As the U. S. forces casualty count of the Iraq War continues to climb, now exceeding 3,500, this news story of a Fort Campbell soldier’s struggle to retain his composure and regain his sanity caught my attention.
The CNN report highlights an underreported aspect of the War On Terror. The fact that this soldier is right here in our midst makes the story all the more compelling.
Iraq Vet: “My Brain Will Not Let Go!”
By Thom Patterson, CNN
Un-dated photo of Spec. Jefferson on patrol in Iraq.
CLARKSVILLE, Tennessee (CNN) — A year after coming home from Iraq, AJ Jefferson is still fighting the war in eerie nightmares about the bomb that left him and two comrades seriously wounded.
“I’ve been told it’s normal,” the Army specialist said with a smile, “considering what I’ve gone through.”
The 21-year-old soldier has been diagnosed by doctors with several ailments blamed on the attack, including severe post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. He’s also been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, or TBI, which often is accompanied by forgetfulness and restless sleep. – Read more at CNN.com
The most disturbing thing is that Fort Campbell soldiers and others are now gearing up to return to the Iraq theater sometime after August. If this soldier’s problems have not been adequately addressed by then, what will be his disposition? At a time when the chain of command’s priority is count every body, every body counts. It is unlikely that a medical diagnosis of PSTD or TBI would be recognized, much less allowed, to deter redeployment. That’s just not how the system works.
Spec. Jefferson wanted to continue his service. But he should be receiving appropriate mental health attention. As recent news media reports have revealed, Jefferson is not alone in his struggle to navigate the military’s system of mental health care and compensation for injuries.
Mental acuity is essential in the combat theater that is Iraq. Exposure to the extremes which are the norm there work against that acuity. Soldiers must operate under continued stress and duress. These forces take their toll on the soldiers in the forms of physical and mental fatigue.
Our soldiers need their chain of command to support their efforts to attain and retain this essential element of personal readiness and survival. We don’t condone giving nonfunctioning or defective equipment to our military personnel. Why would we condone returning a troubled, defective mind back into the stressful situation which created the problem in the first place, unrepaired. That is a recipe for further troubles and possibly disaster down the road.
This story raises several uncertainties but leaves them unresolved. That is intentional. Spec. Jefferson is in the same situation. His future is unresolved, complicated by the morass of mental stresses and bureaucratic red tape that now dominate his life. Jefferson and his comrades deserve our support. They are part of the uncalculated cost of this war.
The unresolved, unaddressed issues of PTSD and other emotional traumas related to military service in combat arenas were well documented in the post-Vietnam era. Substance abuse, homelessness and medical issues (mental and physical) affected thousands upon thousands of returning troops. Iraq is proof positive that our government has learned nothing in the intervening years since Vietnam, and they don’t care about ordinary soldiers who do their fighting. If they did they would put money and services where their arrogance is. Ordinary people like us are the ones who will once again be picking up the pieces and trying to mend lives shattered by war and wartime service.