AMERICANS who saw heavy combat suffer a toll in health, happiness, marital status and earning power as civilians. So concluded a major study in 1985, followed by others.
The devastating traumas of combat experience, and exposure to the hazards and tensions of a war zone, are as old as the Trojan War, and as fresh as the multiple deployments of U.S. troops spread across two conflicts.
One thing has changed. Washington Sen. Patty Murray, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, has emerged as a tenacious advocate for service personnel and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and related mental health issues.
What apparently has not changed is the military's own ambivalence about the condition. Anyone who wants to stay in the service believes it's a career-ender to acknowledge the flashbacks, nightmares and depression that characterize PTSD. At the very least, it could compromise a promotion.
As a result those inside the service suffer a compounding sense of isolation that claims their families as well. The failure to address the problem has the faint echo of "don't ask, don't tell" that cost the armed services the skills of thousands of gays and lesbians eager to serve, but who paid a price for honesty.
The prevalence of PTSD has been known and established for decades. As the diagnosis sees more daylight there is an emerging cynicism that it might be invoked to earn better retirement benefits. Those who have stepped forward to serve their country, and suffered the consequences, cannot catch a break.
This is where Murray's role becomes all the more important. She was vital to holding a spotlight on the shabby facilities at Walter Reed hospital, frustration with Veterans Affairs outpatient bureaucracy and the need to pay more attention to traumatic brain injuries. She has increased access to care for veterans around Washington state.
The military needs to be blunt about the toll that a heavy rotation of troops between war zones is taking on a relative handful of Americans. View Murray as an ally in getting this understood by policymakers and the public.
The American public needs to know it has an unvarnished obligation to pay the bills for treating all the casualties of war. Skimping on counseling and treatment for PTSD victims and their families mocks the flag-waving and applause that are so easy to dispense for service members and veterans.
- The Seattle Times (Editorial)