In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, there was no shortage of protest songs that sought to steer the nation off a post-9/11 collision course with a country that had nothing to do with the attack. The Beastie Boys, Cat Power, Thurston Moore, John Mellencamp, R.E.M. and Zach De La Rocha were among the many artists to release anti-war numbers.
Today as the Iraq war spins out of control and many of the 1.5 million veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan return home from long deployments with mental health problems, Paul Rieckhoff is finding it hard to get that same pop culture support for legislation aimed improving health care for vets.
“We’ve been around a long time and you’d think everyone would be calling us up to do concerts at Madison Square Garden but that hasn’t happened,” says Rieckhoff, an Iraq war vet and executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a non-profit that advocates for veterans issues. “One in three veterans are coming home with mental issues; there’s a backlog of claims; the suicide rate is up; the divorce rate is up; unemployment rates are up. The mental health toll is going to be the hidden cost of this war.”
One of his victories thus far was when Henry Rollins invited Rieckhoff on his IFC channel program this month to discuss veterans issues. Now Rieckhoff and the IAVA have made an unlikely alliance with Drowning Pool, a heavy metal band, and Lizzie Palmer, a 15-year-old girl whose self-made tribute to Iraq war veterans, “Remember Me,” became a YouTube sensation getting 13 million views since she posted last November.
It’s not Drowning Pool first association with the war, an earlier single “Bodies” with the lyrics “Let the bodies drop” became an unofficial anthem for those thirsty for blood after 9/11. YouTube is rife with homemade videos of Middle East destruction — bodies dropping! — to the metal screamer.
The trio are launching a petition at thisisforthesoliders.org where people can urge Congress to pass the Lane Evans Mental Health and Benefits Improvement Act. To get an idea of just how poor mental health treatment is for returning troops, check out the story of Chris Packley, a Marine who returned home with post-traumatic stress disorder, and was kicked out of the Marine Corps for leaving his base and smoking pot, thereby cutting him off from the mental health treatment for his PTSD that he’d been trying to self-medicate in the first place.