Leonard Doyle: America's wounded veterans get nothing but first-class care

The American view

Related Topics

Just a year ago, a senior US Army psychologist complained about malingering soldiers back from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Far too many were looking for handouts from the government because of mental trauma suffered on the battlefield, she wrote. Her solution for post-traumatic stress disorder was simple: "Refrain from giving a diagnosis of PTSD straight out," she told Army mental health specialists and social workers. The military has had a complete about-face since then.

Suddenly, it is throwing $900m (£640m) at the problem of battlefield trauma, and the walking wounded ignored for generations are being lavished with first-class care. Victims of PTSD in the Army alone outnumber all the wars' amputees by 43 to one. There were four suicides at the elite officer-training school of West Point in recent months and the Army immediately promised that those seeking help for mental problems would not be penalised. Last year, Robert Gates, the Defence Secretary, suggested honouring PTSD sufferers with the Purple Heart, the medal created by George Washington for wounds in combat.

The military is also buying more helicopters to get wounded troops out of Afghanistan faster, and is now treating brain injuries immediately, using hyperbaric oxygen chambers used to combat decompression in divers. There are 20 new sites to deal with mental health and traumatic brain-injury (TBI) issues and 2,700 care providers have been trained about PTSD and TBI caused by the shockwaves of explosive devices. They can have a horrific impact.

But some former servicemen and their families complain bitterly that the government isn't doing enough for them. Many victims of combat stress are homeless and are among the estimated 10,000 veterans living under motorway bridges and in shelters across the US. Many older veterans never had counselling and still carry demons from the Vietnam era.

The ranks are being swollen with combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who are coming home to find a bankrupt economy where even menial jobs are hard to find. Suicide among traumatised veterans is as rampant as domestic violence resulting in manslaughter.

John Needham, a 25-year-old private from California, suffered shrapnel wounds in Iraq. He attempted suicide and, sent home after a medical discharge, he was charged with beating his girlfriend to death. Nine members of the Fourth Brigade Combat Team in Fort Carson, Colorado, have either killed or been charged with killings since returning from Iraq. Charges of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault have risen sharply.

It took a Washington Post exposé into the mistreatment of combat veterans at Walter Reed army hospital in Washington, America's leading military medical facility, to shake the high command into action. The newspaper found the guarded military hospital filthy and infested with rats, with unqualified personnel tending badly injured patients, including those with mental injuries.

At the height of the Iraq war, 20 to 40 soldiers a month were being evacuated with mental problems and sent to Walter Reed where treatment was negligible. Heads eventually rolled and an outcry from presidential candidates, including Barack Obama and John McCain, made clear that the shoddy treatment of veterans returning with physical and mental injuries would not be tolerated.

US military culture is such that even seeking help for combat stress can be enough to endanger a soldier's career. Under pressure, the Pentagon was forced to grapple with the problem and race to open treatment centres.

The US Army said at least 128 soldiers killed themselves in 2008, the fourth year in a row that suicide rates had risen, and the highest level in almost 30 years. Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said: "That does not take into account vets anywhere else who committed suicide. We think those numbers are much higher."

A Pentagon study showed that 11 per cent of Iraq veterans and 20 per cent of Afghanistan veterans suffer from PTSD. A study by the Rand think-tank concluded that there were 300,000 victims in all. The effects range from temporary readjustment problems to suicide and murder, both of which have reached alarming levels among soldiers returning from duty. Last year, 121 war veterans were found guilty of murder or accused of it.

Show you care and sign the petition for action. Log on to www.independent.co.uk/ veterans campaign . There you can also donate money directly to veterans and share your experiences with other readers

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teaching Assistant required in ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Residents of the Gravesham constituency are 10 times closer to what Peter Hain scorns as the “Westminster elite” than are those of Linlithgow and East Falkirk  

Will no one stop the march of localism?

Jonathan Meades
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam