June 8, 2010

Thoughts Prompted By The Red Sox Foundation's Association With "Run To Home Base"

In May, the Red Sox Foundation, along with Massachusetts General Hospital, was promoting the Run to Home Base program, which is raising money to "provide much needed services to local veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan ... with combat stress disorders and/or traumatic brain injuries".

It's hard to find fault with the group's mission statement:
Raising money for combat stress disorders and/or traumatic brain injury is the core mission of the Run to Home Base 9K. ... This program includes four components: confidential clinical care, outreach to veteran's families who are affected by these "signature wounds" of war, innovative research and educational programs for health providers, clergy, social workers and others. ... Our mission is to help these veterans obtain the care they need and deserve.
A RAND Corporation study from two years ago -- "Invisible Wounds of War: Psychological and Cognitive Injuries, Their Consequences, and Services to Assist Recovery" -- estimated that 300,000 US troops are suffering from major depression or post traumatic stress from serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and 320,000 have had possible traumatic brain injuries. Only about half of those men and women have sought treatment.

The Red Sox's involvement in Run To Home Base is a very good thing and will help a lot of people. However, the team often glorifies the military, with fly-overs on Opening Day, singing God Bless America, or having a former soldier throw out the first pitch, after being thanked for "protecting our way of life". For the past week or two, the Red Sox's website has featured an Army recruitment ad ("When Opportunity Calls") with Jon Lester.*

* Expressing support for the military is the default setting for mainstream society, part of our normal discourse. However, speaking out against military activities -- or simply mentioning a few facts -- well, that's injecting politics into the world of sports, and could we please just focus on the game for a few hours, Mr. Bleeding Heart? I cannot begin to tell you how much this pisses me off.

There is also the issue of why any money needs to be raised for these veterans at all. Does the US military not have the cash on hand to properly care for the men and women it sends halfway around the world to do its conquering and killing? Apparently not. From years-long shortages in essential body armour to a lack of drinking water (in the desert!) to non-existent care once they return home -- or actually billing soldiers injured in the line of duty -- it is an incontestable fact that the US's treatment of its soldiers is inhumane and criminal.

And it is a story as old as the country itself. The United States has never given a shit about its veterans. They are like tissues -- use 'em up and throw them away.

NPR reports that tens of thousands of US soldiers who have suffered traumatic brain injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan are receiving little or no treatment. Many of the military's tests miss close to half of all brain injuries. And relevant information is often not put the soldier's permanent medical file -- oops! -- which makes it next to impossible to get any treatment months or years later.

In 2009, retired Army psychiatrist Charles Hoge wrote about the "illusory demands" of traumatic brain injuries in the New England Journal of Medicine and he worried that the military would be hobbled by the price for unnecessary treatment. One VA psychologist ordered her staff to not diagnose anyone with post-traumatic stress disorder so the Army could save some money.

Michelle Dyarman, a former major in the Army reserves, was involved in two roadside bomb attacks and a Humvee accident in Iraq in 2005. Dyarman was the first person in her Pennsylvania family to attend college, but she now struggles to read the newspaper. She often cannot remember the address of the farmhouse where she grew up. Her father reminds her to turn the oven on before cooking. She has been fighting with the Army for five years to first get them to acknowledge her injury and then to get treatment.
I always put the military first, even before my family and friends. ... I served my country. Now what's my country doing for me?
In 2008, the US was spending $12 billion every month in Iraq. That amount has apparently dropped to about $7.3 billion per month. (And well over $1 trillion has been "lost".) Think of how much help US veterans could get with even a fraction of those billions -- of course, if the US hadn't decided "Let's take over this part of the world to enrich ourselves!", they wouldn't be injured (or dead).

I've got an idea: Maybe the US could take some of the hundreds of millions of dollars it openly admits it is giving to the Taliban and use that to care for the men and women it sent into war.

Can anyone argue with that? Or am I being too political?

25 comments:

L-girl said...

Thanks for this.

L-girl said...

Expressing support for the military is the default setting for mainstream society, part of our normal discourse. However, speaking out against military activities -- or simply mentioning a few facts -- well, that's injecting politics into the world of sports, and could we please just focus on the game for a few hours, Mr. Bleeding Heart? I cannot begin to tell you how much this pisses me off.

It happens on every level, including to players. When a player spouts off about veterans and servicepeople, brave men and women, defending blah blah blah, they are caring, upstanding, proud Americans. When Carlos Delgado expressed his desire *peace*, and signed a call to end US bomb testing at Vieques, Puerto Rico, he was lambasted, boo'd, hated.

I saw a columnist wonder if anyone would want to sign Delgado "with his history". I was pleased to see a letter to the editor asking why such "history" - valuing peace over war - should possibly affect Delgado's career.

Philip said...

http://www.thenation.com/article/disposable-soldiers

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joshua-kors/when-the-army-uses-enhanc_b_536727.html

Apropos of the army mistreating its soldiers.

L-girl said...

Good links!

Military Families Speak Out says: Support Our Troops - Bring Them Home Now - Take Care of Them When They Get Here

johngoldfine said...

There is something deeply weird about raising funds privately to care for wounded veterans and their families.

Of course, there's something deeply weird about sending people off to battle with star wars weaponry but armor insufficient to protect soldiers from roadside bombs.

Is it possible that for all our patriotic sanctimony about our warriors, there is also a deep counter-current of hatred for these same soldiers, sailors, and Marines? Hatred that they do what we won't? Hatred that they are officially lionized and we aren't? Hatred that they are often without any other options and we aren't? Hatred that they do what we say even when we don't really think what we say is right?

Maybe hatred explains why we expect veterans to fend for themselves, disappear, be invisible. That's what they were before they signed up! We celebrate Veterans' Day, the thinking may go, so why won't they just STFU and stop making us feel guilty?

redsock said...

Although "invasion" and "occupation" and "slaughter" are more accurate terms, what has been going on in Afghanistan is now the longest war in US history.

(Iraq is currently #3. Another 18 months and it will be #2.)

MacLeodCartoons said...

Wow - great post, Redsock, thanks! Couldn't agree more. The 'Frontline' show called 'The Wounded Platoon' was absolutely awesome - it's still online. Makes you weep. And I agree - it was probably always a bit like this. And this photo essay on 'the Marlboro Marine', the guy in that famous Fallujah photo, is amazing: http://www.mediastorm.com/publication/the-marlboro-marine.

tim said...

Great post. Totally was going to quote what L already quoted. I "love" the double standard set where praising the military is seen as a sign of character/strong moral spirit/etc. but criticizing/speaking out is seen as being a fucking pinko hippie whacko.

As usual, always reminds me of Propagandhi lyrics...they're just so true and so much more succinct and great than I could ever be.

“On this Day of Remembrance let us not kneel and pray for the dead. Let us stand and activate for the living, to rescue those about to die"

And the whole middle/end of this ditty..."decades of bilge water that you’ve let us pump into your homes" - i.e. white hats last sunday at the sox game. all sorts of the rah-rah military recognition things that occur throughout the season, etc. etc.

George said...

Becomes a Canadian and boom! I'm just glad to politics back in the blog where it belongs.

SoSock said...

Yes you are being too political.

And I'm GLAD!

Good points all around. Being the son of a WWII vet, I have no problem remembering and honoring those who have served for our benefit. But I think it can be done without glorifying the act of war itself, which is an abomination to all of humanity, especially to those who have the least to say in the matter, the least to gain, and the most to lose.

L-girl said...

it was probably always a bit like this

It was always like this, and worse. You can trace reports on the disgusting conditions in VA hospitals straight back to the Civil War.

World War I was among the worst ever for war profiteering - companies contracted to supply the troops (on both sides), who would then pocket the money and supply boots with cardboard soles (good for dying in the trenches) and rations mixed with sawdust.

In the present day, reporters aren't even allowed in Walter Reed Hospital anymore without an appointment and a tour guide. Denzel Washington recently donated $2 million dollars to build a new wing and buy new equipment. His generosity is moving and it's a great thing, but why is it needed?

Gareth said...

Excellent post: the reflexively supportive association with the military (I especially dislike the flyovers) is something that makes me uncomfortable, the more so since I'm not actually American. Sport, it seems to me, is one of those great ways to unite people - certainly been a wonderful way for me to feel a part of Boston - but the political gloss added by the decision to align more-or-less unquestioningly with the idea of military-as-good is unfortunate at best.

I don't really mind the military folks who throw out the first pitch, although I don't really enjoy the accompanying narrative about protecting my freedom. Of course, I'd be happy if the announcer said, "wouldn't it be nice if this fine veteran received the support she deserves from the government who sent her overseas," or something even more critical, but that's simply because it happens to tally better with my political leanings...

I find it a very hard line to walk at times, objecting to the principle of military action but wishing to be supportive of those, including my next-door-neighbour, who have sacrificed an awful lot in some cases and who aren't getting the care they now deserve.

redsock said...

New York Times, April 24, 2010:

A year ago, Specialist Michael Crawford wanted nothing more than to get into Fort Carson’s Warrior Transition Battalion, a special unit created to provide closely managed care for soldiers with physical wounds and severe psychological trauma.

A strapping Army sniper who once brimmed with confidence, he had returned emotionally broken from Iraq, where he suffered two concussions from roadside bombs and watched several platoon mates burn to death. The transition unit at Fort Carson, outside Colorado Springs, seemed the surest way to keep suicidal thoughts at bay, his mother thought.

It did not work. He was prescribed a laundry list of medications for anxiety, nightmares, depression and headaches that made him feel listless and disoriented. His once-a-week session with a nurse case manager seemed grossly inadequate to him. And noncommissioned officers — soldiers supervising the unit — harangued or disciplined him when he arrived late to formation or violated rules.

Last August, Specialist Crawford attempted suicide with a bottle of whiskey and an overdose of painkillers. By the end of last year, he was begging to get out of the unit.

“It is just a dark place,” said the soldier, who is waiting to be medically discharged from the Army. “Being in the W.T.U. is worse than being in Iraq.

Created in the wake of the scandal in 2007 over serious shortcomings at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Warrior Transition Units were intended to be sheltering way stations where injured soldiers could recuperate and return to duty or gently process out of the Army. There are currently about 7,200 soldiers at 32 transition units across the Army, with about 465 soldiers at Fort Carson’s unit.

But interviews with more than a dozen soldiers and health care professionals from Fort Carson’s transition unit, along with reports from other posts, suggest that the units are far from being restful sanctuaries. For many soldiers, they have become warehouses of despair, where damaged men and women are kept out of sight, fed a diet of powerful prescription pills and treated harshly by noncommissioned officers. Because of their wounds, soldiers in Warrior Transition Units are particularly vulnerable to depression and addiction, but many soldiers from Fort Carson’s unit say their treatment there has made their suffering worse. ...

***

redsock said...

I don't really mind the military folks who throw out the first pitch, although I don't really enjoy the accompanying narrative about protecting my freedom.

I wonder when the last peace activist, maybe someone like Cindy Sheehan, threw out a pitch at Fenway Park.

Noam Chomsky has worked about 2 miles from Fenway for decades. I doubt he ever got a call.

johngoldfine said...

Howard Zinn was also no stranger to the precincts of Kenmore Square. And a WW2 vet....

L-girl said...

Gareth, excellent comment.

I find it a very hard line to walk at times, objecting to the principle of military action but wishing to be supportive of those, including my next-door-neighbour, who have sacrificed an awful lot in some cases and who aren't getting the care they now deserve.

I suggest that it's not difficult at all. You support the care and rights of veterans, and you would like to see fewer veterans created.

It's no more contradictory than, for example, my being a feminist and supporting women's rights, and supporting peace, and supporting women's rights within the military.

Never let anyone tell you that supporting peace is different from supporting the troops. I want every single one of those troops brought home, alive and intact. I want them to have full care for whatever they need after they come home. What could be more supportive than that?

Gareth said...

I agree entirely on your point re Cindy Sheehan and/or Noam Chomsky: just as I don't mind the military folks throwing out the first pitch I would embrace the political diversity of either of the above or indeed many others, although of course many other people would object vociferously. I wonder if Howard Zinn, for instance, was ever offered the opportunity (other local academics have certainly thrown out first pitches).

L-girl said...

That's an excellent point, re Chomsky, Zinn, Sheehan. Especially Zinn, such a fixture in Boston, and as John says, a veteran himself! But having any of these folks throw out a ceremonial pitch would be considered controversial, political, statement-making.

Cindy Sheehan of all people should be unassailable. But no. The warmongers have tarred her is a wacko, unhinged by grief.

Gareth said...

I think what I meant to say was that I find that a difficult line to walk sometimes in conversation with at least some veterans who have different political stances from me, and who don't necessarily think I can separate my views on military action from support for them as veterans (indeed them as people).

My neighbour, who I like on a great many other levels including his most generous skills with a breakfast skillet, has a bit of a hard time with this and can't quite process the fact that I've donated to veterans' causes while objecting to the campaigns on which those same veterans served!

L-girl said...

I wonder if Howard Zinn, for instance, was ever offered the opportunity (other local academics have certainly thrown out first pitches).

I wish I could send this post and ask him. :(

L-girl said...

Gareth, thanks, now I understand what you mean. I thought you meant that it was difficult for you to reconcile your beliefs. For veterans and military families, yes, that's something else. It's a shame, because it divides us.

Groups like Veterans for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War, and of course MFSO, which I linked to above, are so important for that.

L-girl said...

Oops, wrong link. That was Volunteers for Peace, also an excellent group. Veterans For Peace is here.

Gareth said...

Thanks for these links, L; since I come from a country without much in the way of a strong military tradition, except perhaps for UN service, a lot of these issues are fairly new for me in terms of how to figure out what I think about them. Before I moved to the US, my job involved a lot of work with UN military operations, which involve their own internal contradictions...

johngoldfine said...

Footnote: Howard and I went to Sox games now and then. I share in a season ticket plan. I just inadvertantly punched up an e-mail from Hward, April 2008. I'd been bitching about Terry Francona's nature of playing relief pitching by the book, not gong with the hot hand, having certain pitchers for particular situations and innings. Howard e-mailed back: "Yes, sometimes Francona's tactics are frustrating, like when he takes a pitcher out who's been pitching beautifully and puts in, not Okajima or Papelbon, but Timlin and Tavarez." Smart baseball man, too, Howard Zinn.

--http://www.jimsullivanink.com/content/view/1704/51/

redsock said...

I had Zinn in my comment at first, but I wanted someone who could be at Fenway in 15 minutes if necessary, and it seemed like Chomsky fit the bill better (or more many more years, including recently).