggests that a richer VA could have preserved his life, let alone restored his mind to normal functioning. If we want to help future Peter Wielunski’s we ought to dump the money into pure medical research. Find the causes, and Big Pharma will fund the applied research needed to find the cures.
Or just dump the money into VA, and watch it disappear on million-dollar conferences and bloated administration costs. If so, we’ll be having the same discussion in 10 years, and the usual suspects will be suggesting that all we need to do is throw more money after the already-sunk bad.