The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.

DEAR MR. PRESIDENT |

September 09, 2011

Name: Garrett Phillip Anderson
Returned from: Iraq and Afghanistan
Hometown: Portland, OR
Email: GarrettAnderson0311@gmail.com
Milblog: Iraq/Afghanistan and More

Dear Mr. President,

We veterans are dying, eighteen a day after the war by our own hand. We come home but we never left the holes we fought so hard to defend, and the holes in our head are our dead and dying comrades beckoning us to join them because coming home has become a worse fate than the wars we fought. We signed up to serve our country and put our lives on delay for the mission with little to show for it upon our return. We could go to school with the GI Bill as long as we are sane and able to focus on schoolwork, but I can hardly focus on this letter I am writing and basic tasks become pointless.

Last year my unit dropped me off for a thirty-six-hour mental health evaluation at the Portland VA. I was provided with pink pajamas and was evaluated in a setting that would make any suicidal human want to drown in their own vomit. Homeless veterans of different eras were mumbling to themselves, some wandering in endless circles. I was as a veteran humiliated by my own vulnerability and weakness and felt interrogated by civilians who could not possibly relate to my situation, having never served.

A normal person would have assumed they were in prison; the food was terrible and we were not allowed outside for a walk or a smoke, which having picked up the habit in the service became too much for me to bear. I had the feeling that the civilians running the show knew that Vets smoke, and that Vets will check themselves out if smoking is prohibited. I was verbally disappointed in the program offered and upon my early release was told by a staff member, “If you don’t like it, talk to your congressman.” I was not within capable faculties to start a conversation with a congressman. I just wanted to be left alone.

I later spent three weeks at the Seattle VA for PTSD treatment and when I returned home nothing had changed. I don’t think there is a cure for wanting to put a bullet in your head after your life has been turned upside down by elements so far out of one’s control. What we need is an ease from the pressure. When we leave the service we need access and priority to jobs, good jobs that pay enough money to raise a family. We have spent an equivalent amount of time that one would for a college degree, been tested in much more extreme forms, and at the end of our career we have nothing to show for it.

My answer for this problem is that the VA mental health system needs to be reformed, and it can be by the very people it is supposed to support. I do not trust civilians to handle my mental health counseling. They are too easily influenced without understanding the consequences of their incompetence. A program should be implemented to send interested veterans into the counseling field without having to spend four more years in training. This would open a gate that would provide jobs for Veterans that can help the Veterans of their conflict until the last of us leaves the earth. The only civilians in the VA should be doctors required for surgery and dispensing medication. All civilians should be overseen by veterans who would be working at appropriate GS levels.

The Vietnam Veterans need to be separated from the Iraq and Afghan Veterans, as I found that our group sessions are prone to re-traumatize Vietnam Vets and that we have different issues as we come from different worlds. There should also be a program that can be ran by Veterans after discharge from active service, in order to keep accountability of those they served with from their own unit to make sure that their comrades are not slipping through the cracks. We trust the people we served with.

Claims should take one month, no longer. The mountain of paperwork and years it takes to file a claim is obviously put there as a roadblock to discourage veterans from following through. If our country cannot afford to pay for our services after our service they should have never sent us to war, and the idea that eighteen veterans commit suicide every day is ample evidence that we have been failed. Our blood and our pain is in your hands. We gave so much for so little in return.

Comments

You are completely justified in your thoughts, and as a private citizen who sees these things from the perifery, I apologize that our own country is failing you and others like you. I'm also a survivor of a family suicide, and I know the guilt and pain left over when someone you love takes their own life. If the damn VA can't help you, try someone completely detached from them, a private practice. But please, don't give up. What you leave behind for your family to bear is something they will never completely get over. It's been 32 years since I lost my dad, and every now and again the pain of it all comes back to me as fresh as ever. Someone loves you deeply. Hold on to that. I know that may be easy for me to say, but it's all I've got. Please take care.

As a Vietnam Vet, I understand the need to have 'real' veterans of 'your' war to help you. Only when I interacted with a Vet group many years following my discharge was I able to move on. Even now there are times when my reaction to present events is colored by past war experiences. Please keep trying to find someone to talk to.
Margaret

Please let us know what kind of responses you get to your letter. And more importantly, let us all know how you are doing.

Your statistics are alarming and of course not one of those issues covered by mainstream media. I thank you for your service to our country and agree with your sentiment, after Korea, I feel we went into wars without a vision for the outcomes.

Contact Senator McCain or Bill White of "Fallen Heros" project. Wonderful physical rehabilitation centers were contructed with private donations. Why?, because our government forgot about your sacrifice, and what the post-war issues that would impact the VA system. You and your commrades deserve the best of both physical and emotional rehabilitation services. The loss of hope is crushing, do not give up hope, you may be the start of what is needed for returning service members and our country. May God Bless you, I will pray for you and other soldiers, personal re-integration into a cold, unsupporting governmental system. Society loves and cares about you!!

Mr. Anderson --

As a former staff nurse at a local VA hospital, I apologize for the way the VA has short-changed you. I left the employ of the VA after a bit over two years because of severe disappointment and disillusionment with the system in the way it treats -- or rather DOESN'T treat -- my fellow vets. I hit burn-out from overwork trying to care for patients loads with ever increasing acuity levels (nurse talk for complexity of medical issues). Most of my former colleagues at the boots-on-the-ground level are very dedicated and try hard to help those under our care. Nurse-to-patient ratios which are too high yield p*ss poor care in too many instances. If I had to aim the blame, it would be at the immediate administrators of the facilities.

I cannot speak for the Oregon VAs. I can only offer my compassion. I was, and still am at times in the private sector to which I moved, still caring for my fellow vets. I have discovered that many voices raised as one, loudly, can get things moving to provide our fellow vets with the care they so rightly deserve. Politicians find it difficult to ignore many voices. The VA cannot just say it is the case of "disgruntled staff."

Secretary Shinseki, are you listening, sir? You have a problem.

Mr. Anderson, welcome home ...

Jim
USN '66-'72; The Nam, '69-'70

I know the guilt and pain left over when someone you love takes their own life. If the damn VA can't help you, try someone completely detached from them, a private practice. But please, don't give up. What you leave behind for your family to bear is something they will never completely get over. It's been 32 years since I lost my dad, and every now and again the pain of it all comes back to me as fresh as ever. Someone loves you deeply. Hold on to that..

we cannot allow ourselves to become a victim of the 7,000 mile shot. life sucks, but as Marines, suckiness has always been a badge of honor. we all talk about who had the toughest pt, longest field training, roughest or hardest training, least libo, etc, etc.

What really sucks it the guys that need to hear your words, my words, rarely see stuff like this. we need better marketing of the help thats out there. super bowl commercials, headers and trailers at the movies, mandatory TAP, etc.

there is no acceptable reason for a fighting man to feel the only way out is death. one of the ways i handle it is bt reminding myself that its us living veterans that should lead the fullest lives possible. we have to live enough for ourselves and our fallen mates. thats how we honor them and their sacrifice the best.

I am not in the military but do have many family members that serve for our country. I would be outraged if they were treated as you have been. Your thoughts and ideas of the VA system are very valid. Do not get discouraged because your voice counts and someday we all can make a difference, for you and the other service men and women who fight for us. It is only fair to think that we "civilians" should be fighting for our service people, after all, you give us freedom. You deserve more. Thank you for serving our country and keeping it safe for my family and my children. God Bless!

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