Off With Our Heads

Tête-à-tête offensive: Bush and Maliki circle the burning station wagons, while our soldiers go nuts from the war.

George W. Bush wasn't crazy Wednesday when he compared the Iraq Debacle to the Vietnam War to the cheers of a VFW crowd in Kansas City.

Thousands of shell-shocked U.S. soldiers wound up untreated, drifting the streets of America after the Vietnam War. The same thing is happening now with Iraq veterans — at least with those who haven't already committed suicide. From an August 17 AP story:

Ninety-nine soldiers killed themselves last year, the highest suicide rate in the Army in 26 years of record-keeping, a new report says.

Nearly a third of the soldiers committed suicide while in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to a report released Thursday, which said 27 deaths were in Iraq and 3 in Afghanistan.

The report said that the 99 confirmed suicides by active-duty soldiers compared with 87 in 2005 and that it was the highest raw number since 102 suicides were reported in 1991, the year of the Persian Gulf War.

My colleague Michael Feingold, a theater critic who knows a tragedy when he sees one, tipped me off to that wire story. Unfortunately, we'll never know the exact number of crazed veterans — and they'll probably go untreated — because the military is diagnosing many Iraq vets as suffering from a "personality disorder" instead of post-traumatic stress syndrome caused by the war. That way the government can discharge them, claiming that these soldiers were flawed to begin with, and wash its hands of the problem.

This disgraceful action on the home front will only cause more problems in the long run because the insanity in Iraq in the short term is increasing. Yesterday, gunmen attacked villages in Diyala province where Sunni militiamen who recently joined — supposedly — the U.S. "surge" lived. As Carol J. Williams of the L.A. Times reports this morning:

About 200 gunmen stormed two villages in Diyala province Thursday, killing at least 22 members of a Sunni Arab tribe and taking 15 women and children hostage in an attack thought to be retaliation for their renunciation of Al Qaeda-linked militants.

Sounds like Vietnam, just as the crumbling regime of Nouri al-Maliki sounds like the South Vietnamese government of 40 years ago. The updated National Intelligence Estimate is nothing more than a self-fulfilling prophecy because it will add even more pressure to Maliki's shaky rule. From Reuters, via SwissInfo:

With just weeks to go before U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker and military commander General David Petraeus are to report to the U.S. Congress on progress in Iraq, intelligence agencies released a grim forecast of violence and stalemate.

Wait, wait, wait. Once again the press fails to note that the White House will actually write the report. That's nuts, too. Anyway, back to the Reuters story:

"Levels of insurgent and sectarian violence will remain high and the Iraqi government will continue to struggle to achieve national-level political reconciliation and improved governance," declassified findings of the National Intelligence Estimate said.

The report said there had been "measurable but uneven improvements" in Iraqi security since January under the troop increase, but that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government would become more precarious over the next 6 to 12 months."

At least the cabinet members' boycott of Maliki's government appears to be ending. Well, maybe that's not such good news:

In a sign of the political deadlock, the secularist bloc of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi announced that its ministers, who had been boycotting cabinet meetings, would quit the government altogether.

Crazy, huh? Not as crazy as the treatment of our own soldiers returning home shell-shocked. The Christian Science Monitor recently noted:

In relabeling cases of PTSD as 'personality disorder,' the US military avoids paying for treatment.

But this scandal emerged months ago; here's a story published last Christmas Eve that must have driven some soldiers' families crazy:

Soldiers suffering from the stress of combat in Iraq are being misdiagnosed by military doctors as having a personality disorder, lawyers and psychologists say, which allows them to be quickly and honorably discharged but stigmatizes them with a label that is hard to dislodge and can hurt them financially.

Though accurate for some, experts say, the personality disorder label has been used as a catch-all diagnosis to discharge personnel who may no longer meet military standards, are engaging in problematic behavior or suffer from more serious mental disorders. For returning veterans, the diagnosis can make it harder to obtain adequate mental health treatment if they must first show they have another problem, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

"It's an absolute disgrace to military medicine," said Bridgette Wilson, a former Army medic who is now an attorney in San Diego serving mainly military clients. "I see it over and over again, the dramatic misuse of personality disorder diagnosis. It's a fairly slick and efficient way to move some bodies through."

Military records show that since 2003, 4,092 Army soldiers and another 11,296 men and women in other branches of the armed services have been discharged after being diagnosed with the disorder.

A government worker at Fort Carson in Colorado who has access to personnel records and who spoke on condition on anonymity for fear of losing his job said Army psychologists there have diagnosed some soldiers with a personality disorder after a single evaluation lasting 10 minutes to 20 minutes.

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By the way, Steven D. Green, the GI accused of raping a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and then murdering her and her family (with the help of others in his rape crew), was diagnosed with "anti-social personality disorder" and shipped home shortly after that March 2006 massacre — before the story of the murders fully came out, charges were brought, and he was arrested as a civilian.

That, too, is crazy.

Was Green so screwed-up before he went to Iraq? His tour in that nightmare desert couldn't have helped. As the AP reported last summer:

[Green] was sent to patrol the so-called "Triangle of Death," an area southwest of Baghdad known for its frequent roadside bombings. Military officials say more than 40 percent of the nearly 1,000 soldiers in the region have been treated for mental or emotional anxiety.

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