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Friday, January 05, 2007

Iraq War: Deadly Trigger for Previous Wars' Veterans

This war's casualties are not merely limited to those currently serving in the military.

Journalist Julie Sullivan files another report on combat PTSD well worth a quick read. You may remember her name. She was the force behind last year's massive Oregonian report on war's effect on our returning veterans. Appearing in March 2006 (coinciding with the third anniversary of the start of the Iraq War) the series (along with a follow-up by Sullivan) stood out among the many news reports filed at the time -- a time marked by our mainstream press finally beginning to report more fully and realistically on all aspects of our wars in the Middle East.

Her latest piece presents another account of how this century's wars can negatively affect not only those returning from the 'Sandbox' in Iraq or the mountains of Afghanistan, but veterans of the previous century's wars, too. This account can be added to far too many others that I've found reported in the press...

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

From Newhouse News Service:

[Vietnam veteran Thomas Laing] coped -- until the war in Iraq. Images of flag-draped coffins, uniformed soldiers with missing limbs, and an increasingly unpopular war brought back Tom's own experiences with such devastating force that his wife finally sat down at her computer. In a July 26, 2004, letter to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs addressed "To whom it may concern," Lolly poured out the most intimate and harrowing development in their long and wounded marriage:

"My name is Laurel Laing, wife of Thomas Laing. We have been married 37 years. Since the start of the Iraq war Tom has had increased nightmares, night sweats and acting out. He has become more short tempered and withdrawn from his family, work and daily activities of a normal life. Tom is restless and he cries when the news announces that we have casualties and soldiers are dying. He says this War is turning out to be another Vietnam.

"On April 28 around 2:30 a.m. we were sleeping and all of a sudden someone had their hands on the top of my head it felt like it was moving to the right in a fast direction and that my neck was going to be snapped. I yelled out some awful noise and the movement stopped. I turned around and looked at Tom who was on his knees breathing so hard and saying `so sorry, I'm so sorry, I could have killed you.

"I thought I was in Vietnam."

This is hardly the first such incident reported in the press. Some have been even more heartbreaking:

He never was inclined to talk much about the damage, at least not to his wife and children. They knew -- it was obvious -- that a land mine in Vietnam took large portions of both of the Rev. Alan McLean's legs 38 years ago.

They knew that the single detonation in 1967 triggered ongoing waves of psychological temblors when McLean heard helicopters or when war footage appeared on the news. They knew that the decorated veteran was profoundly distressed by the Iraq war, an anxiety that ran as deep as the former Marine's patriotism.

But they didn't know about the .45-caliber pistol. Or the suicide note in his laptop, written but never printed out, seven days before he used that pistol. In it, McLean, the popular rector of St. Luke's Episcopal Church here, apologized to his wife, Betsy, and his children for not being stronger. The war in Iraq, he said, unbearably amplified his nightmares.

He said he'd had enough. "35 Marines died today in Iraq, only slightly more noticed than my legs," the former second lieutenant typed on Feb. 4. ... With his final decision to call 911 from his church office and turn his pistol to his chest on Feb. 11, McLean, 62, became a casualty of two wars, his family members said.

"I underestimated the power of the war to take his life," said his daughter, Mary Watkins, 29, of Tacoma. "And I really feel that though my dad's been in Wenatchee, the war in Iraq killed him."

Other profiles of this trigger have been filed. Another tragic suicide of a Vietnam veteran who was not coping well with depression set off by the Iraq War was reported in Newsweek in October 2006:

Scott Cameron and Dennis Kanke had a lot in common. Residents of Duluth, Minn., both fought in Vietnam and returned home with traumas that lingered for decades. Both clawed their way out of the pit with the help of therapy and medication. And both fell back into it when the Iraq invasion began more than three years ago, with war scenes on television triggering nightmares and flashbacks. "It all came rushing back," says Cameron, a sinewy 56-year-old who took a bullet in the spine in 1969 and went on to have more than 40 operations.

When the depression got really bad, Cameron checked himself into a trauma clinic in 2004, where he spent nine weeks with other war veterans affected by Iraq. Kanke, by contrast, coped by shutting off TV news and occasionally reaching out for help from friends. In August of that year, Cameron got a call from Kanke, who wanted company on his boat. "I'd been on the road for two hours and couldn't drive anymore. I told him to go to sleep and I'd see him in the morning," Cameron recalls.

Instead, Kanke poured a can of gasoline over himself and lit a match, dying in a hospital three days later. ... On the night of his suicide, after talking by phone to Cameron, Kanke roused [his wife] Carol and pushed her out of the house before setting himself on fire. She says she watched the fire from the outside, then tried to douse her husband with a garden hose. "We had a wonderful life. But when the war started, he just got more and more depressed. He didn't handle things' going wrong very well," she says. Now she's hoping her husband's story will help other veterans spot the symptoms and avoid his fate.

Washington Post covered the deadly trigger the Iraq War has become in a report last year:

More than 30 years after their war ended, thousands of Vietnam veterans are seeking help for post-traumatic stress disorder, and experts say one reason appears to be harrowing images of combat in Iraq. Figures from the Department of Veterans Affairs show that PTSD disability-compensation cases have nearly doubled since 2000, to an all-time high of more than 260,000. The biggest bulge has come since 2003, when war started in Iraq.

Experts say that, although several factors may be at work in the burgeoning caseload, many veterans of past wars reexperience their own trauma as they watch televised images of U.S. troops in combat and read each new accounting of the dead. "It so directly parallels what happened to Vietnam veterans," said Raymond M. Scurfield of the University of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Coast campus, who worked with the disorder at VA for more than 20 years and has written two books on the subject. "The war has to be triggering their issues. They're almost the same issues." ...

PTSD researcher John P. Wilson, who oversaw a small recent survey of 70 veterans -- nearly all from Vietnam -- at Cleveland State University, said 57 percent reported flashbacks after watching reports about the war on television, and almost 46 percent said their sleep was disrupted. Nearly 44 percent said they had fallen into a depression since the war began, and nearly 30 percent said they had sought counseling since combat started in Iraq.

"Clearly the current Iraq war, and their exposure to it, created significantly increased distress for them," said Wilson, who has done extensive research on Vietnam veterans since the 1970s. "We found very high levels of intensification of their symptoms. . . . It's like a fever that has gone from 99 to 104."

Every incidence of violence or suicide or depression an additional support for our need to be cautious and sure about the types of war we wage. Our political leaders have failed in this regard enormously.


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