Ramble On

Friday, January 18, 2013

Dulce et Decorum Est?

I’m not going to get this post right the first time.  It’s one I have been meaning to put together for a while, and after reading a tragic obituary this week I have finally realized that it is time to put down a few thoughts about the veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and lingering injuries they continue to suffer after their sacrifice. 

More active-duty and reserve soldiers killed themselves last year than died in combat in Afghanistan.  I’ve known this for some time and have struggled with it.

The article I found was about Dr. Peter J. N. Linnerooth on a Time magazine blog, and the second paragraph was what caught my attention:

Few who wore the uniform in the nation’s post-9/11 wars better understood the perverse alchemy that can change the rush and glory of combat into a darkening cloud of anxiety, depression and posttraumatic stress. But strikingly, all that understanding — and the knowledge, education and firsthand experience that nurtured it — didn’t save Linnerooth.

(There is a link to the article this quote comes from below, and the other sources I’ve drawn from today are linked there as well.)

The article goes on with quotes from friends, loved ones, and colleagues:  “Pete struggled with PTSD and depression after his deployment to Iraq,” an Army comrade says. “Pete is a good example of how serving in combat can change someone. Pete was one of us,” he adds. “He’s the first Army psychologist that I know who killed himself.”

Dr. Linnerooth continued to serve after his return from the war – he studied the effects of PTSD and depression despite the fact that he was a victim of it himself.  It played a part in the end of his first marriage, it may have guided him in a desire to serve his fellow veterans, and possibly was part of his drive to move on with a new wife and child in the last few years.  But despite everything that he understood about these issues, we’ve lost him too.

During my service, I was never called upon to perform in these circumstances, although some of my contemporaries were – in Lebanon and Grenada, which were the conflicts of the time, while others were victims of emerging geo-political terrorism.  And from time to time, an accident during our drills might cause a serious injury that changed a young person’s life forever.  But for the most part, even though we knew that there was a connection to our work and that we might be called to serve, war and loss were far from our thoughts there in Berlin.  

The distance only makes my feelings about these recent veterans more complex.  So I looked for additional commentary about Dr. Linnerooth’s suicide to try and understand it better, finding another blog about PTSD – one written by a VA psychiatrist, Rod Deaton, who works at the VA Medical Center in Indianapolis.  His post gave me insight, and again I was moved by his closing words:     

To the family and friends and patients of Dr. Linnerooth: I am so, so saddened. I wish I could have known him. I wish I could have enjoyed his soul. It is too much to ask a man who has willingly opened his heart during a time of War to keep opening his heart afterwards without knowing that someone who respects him, values him, and knows he is “OK” will, nevertheless, be able to tolerate that he very much does not feel “OK” and will consequently be able to sit with him, literally and metaphorically, until as much of the toxic soul poison has been cleansed out as possible.

A final blogger, this time Roger Cohen of the New York Times, reminds me that as Americans at home, we have not been asked to give anything extra to support our troops and veterans during these conflicts:

We have sanitized war. It is kept at a distance, hardly more real than a video game. … When a milestone is reached — 2,000 dead — attention flickers up.
But otherwise the war seems far away unless you are from a military family. Pilotless drones do ever more of the killing. The thing about robotic warfare is you can watch Afghans get vaporized on a screen near Las Vegas and then drive home for dinner with the kids.
To conclude the post today – I want to see Dr. Linnerooth’s suicide, and those of so many others, as a call to action.  I want to find a way to contribute to helping these veterans and their families to cope with what they have been through.  I will find some way to make a difference on their account, and I hope that you, reading this, will also find a way to take some action.

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