Monday, May 31, 2010

Lest We Forget

There is a local story getting a lot of chatter and some press, involving a young farmhand caught on video brutalizing the cows and calves at the dairy at which he works. He is being charged in a neighboring county with multiple counts of cruelty to animals; bond is currently set at $100,000.

I'm not about to defend or excuse the actions of the defendant, assuming the charges are proven. I am, however, going to call attention to an element to that story that no one is mentioning in all the loud calls for his punishment.

The defendant is a 25 year old Iraqi war veteran.

Our veterans are coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan with serious traumatic injuries - some of them physical, some of them mental. They are starting to fill up our courts as defendants, sometimes charged with crimes of violence. One speaker I have heard in recent months attributes this to the fact that today's soldiers are sent over multiple tours of duties and so have repeated exposure to the trauma of the war zone. Where the Viet Nam era veteran typically did one tour in Nam, today's military personnel may do five or six tours in the Middle East.

The problem of traumatized veterans has become so great that there is now a special program in the Veterans Administration, funded by Congress, called the Veterans Justice Outreach Initiative (VJO). VJO focuses on vets in the criminal justice system, linking them to mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, and other needed services. Nationwide, judges are establishing Veterans Treatment Courts, similar to mental health or drug courts, to help get our veterans back on track.

If we are going to send our soldiers to a war with no end, exposing them to the horrors of battle, and expect them to do their duty, then we owe it to them when they come back scarred and damaged to get them the help and services they need.

On Memorial Day, we watch parades, we decorate our family graves. I'm about to head out to watch Warren's daughter march in a Memorial Day parade myself. It is easy on Memorial Day to wave a flag and thank a vet.

It is harder to remember on all the other days of the year that all of our vets need our support and our help. Even when - especially when - something goes wrong.

Our veterans deserve better and so do we.


Sharon said...

Sounds like a wonderful day planned! I, too, will take some time to thank those that gave us our freedom and that continue to protect our country.

Ellen said...

My neighbor is a Vietnam veteran who is schizophrenic, alchoholic, cancer-ridden, and so has a prescription for medical marijuana that he uses with gusto (I think that predated the cancer). If this is what happened to our vets of that era, I shudder to think what will become of our current service-people. You must see this firsthand in the justice arena. I hope they will have all the advocates they deserve for our thanks.

Jackie said...

Well said!!