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At War at Home

The Women's Media Center
September 27, 2010

The Veteran Affairs Department defines a service-connected disability as "an illness or injury incurred in or aggravated by military service." As author and advocate Stacy Bannerman argues, the military spouses of those injured are on their own when it comes to treatment.

I was running on a treadmill a few weeks after my husband's brigade got their orders for a second deployment to Iraq.  The military and family life consultant suggested I exercise more and practice deep breathing-it would help reduce stress and anxiety, and provide positive self-care skills for another year of having my husband at war.  Maybe I shouldn't have been doing them at the same time.  She didn't say, and I didn't ask.  I did ask if she had ever been through a deployment herself.  Nope.  She was a civilian, had no idea what it was like.

So I run and I breathe, increasing the speed and incline, running for my husband's life, until I am bawling on the treadmill.  And I can't stop it-any of it.  I can't stop running, or sobbing, or him from being gone again.  I can't stop another endless year of isolation from family, friends, and community.  One more year of double- and triple-checking doors I know I locked-something I never did before.

I can't halt the coming 48 weeks of night recon for strange cars on my street, and how my heart skips a beat when I see a dark, unfamiliar vehicle cruising toward the house.  I hate myself for this, all of it: the worry, weakness, and fear-and the anger that the service-related injuries of military spouses are still being ignored.

Suicide, anxiety, severe depression, stress disorders, adjustment disorders, sleep disorders, anger management issues, and potentially life-threatening social isolation, hopelessness, and despair aren't just for veterans anymore.  Welcome to the reality of the 21st century military spouse, nearly half of whom have reported that their mental health suffered during their spouse's deployment. Here's what one of them said when she testified before the Oregon State Joint Veteran's Committees this May:

I wish I could sit here before you today, and tell you that having been in my husbands shoes as a deployed Marine, that this made my personal experience with Stephan's first deployment easier in some way... but I can't. Being the family member of a deployed service member is far, far, more difficult than being the one deployed.

At a town hall meeting in June, Deborah Mullen, wife of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussed the acute mental health problems affecting military families. Although mental health issues have been well researched and targeted treatments developed for those returning from war, documentation and tailored treatments for military families, particularly spouses, is scarce.

Deborah Mullen said that a lot of the spouses of active-duty personnel tell her they suffer "depression, anxiety, sleeplessness and anger... [and are] literally unable to get up in the morning and get their children to school."

According to the Preliminary Assessment of Readjustment Needs of Military Personnel, Veterans, and Their Families (National Academy of Sciences, 2010):

[S]tudies have suggested that spouses ...  appear to develop mental anxiety or trauma as a result of experiences prior to, during, and after the service member's deployment. (Mansfield, et.al., 2010)... According to both broad and strict screening criteria, spouses and service members reported similar levels of major depression and generalized anxiety disorder.

The military offers on-line counseling, but I am already isolated enough.  Pounding out on my keyboard how I feel to someone who, for all I know, could very well be the mental health equivalent of the Psychic Friends Network is not that appealing.  But we can get drugs, and a lot of us have.  So have our kids.  The number of military kids who have sought outpatient mental health counseling has doubled since 2003, and parental distress in the non-deployed spouse is one of the main predictors of depression in military children.

Military spouses are the hub of the military family-we support our soldiers during deployment, take care of the kids, and are the primary advocates and unpaid caregivers of our veterans. Nearly 70 percent of us also hold down jobs.  If there's an Army of One, it's not the soldier, with all of his tools, troops, training, and support; it's the military spouse.

I am tired of hearing about the uncanny resilience of the military spouse, as if I, somehow, have failed by not emerging unscathed from seven years of war, and more than three years without my husband. Rubber bands are resilient, too, but with time and use, they lose their ability to hold what they once did.  When they are stretched beyond their limits, they snap.  And so it has been for the military spouses who have committed or attempted suicide in the past few years.

By all indicators, military spouses are suffering significant service-connected disabilities, but there are few culturally specific programs tailored to meet our needs, and the VA doesn't have a mandate to serve spouses of veterans.

I got civilian counseling and a prescription, and they gave me a basement, but I had to build my own steps out.  I couldn't find them in any of the booklets, brochures, or PowerPoint presentations that the military provided.  Those documents told me what to expect from-and how to care for-my soldier/veteran, but offered very little for dealing with my own service-related injuries.  I had to research and learn through trial and error what I needed to live through- the war.  Because what I didn't need was to be running harder and faster all by myself on a treadmill that was taking me nowhere.

Husbands Who Bring the War Home

The Daily Beast
September 25, 2010

With thousands of troops now preparing to return, a new crisis may open on the domestic front. Military wife Stacy Bannerman on the husbands she's seen transformed into domestic abusers.

"If you don't hear from me in the next 24 hours, call the police," she whispered, then hung up. My phone read 2:12 am; it was the third call in as many minutes. I tried calling back-no answer. I went back to sleep, angry at Kristi for calling in the middle of the night and scaring me with a single sentence.

The next morning I fired off an email: "I cannot, for the love of God, imagine what you were thinking when you called last night. Please tell me." Kristi and I had become battle buddies at home while our husbands were serving in Iraq in 2004-05. We had cried each time a military family member called with word of a soldier's death or suicide; we grieved at funerals and gravesites, marches and memorials. We wept with and for each another when she or I learned that our husband had been mobilized for another deployment, and again when they finally came home.

Her husband had served three combat tours since 2002. The last one was the shortest yet, a mere 10 months, and Kristi wrote in an email that "he actually came back pretty normal this time!" That was nearly four months ago. When my phone rang in the afternoon early last fall, I saw that it was her, and picked up.

"Mark tried to strangle me last night," she blurted out. "I called you from the bathroom. I locked myself in with the pets. I didn't want him to hurt my puppy. I'm sorry I called. I was just so scared, and I didn't have anyone else to call. I couldn't call the cops."

I had gotten other midnight calls from other military wives, cowering in closets and under dining room tables, dialing for a lifeline to someone outside of their domestic war zone. But this was my friend: strong and smart, she had worked at a women's shelter nearly a decade ago. She knew all the warning signs.

And Kristi's husband adored her. He had no history of domestic violence, no pattern of abuse. He had made no attempts to isolate her from friends, family, or finances. Mark's most recent post-deployment mental health assessment hadn't indicated any issues. There hadn't been a single red flag before Mark wrapped his hands around Kristi's throat and squeezed, which is what makes veterans' household violence unique.

Abuse by combat veterans tends to have its own distinctive pattern that is unlike the recurring power-and-control cycle of abuse described in most domestic violence literature. The journal Disabled American Veterans stated that veteran interpersonal violence often involves "only one or two extremely violent and frightening abusive episodes that quickly precipitate treatment seeking."

"Mark tried to strangle me last night," my friend blurted out.

The majority of studies of treatment-seeking veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or combat-related mental health issues report that at least 50 percent of those veterans commit wife-battering and family violence. Male veterans with PTSD are two to three times more likely than veterans without PTSD to engage in intimate partner violence, according to the VA, which also found that the majority of veterans with combat stress commit at least one act of spousal abuse in their first year post-deployment.

"How are you now?" I asked Kristi. "Where is he?"

"I'm okay, but my throat hurts a little. He's gone. I made him leave this morning. I told him I didn't want to hear from him until he had talked to a counselor or gotten into some kind of treatment. I said that I didn't feel safe with him, and I couldn't...I wasn't..." she sobbed, hiccupping out words, "I wasn't sure if I ever would again... Goddamn it. Goddamn this war."

Kristi and I talked a lot over the next days and weeks-mostly she talked, and I listened. She was seeing a civilian counselor, but spent most of her time at home, shell-shocked and alone. She said her counselor just kept telling her to leave her husband, giving her lectures on the typical cycle of domestic abuse, so she tried to find someone who understood the military and veterans.

She called the military chaplain on post, but he never called back. She called the VA, and asked if they had support programs for wives of combat veterans. They didn't. She called Military One Source, a free counseling assistance program provided by the Department of Defense. But the lady there just started to cry, and told her that she got "these calls all the time. I can't help you. Unless you authorize a report, I can't authorize assistance."

Kristi reached out to another military spouse that lived off post and was married to an Iraq war veteran. She told her what happened, and her friend said that she and her husband had gotten into so many fights, hitting and screaming and throwing things at each other, that she ended up going to the domestic violence shelter. Staff at the shelter told her that they didn't have programs for wives of veterans, and that her husband made too much money for her to stay there, anyway.

Meanwhile, Mark was staying with friends, or sleeping in his office. After several days of silence, they began talking, but she hasn't seen him since that night, and at times, she's wondered if she even wants to. "I miss him, I do," she said. "We've already been apart way too much, but I am so angry, and hurt."

Today, Kristi says that Mark's trying to get help, but it's not easy. He called a domestic violence hotline, and the person he talked to discouraged him from going to the men's group because he doesn't fit the abuser profile. "It's not like he can make a lot of calls about this when he works for 10 hours every day," Kristi says. "His insurance won't pay for him go to a private therapist at night. They said he can only see someone at the base medical center, and he's not doing that. He can't really sneak off for three hours in the middle of the day and drive down to the VA, either."

Most family victims of veteran violence don't file reports with the police or their husband's command. The military is stepping up domestic violence programs and education at military instillations, but the pressure on spouses within the active duty and retired military culture and much of the civilian population to remain silent is especially intense during a time a war. Speaking out about veteran violence at home seems to be perceived as more of a betrayal than the violence itself.

Even so, since 2003, there has been a 75 percent increase in reports of domestic violence in and around Ft. Hood, where the number of soldiers diagnosed with PTSD rose from 310 in 2004 to 2,445 in 2009.

Equally telling is the 2010 Military Family Lifestyle Survey, the second annual poll conducted by Blue Star Families (BSF) of military families with a loved one currently in the service. This year's survey included a ream of questions about returning-veteran violence. I don't think there was a single question on that topic last year.

When I last spoke to Kristi, she said that she had quit praying that she and Mark "would get their old lives back. That's gone." Now, she just prays that the last deployment was, in fact, the last, and that someday, the war will end for them, too.

About 63,000 soldiers will return from combat tours between July and December. According to military statistics, nearly half of active-duty National Guard members, 38 percent of Army soldiers, and 31 percent of Marines report mental health problems upon return from Middle East deployments. If just 20 percent of them have post-combat stress, then it can reasonably be projected that roughly half of those veterans will commit at least one act of severe domestic abuse or interpersonal violence in the coming year. That's approximately 6,300 veterans' wives and kids who are at risk.

President Obama declared that major combat operations in Iraq are over. They may just be starting for thousands of America's military family members.

Names and identifying characteristics have been changed.

Beyond Repair

Sometimes you can do everything right, and it still won’t be enough. Will never be enough. Some combat injuries are beyond repair. Such was the case for Kortney Jensen, an Army Reserve Sergeant, and a decorated Iraq War veteran who was awarded a Bronze Star for valor, and two Purple Hearts for injuries sustained while serving two combat tours. By all accounts, Jensen did everything right, as did his family, friends, and the Salt Lake City Veterans Affairs hospital that was providing his mental health treatment. According to reporter Matthew D. LaPlante, who was invited by the Jensen family to tell their story, Kortney Jensen “was looking forward to the future.”

But the past – the years of war, and the post-traumatic stress that followed - pulled him back, tugged him under, and finally, refused to let go. On July 31, Kortney Jensen ended his life. Kort served his first tour at Balad, Iraq, then the most-attacked base in the country, from 2004-05. My husband was stationed at Balad then, too. So was Laura Becherini, who trained and deployed with Kort. The two began dating after coming home, and Laura would eventually marry Kort, carry his child, and pay tribute at his funeral while tears rolled down her face.

Kort Jensen's wife, Laura Becherini Jensen.
(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune)

I used to keep a list of the names of OIF/OEF soldiers and veterans who had committed suicide. I started it in 2006, long before it was tagged a “crisis,” and caught the media’s attention, years before it became a pressing political problem for the VA, and military posts issued orders for a “Suicide Stand Down.” The first name on the list was Jeffrey Lucey. He wasn’t the first OIF/OEF vet to kill himself, but I knew his parents, Kevin and Joyce Lucey, and I saw what it was doing to them. His death didn’t register as an OIF/OEF combat casualty, but it was, and I wanted it to count somewhere.

I heard from parents, wives, brothers, and sisters, and added more names to the list: Doug Barber, Jonathan Schulze, Chris Dana, Tim Bowman, and Joshua Omvig. Virtually overnight, the list went from a dozen to more than a hundred, and in less than a week it grew to over 300 names. I began receiving e-mails from military family members I had never met, but who had heard about what I was doing, and had also lost a loved one to suicide. The litany ballooned to more than a thousand. Then I had to add an “s” to thousand. I stopped the suicide roll call when I found myself formatting a new spreadsheet to hold the names of the military family members who took their own lives during or after their soldier’s deployment or combat-related death.
Now I leave it to the Pentagon and the VA to keep track of the numbers – 32 active duty soldier suicides in June; 18 veteran suicides per day; 6,500 veteran suicides a year – because I realize that for Kortney Jensen’s family, and all of the other families of veterans who died from battle wounds that couldn’t be closed, the only number that really matters is one.

From left, Kortney Jensen's father, Kelly Jensen, and his sister,
Kelsey Riley and Brooke Gold during Kortney’s funeral service.
(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) 

Author’s Note: To the friends and family of Kortney, especially his wife, my deepest sympathy to you and profound appreciation for Kort's service and sacrifice, as well as yours. I include in that your incredible courage and selflessness in allowing your story - this hardest part of it - to be told. May you and your beloved be held by grace firmly and forever.

The Kort Jensen Memorial account has been set up to assist Kort’s wife, Laura, his daughter, Autumn, and the upcoming birth of baby girl Raven Kort Jensen at America First Credit Union. 1-800-999-3961

Donations can be mailed to:
America First Credit Union
PO Box 9199
Ogden, Utah 84409
Attn: Kort Jensen Memorial Account

To make online banking donations/direct deposits:

Routing & Transit Number: 324377516
Account Number: 9042631

Oregon should stand up for military families
June 02, 2010
OregonLive.com

Military families are breaking under the burden of the war at home. After nine years of war on two fronts, Oregon's military families with a veteran of Iraq or Afghanistan in the household have experienced significant increases – up to 50 percent – in divorce, mental health issues, veteran interpersonal violence and spousal abuse, and post-deployment joblessness of the primary provider. Oregon's military families are the invisible ranks, struggling, suffering, serving in silence and social isolation. Military families need a seat at the table in Salem and a vehicle that leverages their expertise to identify and develop policies to ease their burdens, which are categorically different from the challenges facing our troops and veterans. Oregon should establish a Military Family Advisory Council.

At the recent hearing before the Legislature's Joint Committee on Veterans' Affairs, I made the case for creating such an advisory council, but it was the testimony of Sabena Moriarty, U.S. Marine Corps veteran, National Guard spouse and mother of eight, who told the real story:

"I wish I could sit here before you today, and tell you that having been in my husband's shoes as a deployed service member, a deployed Marine, made my personal experience with Stephan's first deployment easier in some way ... but I can't. Being the family member of a deployed service member is far, far more difficult than being the one deployed. ...

"I was left to navigate this past deployment without a solid network of friends, no family in the area and minimal support from ever-changing Family Readiness Group representatives, who more often than not came into their positions untrained and unsupported by their own infrastructure.

"My experience here at home was a mixed bag of daily frustrations, utter exhaustion, loneliness, fear, anger, stress and confusion bordering on insanity. ... I survived a high-risk pregnancy with gestational diabetes, an unexpected financial crisis that nearly [made] us homeless during the holidays [while my soldier husband was in Iraq]."

Sabena paused, struggling for composure, and then continued as tears rolled down her face:

"[A]s much as I had anticipated it, planned for it, sought out professional help for it and spent many, many sleepless nights trying to fix it, I saw each and every one of my children have extreme behavioral changes related directly to the deployment of their father, ranging from just plain acting badly and acting out, to two suicide scares by one of my children. I can honestly say, without doubt, that this was the most difficult year of my life."

As the spouse of a National Guard two-time Iraq war veteran who is currently attached to an active-duty battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, I can honestly say that this has been the most difficult decade of my life. When we are a nation at war, I understand that there will be sacrifice. But when that sacrifice is being made exclusively and repeatedly by less than 1 percent of the population, perhaps it's more accurate to say that we are a military at war.

The military family is the first line of support for our troops, and the primary unpaid caregivers of our veterans. Mission readiness, morale, military recruitment and retention, and veteran reintegration are all directly affected by the military family. Oregon has a proud history of supporting our troops and our veterans. After nine years of war, it's time to stand up for military families, too.

We put vets, military families at risk
© 1998-2007 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“Let us strive…bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.”

– Abraham Lincoln: Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865

The post-combat mental health care provided by the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration was “created for a military that no longer exists. Today’s system was designed for the 19-year-old, single GI,” according to a statement by Bobby Muller, president of Veterans for America, at April’s historic joint meeting of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs and Armed Services Committees.

Current programs and services were developed in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, when troops typically served one tour-of-duty, and the wound-to-kill ratio was 3-to-1. A recent Pentagon report indicated that the length of tours is an important factor contributing to elevated levels of combat stress. It also found that soldiers who were deployed for more than six months were 1 1/2 times more prone to depression or anxiety than those serving shorter tours.

Repeat, extended deployments of up to 15 months or more are the norm for the 1.6 million troops who have served in Afghanistan or Iraq, where the wound-to-kill ratio is 16-to-1. Being wounded or seeing someone wounded is a significant factor in the development of post-combat mental health problems. Those who have served multiple tours are 50 percent more likely to suffer from acute combat stress.

According to a recent report on the long-term costs of veterans’ medical care, “36 percent of the (Iraq) veterans treated so far — an unprecedented number — have been diagnosed with a mental health condition.”

The most conservative estimates project that at least 350,000 veterans of the “war on terror” will struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder or a diagnosable mental disorder. But these are not the veterans of your father’s day.

Active duty troops who have been deployed since 2001 are, on average, 27 years old; the average age of Guard and Reservists is 33. Approximately 60 percent have family responsibilities. At least 700,000 children have had a parent deployed overseas, but there are scant resources for the stressed kids who are exhibiting social, emotional, behavioral and academic problems.

Nearly 50 percent of troops killed in Iraq have left spouses and children behind, but there are precious few programs offering grief counseling for Gold Star families. Support for family members acting as primary caretakers for their severely injured veterans, including those with polytraumas and traumatic brain injury, is virtually non-existent.

Since 2001, 160,000 female troops have been deployed, and 10 percent of them are single mothers. Women combat veterans are at an elevated risk for PTSD, and often suffer military sexual abuse. But the VA has just two gender-specific in-patient treatment programs.

The VA has barely begun to grapple with the multiple and unique post-combat challenges of almost 400,000 citizen soldiers, the largest ever deployment of Guard and Reservists in U.S. history.

As the wife of a Washington State National Guardsman who fought in Iraq, I have seen firsthand the psychological wounds the war is inflicting in the troops and their loved ones. Yet treatment options are non-existent, insufficient or unavailable. Tens of thousands of veterans have timed out of the two-year window of care guaranteed by the VA. In addition, there are projected cutbacks for veterans care in 2009-2010 and beyond — just when the demand for immediate assistance may crest.

The untreated effects of combat-related trauma last a lifetime, and long-term consequences include: unemployment, depression, divorce, domestic violence, chemical dependency, poor physical health, homelessness, “accidental death,” suicide and even murder.

Thousands of U.S. veterans, children and military family members now meet the definition of an at-risk population: being endangered, as from exposure to disease or from a lack of parental or familial guidance and proper health care.

But government agencies, particularly under the Bush administration, do not have a good track record of quickly and creatively responding to communities in crisis. The private and philanthropic sectors and grass-roots organizations do. Together, we can build a rural retreat in Western Washington to provide support, care and services for the battles that begin when the war comes home.

While the government is playing catch-up, the lives of our veterans, the well-being of their families, and the very fabric of our communities hang in the balance.

Let’s build them the sanctuary they deserve.

When Mental Healthcare Goes AWOL
Progressive Media Project

America must quit treating its National Guardsmen and reserves like second-class soldiers. To an unprecedented extent, President Bush has been relying on the men and women of our National Guard to help fight his war in Iraq. Today, they make up approximately 20 percent of the force, down from a high of 48 percent during the summer of 2005. More than 425,179 guardsmen and reservists have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. The number of citizen-soldiers killed in Iraq is more than four times the number that died in Vietnam, a fact that President Bush did not mention when he recently compared the two wars.

Those weekend warriors who return from Iraq alive do not get the crucial services they need — especially mental healthcare. Many of them were never given post-combat mental health evaluations and are no longer eligible for treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Some have to wait more than two years to get it.

Active-duty troops can get year-round mental healthcare, but Guard members, once demobilized, “have virtually no access to healthcare,” according to Maj. Gen. Timothy Lowenberg, Washington National Guard, who testified at a recent hearing held by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

This hearing took place one day after the Pentagon revealed that 99 Army soldiers committed suicide last year — the highest rate in more than 25 years. Failed suicide attempts outnumbered suicides by almost 10 to one, according to the Pentagon’s report. That report did not include Marines, airmen or soldiers who killed themselves after separating from service, or citizen-soldiers.

Nearly half of all members of the National Guard vets are exhibiting post-combat mental health problems, according to the Pentagon’s Mental Health Task Force.

National Guard Spc. Brandon Jones, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, testified about one of his buddies: “My friend was medevac’d because of the stresses of combat. He was supposed to be on suicide watch. He was supposed to have been receiving counseling and medication. He was sent home alone! He put a gun to his head and took his own life.”

Active-duty troops participate in post-deployment follow-up for three months, and their regular contact with fellow soldiers facilitates decompression and reintegration. By contrast, guardsmen typically have no follow-up in the first three months post-deployment and no formal contact with their unit.

Jones, who suffers from mental injuries as the result of his combat deployment to Iraq in 2003-04, recounted being told that certain resources were “strictly for active-duty soldiers.” He said he was made to feel that counseling services “were a favor” and that “we were taking up a resource meant for active-duty soldiers.”
When combat trauma is exacerbated by this neglect and disregard, the sense of betrayal can set the stage for suicide.

We cannot continue to rely on our National Guard to take on the burdens of warfighting only to abandon them — and their families — when they are demobilized.

The men and women of the National Guard who have been fighting in Iraq know the terrible toll this war is taking on their hearts and minds. They shouldn’t have to fight for the care that this nation promised them when they get home.

 Multiple Deployments May Raise Risk of Military Spouse Suicide
Saturday 24 October 2009

As the effects of eight years of war accumulate in Army families, a growing number of military spouses suffering stress, depression and thoughts of suicide can't get the care they need. There is "a severe shortage of mental-health-care facilities for families, both on post and off, especially as post-behavioral health centers are already filled to capacity with soldiers," according to Army psychiatrist Col. Kris Peterson. (Army News Service, October 13, 2009)

    The Army has been closely tracking the uptick in mental health problems of soldiers, and is collaborating with the National Institute of Mental Health on "the largest study ever of suicide and mental health in the military." ("Study to Seek Clues to Soldier Suicides." The Washington Post, August 10, 2009) Military family members aren't included in the study, which was announced in July, the same month that two spouses of multiply-deployed husbands were reported dead of suspected self-inflicted injuries.

    One of the women was a pregnant 40-year-old Army wife in Fayetteville, North Carolina, who called 911 threatening to harm herself. When the police arrived, she was dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. A few weeks earlier, Army officials began investigating "the recent suspected suicide of a 172nd spouse in Schweinfurt, according to Lt. Col. Eric Stetson, 172nd Infantry Brigade rear detachment commander." ("Some seek mental health checks for spouses of multiple-deployed soldiers." Stars and Stripes, July 5, 2009) Almost three years ago, another Fort Bragg wife committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning, locking herself and her young children in the family car parked in the garage with the engine running. "Her husband, a lieutenant colonel in the Army, had been deployed to Iraq just two months before, just after the birth of the couple's daughter." ("War's Silent Stress: The Family at Home," The Virginian Pilot, August 9, 2009)

    In 2008, Cassy Walton, wife of Houston Army recruiter Nils Aron Andersson, an Iraq War veteran, killed herself a few days after her husband committed suicide.

    During her husband's most recent deployment, Carissa Picard, founder of Military Spouses for Change, wrote:

Here at Fort Hood, Texas ... they cannot give me figures on spouse suicides but they ... see so many attempted suicides in the Emergency Room that the medical staff have become quite adept at handling them. My theory is that these spouses may have reached the point of needing emergency mental health care and this is the only way to receive it.

    Another Army wife said that she was hospitalized upon learning of her husband's second deployment, due to concern that she might harm herself. Military spouse suicides typically aren't made public, so the extent of the problem isn't known. The Army doesn't track suicides by military family members because most occur "off post or involve [family members of] reservists or guardsmen," said Army spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver. (Stars and Stripes, July 5, 2009)

    There is some evidence indicating that spouses of citizen soldiers struggle more during deployments. Guard troops have served the longest tours in Iraq, and a study assessing the effect of deployment on military spouses revealed "Increased spousal distress and poorer coping ... during deployment." The research also found that "Longer deployment was associated with greater adverse outcomes." (Centre for Military & Veterans' Health, 2007) Geographic and social isolation is a major challenge for the Guard spouses who live hundreds of miles from the nearest post, armory or another military family member with a loved one at war.

    Unable to attend the monthly volunteer-driven Family Readiness Groups, the only formal or informal support they receive over the course of a year-long deployment may be a single phone call from the Family Readiness Coordinator. So it's not surprising that "68% of deployed reservists' spouses reported increased stress [as] spouses of Guard or Reserve members may be less prepared than other active duty spouses to cope with [it]." (2008 Health Care Survey of DOD Beneficiaries)

    Among active-duty spouses, a 2008 survey by the American Psychiatric Association found that 40 percent believed their mental health was hurt by their husband's or wife's service overseas. Approximately 25 percent reported regular problems with sleeplessness, anxiety and depression.

    Earlier studies conducted on wives of deployed troops discovered a spectrum of symptoms and diagnoses, such as: depression, anxiety, insomnia, adjustment disorder, nervousness, headaches, dysphoria and changes in eating habits. (Frankel, Snowden, & Nelson, 1992; Milgram & Bar, 1993; Wood & Scarville, 1995; et. al.) "There's a lot of research to show that partners and spouses and kids suffer from secondary PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder]," said Tom Berger, a senior analyst for veterans' benefits and mental health issues for the Vietnam Vets of America.

    Investigations into the mental health of wives of retired veterans found that spouses of combat veterans had high levels of distress, poorer physical and psychological health over a lifetime, and greater social isolation than partners of non-combat veterans. A study on caregiver burden among partners of vets with PTSD stated that nearly half of the wives "felt as if they were on the verge of a nervous breakdown." (Beckham, Lytle, and Feldman, 1996) Research published in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease stated that:

Partners [of combat veterans] endorsed high levels of psychological distress with elevations on clinical scales at or exceeding the 90th percentile. Severe levels of overall psychological distress, depression and suicidal ideation were prevalent among partners.... These findings are compelling since they demonstrate that partners of veterans with combat-related PTSD experience significant levels of emotional distress that warrant clinical attention. (Manguno-Mire, Ph.D., Sautter, Ph.D. et. al., February, 2007)

    A growing number of today's military spouses are married to active-duty veterans, and it's likely that the psychological distress experienced by wives of combat veterans is compounded by bearing the burden of war at home during multiple deployments, but there are painfully few resources focused on serving this population. Soldiers receive training and courses to prepare them for multiple deployments, but spouses do not. Even when clinical care is available, 66 percent of the military spouses surveyed "worried that looking for assistance for their own issues would harm their loved ones' chances of promotion." (American Psychiatric Association, 2008)

    The stigma that prevents troops from seeking mental health help also affects military spouses, some of whom believe that a wife who asks for help is weak, and "not cut out to be an Army wife." Hypervigilant of the fact that it's their soldier, not themselves, repeatedly putting their boots on the ground and their lives on the line, spouses learn to "suck it up," and suffer in silence.

    In the past year, however, more military wives have begun speaking out, including Sheila Casey, wife of the Army's top soldier, Gen. George Casey, Army chief of staff. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in June, Mrs. Casey remarked, "Army families are the most brittle part of the force ... [They] are sacrificing too much, and we can no longer ask them to just make the best of it."

Military Kids in Crisis

A seven-year-old second-grader attempted suicide while his father was serving yet another tour in Iraq. Seven years old. Seven. His mother was one of half a dozen military spouses I have spoken with who have a child that attempted suicide during the fathers’ deployment.

When I was seven, it was 1972, and there were 69,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam. Men were still being drafted and deployed, but not my dad. So I was spared the circumstances that led a seven-year-old to try to kill himself.

Three-plus decades ago, parents were exempt from conscription because of overwhelming concern about the harmful effects of deployment on children. Today, roughly half of the troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan are parents, many of whom have served multiple tours. Repeat deployments stress soldiers and escalate the likelihood of psychological injuries that can last for a lifetime. There is a small, but rapidly growing, body of evidence suggesting that the same is true of their children.

The Associated Press reported that “After nearly eight years of war, soldiers are not the only ones experiencing mental anguish…Last year, children of U.S. troops sought outpatient mental health care 2 million times, double the number at the start of the Iraq war… Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, inpatient visits among military children have increased 50 percent. (“War stresses military kids,” July 12, 2009)

The Veteran’s Administration latest research on mental health issues of troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan shows that “the prevalence of new diagnoses in early 2008 had nearly doubled from four years prior in 2004.” (“Study reveals sharp rise in diagnoses of disorders,” Stars & Stripes, July 18, 2009.)

The same study revealed that approximately 35% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who use the Veterans Affairs health care system were diagnosed with a mental health problem. That figure dovetails perfectly with the results of a suicide prevention project in San Antonio [which] found that “nearly 35 percent of more than 200 children from local military families needed to be treated for mental health conditions.” (Army Reserve Family Programs website, July 2009)

America’s military kids are in crisis, presenting acute, debilitating symptoms of deployment-related stress, virtual mirrors of their parents who serve[d] in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The current rates of mental health problems in OIF/OEF veterans and veterans’ children (35%), and the trajectories of escalation from 2003/4 to 2008 (50%), are identical. Further evidence suggesting a direct, causal relationship between parental deployment and children’s mental health is that when the U.S. “surged” in Iraq, sending more than twenty thousand soldiers and Marines to stabilize the country, mental health hospitalizations of military kids “surged,” too.

Should the White House decide to deploy tens of thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan, there must be a simultaneous stateside deployment of developmentally-appropriate mental health care providers to minister to the children left behind; children who have already carried too much of the weight of war.

Military kids whose parent(s) have deployed are using mental health services at a rate that is three and a half times higher than the percentage of civilian children ages 4 to 17 who seek mental health services, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

If we were a nation at war, rather than a military at war, this would be an American problem. We are not, so it’s a Pentagon problem. Thankfully, the Army is looking at the effects of multiple deployments on children, and taking steps to help. But at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual meeting earlier this month, Col. Kris Peterson, a pediatrician at the Military Child and Adolescent Center of Excellence at Fort Lewis, Washington, admitted that there is a “very large gap” in providing care.

Mental health care resources are spread so thin that soldiers’ kids wait months for psychiatric care, but there’s no Department of Military Children’s Affairs, no powerful lobbyists or highly paid advocates for military kids. They lack the social cachet and political currency of combat veterans, and there’s just no way to spin a suicidal second-grader into a poster child for patriotism. Since there’s not a Walter Reed to tend the invisible war wounds of Army kids, there is no potential lightning rod that could galvanize the People or embarrass the Administration.

In the America I grew up in, we wouldn’t need one.

That America didn’t send soldier-parents to war over and over and over again. That America wanted to protect it’s children from the debilitating effects of a father’s deployment. That America believed – and acted in concert with the belief – that the family unit should not, could not, would not withstand the burden of having a father in harm’s way for a year, much less year, after year, after year. That America would have wept at the thought of a suicidal seven-year-old, and brought the father home immediately.

In this America, a seven-year-old second-grader attempted suicide while his father was serving yet another tour in Iraq. Seven years old. Seven.

Why Oregon needs a military family leave act
By Stacy Bannerman
March 22, 2009 5:00 AM

In a few short months, the Oregon State National Guard 41st Brigade will be deploying for Iraq — again. The majority of those troops are married with children; most of the spouses left behind work outside the home. House Bill 2744, sponsored by Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, would offer protection so that employed spouses are able to spend much-needed time with their loved ones immediately prior to, during and/or after deployment, without fear of losing their jobs or being forced to choose between work and family. I wish I had had that protection last year.

My husband is a Sergeant First Class with the Army National Guard, and an active duty veteran. He was awarded the Bronze Star and Combat Infantry Badge during his first tour in Iraq in 2004-2005. This past summer, his brigade spent several months training at Fort McCoy, Wisc., more than a thousand miles away from home and family, prior to shipping out. I had recently moved to Southern Oregon to accept a new position in order to implement programs to help military families and veterans. I didn't have leave time or travel funds available.

We said our good-byes in August 2008. We are hoping that he comes home in August of 2009. When my husband returns from Iraq, we will have spent at least one year apart. There's no two weeks R&R this time. When he makes it back, he will have 30 days' paid leave. I will not — paid or unpaid.

If we support the troops and, by extension, military families, then passing House Bill 2744 in Oregon, which would provide 14 days of unpaid leave per deployment for military spouses, should be at the very top of the state's to-do list. Because the fact is that the demands of the war on terror and the demographics of the 21st century military are very different from the past, and adapting to those realities must, by definition, include expanding support for military families.

For the first years of the Vietnam War, married men were exempt from the draft, and for the duration of the war, married men with children were given deferments so they wouldn't be deployed as it would constitute too much of a hardship on the families. During Vietnam, the majority of troops served one tour, and comparatively few citizen soldiers served in combat. Today, the bulk of the boots on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan are married. They have served, or are serving, multiple tours; and most of them have children. About 40 percent are citizen soldiers.

The very people that were exempt from the draft during Vietnam make up the bulk of the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are serving longer and more frequent tours than ever asked of the military in this nation's history. And so are their families.

When the draft was in effect, the hardship on military families was deemed so severe that married parents were exempt from conscription. Keep in mind that far fewer women worked outside the home then than today, when almost 70 percent of military wives are employed. Because the majority of those military wives are also parents, when a loved one is about to be deployed, they will save whatever time off, sick leave and vacation days they may have accrued — generally less than two weeks — in case there's a child care or medical emergency while their soldier is gone.

So, really, that's what we're talking about here: two weeks. For the minority of Oregon businesses that would be affected, it's a small hardship. But for the majority of military spouses that would be affected, 14 days would be a great gift. And, for some of us, in the very worst-case scenario, we would spend the rest of our lives wishing for those last two weeks of time with our beloved.

Two weeks. Surely Oregon's military families deserve that.

Stacy Bannerman is the author of "When the War Came Home: The Inside Story of Reservists and the Families They Leave Behind," and the creator and director of Sanctuary Weekends for Women Veterans. Her husband is serving his second deployment in Iraq with the Army National Guard 81st Brigade. This opinion was adapted from written testimony to the House Veterans and Emergency Services Committee.

Bearing the Brunt of the War at Home: Spouse Support Not Sufficient
Written Testimony to the United States Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel

03 June 2009

Submitted by:
Stacy Bannerman, Medford, OR

Army National Guard Blue Star Wife
Author of When the War Came Home:
The Inside Story of Reservists and the Families They Leave Behind
(2006).

Founder/Director of Sanctuary Weekends™ for Women Veterans.
Oregon State Military Family Leave Act (H.B. 2744) Campaign Creator & Director
Recipient of the Patriotic Employer Award, National Guard Commission for the
Employer Support of the Guard & Reserve, April 2009.

---------

My husband is a Sergeant First Class with the WAARNG 81st BDE, serving his 2nd deployment in Iraq.  He was awarded the Bronze Star and Combat Infantry Badge during his first tour in 2004-2005.  We struggled after his first deployment, and were not prepared for him to be deployed again, nearly two years before the Pentagon policy guidelines.

In August of 2008, my husband reported to Ft. McCoy, Wisconsin.  The MOB Station was more than 1,000 miles away.  I couldn’t take time off from work or pay for travel, so I didn’t see him before he shipped out. A national Military Family Leave Act, modeled after Oregon H.B. 2744, to provide 14 days of unpaid leave per deployment for military spouses, would allow us to take time off from work to care for family, spend time with our soldier, and get our affairs in order.  Nearly six months after he was gone, I got a letter from Army Community Service, stating that they had “received notification that [my] Soldier has been mobilized.”  The letter listed several options for “information or assistance,” including:

  • A family readiness support center, requiring at least an hour’s drive. 
  • An Army Community Service Center on an active duty military installation - there are none in Oregon. 
  • Online Army Family Team Building Classes, but when I made several attempts to log on and register at www.myarmylifetoo.com, the system never allowed me to complete registration. 

The Guard Family Readiness Coordinators are typically one of the NCO’s wives.  They receive no pay, little training, and for most, it’s their husband’s first deployment. 

Unique Challenges of Guard/Reserve Families

Citizen soldiers are more likely to be married than active duty troops, and approximately 75% are parents.  National Guardsmen have served by far the longest Iraq deployments of any branch of service.  A 2007 report by the Centre for Military & Veterans’ Health assessing the effect of deployment on military spouses said, “Increased spousal distress and poorer coping was …found during deployment [and] Longer deployment was associated with greater adverse outcomes.”  The Armed Services Committee needs to understand that the combat deployment-related stressors we are seeing in our troops are being mirrored in their families.

Citizen soldiers have higher rates of combat-related trauma, which creates harmful psychopathology outcomes for spouses.  Guard spouses struggle with social isolation, and are more likely to live in rural areas.  Some Guard families grapple with a reduced household income when the military pay is lower than the soldier’s civilian pay, or the remaining spouse has to quit work since there’s no access to base child care, and the Guard offers no child care vouchers.

It’s not surprising, then, that according to the 2008 Health Care Survey of DoD Beneficiaries (HCSDB), “68% of deployed reservists’ spouses reported increased stress [and] Spouses of Guard or Reserve members may be less prepared than other active duty spouses to cope with [it].”

What IS surprising is that Guard and Reserve families still don’t have a seat at the table for most town hall meetings and hearings on military family matters, like the one today.

The HCSDB survey also said that the information and support developed for active duty families is not considered particularly helpful by spouses of reservists.  Other surveys show that Reserve spouses are frequently not even aware of available services. When we are informed, the multiple barriers to access include: time, travel, technology, finances, etc. 

Most health care providers don’t accept TRI-CARE.  The few that do often require a co pay, and typically have no experience with military families.  That’s also true of many of the counselors referred by Military OneSource.  The Military OneSource and Army Family Teambuilding online courses cover topics such as Spouse Battlemind Training, and Financial Planning

A household budget wasn’t the issue for the young mother of two children under the age of three, whose National Guard soldier was preparing for his second tour.  She said, “I thought I was going to kill myself during my husband’s first deployment.”  She’s not alone.

Suicide Attempts/Suicidal Ideation in Military Spouses and Wives of Combat Veterans

I have recently received anecdotal reports from military wives at Fort Hood, Texas, and elsewhere about suicide attempts by military wives and kids.  Here’s what one of them wrote: “They cannot give me figures on spouse suicides, but they see so many attempted suicides in the Emergency Room that the medical staff have become quite adept at handling them.”  Another Blue Star wife provided an eyewitness account of being at the base medical center when a mother brought her son in after he had shot himself because of his distress at having his father serving his 3rd tour in Iraq. 

If, as the military contends, the epidemic rates of soldier suicides can be attributed to relationship and financial problems, compounded by the stressors of lengthy, repeat deployment, and exacerbated by combat trauma, then doesn’t it stand to reason that suicide attempts among military spouses (the other half of the relationship) and household family members would also increase?

The stigma about the mental health impacts of combat deployments extends to military spouses. At least 60 percent of the military wives I know have gotten their first prescription drugs for depression or anxiety during or immediately after their husband’s deployment, but speaking about it is forbidden.  Furthermore, because of the rinse and re-deploy cycle mandated by the operational tempo of the past eight years, we are not dealing with a snapshot in time.  The effects of this war will reverberate through generations. 

Many Blue Star wives are married to combat veterans, and it’s projected that anywhere from 20-40% suffer some PTSD. Only a very few studies have been conducted on the mental health of wives of combat veterans and/or combat veterans with PTSD, but every single one of them found that partners of combat veterans had high levels of distress, poorer physical and psychological health over a lifetime, and greater social isolation than partners of non-combat veterans.

In a study on caregiver burden among partners of vets with PTSD, (Beckham, Lytle, and Feldman, 1996) nearly half of the wives “felt as if they were on the verge of a nervous breakdown.”

A study on “Psychological Distress and Burden Among Female Partners of Combat Veterans With PTSD,” (Manguno-Mire, Ph.D., Sautter, Ph.D. et. al. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, February, 2007) found that:

Partners [of combat veterans] endorsed high levels of psychological distress with elevations on clinical scales at or exceeding the 90th percentile.  Severe levels of overall psychological distress, depression, and suicidal ideation were prevalent among partners...These findings are compelling since they demonstrate that partners of veterans with combat-related PTSD experience significant levels of emotional distress that warrant clinical attention.

So my friend, married with children to a citizen soldier combat veteran has reason to weep, as she did when she entered a VA hospital and saw her future in the defeated faces and slumped shoulders of the wives of Vietnam War veterans.  These women weren’t even married during Vietnam deployments; they only deal with the aftermath.  Today, there are more than half a million military spouses who have ground their way through multiple, extended deployments, while holding down jobs, caring for children, and supporting their veterans.

For the first years of the Vietnam War, married men were exempt from the draft.  For the duration of the war, married men with children got deployment deferments, because it would constitute too much of a hardship on the families.  During Vietnam, the majority of troops served one tour, and comparatively few citizen soldiers served in combat.  The very people that were exempt from the draft during Vietnam comprise the bulk of the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The demands of the war on terror and the demographics of the 21st Century military are very different from the past.  Adapting to those realities must include expanding support for military families from ALL branches of services, with particular attention to the Army, Marine, and National Guard/Reserve wives who are bearing the brunt of the war at home, and are the primary unpaid caretakers of our combat veterans.

Policy/Legislation Recommendations

1.              Establish a Citizen Soldier Family Support Task Force and/or Advisory Board to include family members of same, and empanel Guard/Reserve representatives and family members on future hearings and town hall meetings pertaining to the Armed Services.

2.              Create a Military Family Leave Act, modeled after Oregon H.B. 2744, sponsored by Representative Sal Esquivel, to provide 14 days of unpaid leave per deployment for military spouses, so that employed spouses are able to spend much-needed time with their loved ones immediately prior to, during, and/or after deployment, without fear of losing their jobs, or being forced to choose between work and family.

3.              The National Guard should be removed from operational status and returned to use as a strategic reserve force that can only be federalized in times of legitimate national emergency. 

4.              Guard FRG/FRC needs to provide outreach and services specifically tailored for our circumstances, have paid personnel and/or peer mentors, and programs that address the realities and challenges faced by spouses left behind, as well as wives of combat veterans, which are not presented with the focus from, for, by or about our soldier/veteran.

Saying grace like God is at the table

Published in the Medford Mail Tribune
November 27, 2008

Author's note: Nearly 600 soldiers from Jackson, Josephine, Douglas and Coos counties will begin training in February for deployment to Iraq with the 41st Brigade Combat Team of the Oregon Army National Guard. My friend's son is one of them.

Dear Julie:

That boy of yours, the one you love and protect like a mama bear? The one who is in so many ways the distillation and purification of the very best of you? Yes, him. He'll be gone in a few months, and this time — the days between "now" and "then" — will soon start to accelerate in a way you can't even begin to imagine. Yet the year or more that he's gone will feel like forever. So I'm going to tell you what I wish someone had told me before my husband's first deployment.

Let the little things go. Trust me, you'll forget all about them when he's gone.

Take pictures, lots of them, even if he doesn't like it. (You've got a Mom card; use it.) You're going to want to compress a lifetime's worth of memories into a few weeks. It can't be done, but you'll try anyway. This has the potential to make everybody crazy.

The male veterans in your life will reminisce about their time in the service, speculate about the current wars and what they would do, and/or spend hours watching war movies and documentaries on the History Channel or DVD. Beer will likely be involved. This will pass.

The women in your life will alternately hover and retreat, spending much time talking about nothing, before finally circling down to asking, "How are you?" Wine will likely be involved. This will not pass.

Well-meaning friends and extended family members who aren't directly impacted will offer up anecdotes about something they've experienced as comparable to what you're going through. It isn't. They're trying to connect. Let them.

Well-meaning acquaintances, upon learning of your son's deployment, will ignore it, change the subject, talk politics or launch into an anecdote about something they've gone through as comparable to what you're going through. See above.

When your boy deploys, you will, in effect, have a seat in the emergency room. You'll know he's in there, but you won't know if he's OK or exactly when he's coming out until he's home.

You may experience mood swings, which could include snapping at loved ones, barking at friends, and alienating strangers. This is perfectly normal. As a reference point, here's what Teri Wills Allison said during her son's deployment:

"I am not a pacifist. I am a mother. By nature, the two are incompatible, for even a cottontail rabbit will fight to protect her young "¦ I granted myself permission to be stark raving mad for the length of his deployment "¦ Right now, you might want to be careful about cutting in line in front of a middle-aged woman." Vent when you need to; weep when you must. You've got 55 acres.

That Military Family Leave Time your employer provides? It's there for a reason. This is it.

Make sure all of his legal documents are in order. Try not to think about what it means. Put them someplace safe and forget about 'em.

His mind will deploy before his body does. When he comes home, it works in reverse. Nothing you can do about that.

Your soldier is a young man, and doesn't want you fussing over him. Your soldier is a boy, and wants you fussing over him.

All of those things you are sure he already knows? Tell him again.

If you want him to remember, make it brief.

And this Thanksgiving, say grace like God is at the table.

Veteran Domestic Violence Remains Camouflaged

Run Date: 04/13/09
By Stacy Bannerman
WeNews commentator

(WOMENSENEWS)--The alleged abuse of pop star Rihanna at the hands of singer Chris Brown is a "huge, teachable moment," according to Oprah Winfrey, who did a show about the topic. Meanwhile, the military community and veterans' organizations want to improve education and reduce stigma about the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. Then why are they so silent about PTSD and the escalation of Veteran Domestic Violence?

"Domestic violence among veterans has reached historic frequency," Helen Benedict writes in her new book "The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq." "And post-traumatic stress disorder rates appear to be higher among Iraq war veterans than among those who have served in Afghanistan or even, many believe, in Vietnam. One of the symptoms of this disorder is uncontrollable violence."

In January of this year, The New York Times reported that charges of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault have risen sharply at Fort Carson, Colorado.

But the fear of repercussions and the immense challenge of going against the Camouflage Code of Silence, which defines the Armed Service's refusal to acknowledge the war on military wives and women veterans, ensure that most domestic abuse is not reported.

Furthermore, the Department of Defense does not track off-post police reports or claims filed in civilian courts.

Epidemic Minimized

Given the unprecedented deployments of more than half a million citizen soldiers who do not live on base, but have nearly twice the rates of combat-related trauma as active-duty troops and are more likely to be married, it seems obvious that the epidemic of veteran domestic violence is significantly higher than reported.

Case in point: Days after selecting her wedding dress, the fiance of a Marine Corp. Reservist with severe, untreated, post-traumatic stress disorder came home to find her apartment on fire, having been torched by her betrothed, after a series of harassing, threatening, and violent encounters. She filed for, and was granted, a restraining order. But she doesn't count.

The connection between post-war trauma and veteran domestic violence has been extensively documented in earlier wars. Veterans with PTSD are two-to-three times more likely to commit intimate partner violence than veterans without the disorder, according to the Veterans Administration. What remains unspoken is that spouses and girlfriends of male veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder are two-to-three times more likely to be victims of domestic violence than women involved with male veterans who do not have the disorder.

The disregard for domestic collateral damage is evident in this comment from Mike Matthews, a retired Air Force officer studying troops in combat for Army Chief of Staff George Casey. Matthews said soldiers with PTSD "tend to abuse alcohol and their spouses more upon returning from the war zone." Whiskey or Army wife: six of one, half a dozen of the other.

Hidden War Casualties

In the past five years, hundreds, if not thousands, of women have been beaten, assaulted, or terrorized when their husbands, fiances, or boyfriends got back from Iraq. Dozens of military wives have been strangled, shot, decapitated, dismembered, or otherwise murdered when their husbands brought the war on terror home. These women are as much casualties of war as are the thousands of troops who killed themselves after combat.

There have been multiple spousal murders at Fort Lewis, Fort Bragg and military bases across the country. The victims are human footnotes, not worthy of a place in the national dialogue about veterans, post-war trauma and domestic abuse.

The men who enlisted knew that putting on a uniform meant being willing to die for their country. But as a military wife, I can assure you that not one of us took an oath at the altar saying that we were willing to die for our country at the hands of our husbands.

There is nothing loving, honorable, or patriotic about taking a beating for your nation. I am appalled at the mentality within military culture and civilian society that seems to believe that talking about one of the most horrendous home front costs of war is somehow unpatriotic and anti-veteran.

Being pro-veteran shouldn't require complicity with or tacit consent to the increasing incidents of domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault perpetrated by veterans. If domestic violence is never acceptable, then we can't make exceptions when military wives and girlfriends are the victims.

If we're serious about addressing domestic violence, PTSD, and taking care of this country's veterans, then we have to get honest about what's really going on in military families. Sometimes the truth hurts. But, to quote Oprah, "Love shouldn't."

Keeping the Promise of One America:
Becoming the people we have said that we are.

Address to the Jackson County Democratic Party on Inauguration Day, 2009.
Jackson County went Blue for Barack by 47 votes, the first time that the Republican stronghold has ever had a Democratic majority in an election.

This is what democracy looks like! We are gathered together on this historic day to celebrate our victory, and as much as we all want to look forward, and move on with hope, we must take a moment to consider how far we’ve come. It’s said that social cycles and national movements occur in 40 year cycles.

In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King gave one of his most proclaimed speeches; forty years later, this country elected its first Black President. We, the people, elected him; we, the people, said no to fear, and yes to hope. We, the people, said that we are ready to become a nation with integrity.

With today’s Inauguration, America grew up. A mature being, a wise nation, engages what they know. They live in alignment with their stated values. Authenticity is the hallmark of coming of age.

Back to the Mountaintop

Suppose for a moment that the mountaintop spiritual awakening for this nation happened in the Sixties. As a collective, this country was closer than it has ever been to embodying the principles of love, compassion, and justice. The slogan of the era, All you need is love, was more than an ad campaign. People actually seemed to believe it.

We listened to President Kennedy’s petition for personal responsibility and selflessness when he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” We paid attention when Dr. King used words like love and compassion, and yes, even ethics.

The higher vision being proposed made dreams seem possible. We opened our minds and engaged our hearts. We brought some soulforce to the table. But with their deaths, it seemed as though those words, the very concepts and energy that they embody, were wiped out as well.

The visionaries were murdered and the Dream began to dim. Love was replaced with fear, because to love might just literally cost us our lives. The hope, the idealism, the momentum of the Civil Rights movement that had the power to shift the very heart of this nation went underground.

We moved it out and shut it down as it became increasingly clear that it was dangerous. And it was dangerous because it was radical. It was dangerous because it was powerful. It was dangerous because it represented a truth of a much higher order and, when it was activated, the electricity of soulforce would light up this nation.

We exchanged the Dream for dollars because it felt safer and easier to focus on materialism. Money is tangible, it’s mine, and maybe it can buy me love. Stock options are so much simpler to secure than social change.

Television became the opiate of the masses, moving people off the streets and into private homes and personal concerns. We traded collective social activism for special interest groups and the cult of the individual. We quit marching together and began driving alone, leaving soulforce at the side of the road. The call for service was relegated to something to be considered on the weekend or in retirement, if then.

In the interests of pursuing our personal, private good, which is often greed, we discarded even the possibility that there might be common goals and values, common issues and concerns.

For decades, we have looked outside of ourselves for someone or something else to make things better. We have waited for another great visionary to appear. After the deaths of King and the Kennedys, many of us have prayed for new leadership. That new leadership is here: we are the answer to our prayers.

Restoring Soulforce

When we choose soulforce once more, as adults this time, and with a whole new generation of children that deeply need us to be who we have said that we are, we will unleash the power of One America that lies dormant within us now. Intellectual strategies and legal remedies cannot keep the promise we make to ourselves today. There is nothing in any of our external systems that will show us the way. We have the answer within ourselves, in a far different place than we have been taught to look.

Soulforce is spiritual wisdom and genuine compassion moved out into the nation to change the world. Today is not the end, it’s the beginning; and our commitment to service isn’t over, it’s just begun.

In order for us to keep the promise of One America, it demands that we participate as the fully actualized and powerful beings that we are, that we can be. As much as we may attempt to hide from this, to pretend that our actions do not matter while a part of us is still desperately hoping that they do, we cannot escape the fact that we are even now creating history.

We have to take responsibility for our actions and honor the sacred in all life. We need to end forever the idea that one person can’t make a difference and stop the absurdity of reaching for the lowest common denominator as the benchmark for behavior. We must find or create the moral courage within ourselves to do the right thing when it’s not easy, knowing that to take that next step will change everything.

We have to become willing to lay our love on the line, to speak the truth with compassion. We must be humble enough to believe that we, too, have been called to some higher purpose; that there is some sacred ground for life. We must:

Have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits. Dr. King, Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech

And being so audacious, having the audacity of hope, we will quit accepting the unacceptable. The unacceptable is that we are building more prisons than schools; the unacceptable is that the number of youth living in poverty in this, the wealthiest nation on the planet, is the highest it has been, ever, in the almost quarter century that such records have been kept. The intolerable is that we are pursuing a policy of valuing things more than the well-being of people and the planet. The unthinkable is that we are a nation at war, again. And once again, the basic premise is false, and the American public, not to mention the rest of the world, is asking what we’re still doing in Iraq, anyway. We will be remembered in spite of ourselves.

Out of the Many, One

In the aftermath of September 11, we got a glimpse of One America. At least for an instant, we manifested E Pluribus Unum: out of the many, one. Our deep-seated recognition that we are one human community was evident around the world. But we came together out of fear. Today, we came together, united with the country, joined with the world, out of love. With today’s Inauguration, this nation demonstrated it’s commitment to keeping the promise of One America. But our work has just begun. In the days and months and years ahead, we will be tested, asked if we can keep our promise of One America. Our answer then must be, as it has been for the months and years that got us to this day: “Yes, we can!”

Broken Military Marriages: Another Casualty of War

Published January 23, 2009, on alternet.org

by Stacy Bannerman

More than 13,000 military marriages ended last year, and mine came dangerously close to becoming one of them, but it wasn’t because of some gays getting hitched. Military marriages are at increasingly high risk of failure, and combat is the cause.

Most of the boots on the ground in Iraq are worn by Marines, active duty Army, or Army National Guard. They have served the most and longest deployments, seen the most combat, and suffered the most injuries, both physical and psychological. In 2008, the active-duty Army and Marines also had a higher percentage of failed marriages than the Navy or Air Force, whose rates held steady or decreased slightly.

Divorce rates for women in the Army or Marines were nearly three times that of their male counterparts, which speaks volumes about the effect of war on women, as well as the gender roles, societal expectations, and resiliency of their husbands. The fact that the Veterans Administration has just a handful of gender-specific treatment programs for women, and there’s been scant attention, research, and support for women veterans speaks for itself.

A study published in Armed Forces & Society revealed that male combat veterans were 62 percent more likely than civilian males to have at least one failed marriage. In 2006, Kansas State University professor Walter Schumm surveyed 337 soldiers at Fort Riley who had recently returned from Iraq. 6.1 percent said they would probably divorce, and 12.2 percent indicated that they would be divorcing. By comparison, two to four percent of civilian marriages end in divorce each year.

Due to the unprecedented deployments of citizen soldiers and the unique challenges faced by the families they leave behind, divorce rates among Guard and Reservists may be even higher than active duty. The military doesn’t monitor the divorce rates of citizen soldiers, who are more likely than active duty troops to be married, and nearly twice as likely to have combat-related stress. According to SOFAR (Strategic Outreach to Families of All Reservists), “20 percent of returned married troops are planning a divorce, [and] problems in relationships in families are four times higher after deployment.”

When “weekend warriors” are mobilized and deployed for a year or more (a Minnesota Guard unit served 22 months, the longest of the war) their families face the same strains as active duty families, without even the minimal formal support, informal peer networks, and child care services available on base.

Scattered across states, Guard spouses struggle with social isolation, and 40 percent of military spouses said that their mental health worsened during deployment. Some Guard families grapple with a reduced household income as the result of a military wage that is lower than the soldier’s civilian pay, or because the remaining spouse has to quit work to take care of the children. Financial stressors are challenging for any family; they are especially so for military families, whose emotional reserves are depleted from paying the compound interest on multiple deployments.

The August wedding of Ellen DeGeneres and Portia di Rossi won’t strain heterosexual marriages or raise the risk of divorce. The August departure of thousands of National Guard soldiers to train for a second tour in Iraq, nearly two years before they were eligible for redeployment, according to a Pentagon policy, most certainly will.

The Department of Defense doesn’t track the marriages that end after separation from service, but I know, or know of, at least 100 Iraq War veterans who have gotten divorced. More than half of them filed after they were discharged or retired. These broken bonds might not “count” statistically, but they counted to the men and women and children whose hopes and dreams - of love, stability, and a two-parent home – began to die in Iraq.

Military marriages are casualties of war, not gay matrimony, and they won’t be preserved by barring the doors of the Church or the State to same-sex couples. If Americans want to protect marriage, they should be working to support veterans and military families, and end the war in Iraq.

McCain’s Noble Cause

Published on Sunday, May 4, 2008 by CommonDreams.org

by Stacy Bannerman

It took nearly three years, and it came from a Presidential wannabe rather than President Bush, but Cindy Sheehan finally got an answer to her question: “What is the noble cause?” It’s oil.

Senator McCain, speaking at a campaign stop, said, “I will have an energy policy which will eliminate our dependency on oil from the Middle East that will then prevent us from having ever to send our young men and women into conflict again in the Middle East.” The Senator subsequently attempted to cover up his Freudian slip (or “senior moment”) by claiming that he was referring to the 1991 Persian Gulf War, not the current conflict. Sorry, Senator, but that cat’s just not going back.

What sort of mental and moral gymnastics does McCain perform in order to justify his ongoing support for a war he claims to want to prevent in the future? Is it the same floor routine that he uses when refusing to endorse various bills, such as the G.I. Bill and equal dwell time, which would benefit veterans and military families, while professing his patriotism and support for the troops?

I understand quite well that the Senator served and was badly injured in Vietnam and endured years of torture as a P.O.W. I get it. I also get that the Senator says he wants to avert another war for oil in the coming years. But our troops and their families are fighting, dying, and dealing with the fallout from the Iraq war at this specific juncture in the time-space continuum. Senator “Marty McFly” McCain needs to park the time travel machine and address the Iraq debacle in the “fierce urgency of now.”

The Senator said that he “regret[s] sincerely the additional sacrifices imposed on the brave Americans who defend us. But let us honor them by doing all we can to ensure their sacrifices were not made in vain.” (April 11, 2007)

If, as the Senator insinuated, the war in Iraq is a war for oil, which he purports he would “prevent” with the fuzzy energy policy of his hoped-for Presidency, yet he continues to support the current war for oil, it begs the question: If not then, why now?

The rinse and redeploy cycle that keeps sending our loved ones to fight and die in a war for oil does not honor the sacrifice of the fallen. It is an unconscionable violation of the legitimate purposes and constitutional laws governing the use of the military. Every additional deployment adds moral insult to psychic injury and bodily harm. Each day that the war continues perpetuates the blatant disregard for the bravery and commitment of our troops and reduces the cost of their lives to mere pennies.

The average American adult male human body contains approximately 1.5 gallons of blood. In 2004, when Cindy’s son, Spc. Casey Sheehan, was killed in Iraq, the price of a gallon of gas was $1.85, and crude oil accounted for 47% of the cost, according to the Energy Information Administration. Casey’s blood, traded for a gallon and a half of gasoline, retailed for $2.78, the cost of the crude oil - 47% - was valued at $1.31.
Given that, it’s not surprising that Cindy sat down in a ditch in Crawford, Texas, waiting for President Bush to tell her what her son’s sacrifice had been for. What’s surprising is that Ms. Sheehan ever got up again.

What is appalling is that Senator McCain and Congress is considering a package deal supplemental to ensure that our troops remain engaged in a war for oil while Americans complain about the price they’re paying at the pump. Crude doesn’t begin to describe it.

Stacy Bannerman is the author of When the War Came Home: The Inside Story of Reservists and the Families They Leave Behind, (Continuum Publishing, 2006). She is longtime member of Military Families Speak Out www.mfso.org. Her husband is preparing for his second deployment to Iraq with the 81st Brigade.

HOUSE VETERANS AFFAIRS SUBCOMMITTEE ON HEALTH

February 28, 2008

Mental Health Impacts of Iraq War on the Families of Guard/Reserve Veterans.

TESTIMONY of

Stacy Bannerman, M.S., author of “When the War Came Home: The Inside Story of Reservists and the Families They Leave Behind.” (2006) Wife of National Guard soldier/Iraq War veteran, Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Badge recipient

________________________________________________________________________

During the few hours it takes for this historic hearing to conclude, another veteran will commit suicide. Most likely it will be a veteran of the Guard or Reserves, “who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan [and] make up more than half of veterans who committed suicide after returning home from those wars.” (The Associated Press, February, 2008)  There will be at least seven family members left to deal with the adjustment, loss, anger, and grief.  Because their loved one was a citizen soldier, they will do so alone.  They will be forced to live with the pain of their preventable loss for the rest of their lives, without the formal and informal mental health services and support available to active duty military families. Just as they did during all phases of their loved ones’ deployment.

I am the author of “When the War Came Home: The Inside Story of Reservists and the Families They Leave Behind.”(Continuum Publishing, 2006)  I am currently separated from my husband, a National Guard soldier who served one year in Iraq in 2004-05.  Just as we are beginning to find our way back together, we are starting the countdown for a possible second deployment.  Two of my cousins by marriage have also served in Iraq, one with the MN Guard, a deployment that lasted 22 months, longer than any other ground combat unit. My other cousin, active duty, was killed in action. 

My family members have spent more time fighting one war - the war in Iraq - than my grandfather and uncles did in WWII and Korea, combined.  When the home front costs and burdens fall repeatedly on the same shoulders, the anticipatory grief and trauma – secondary, intergenerational and betrayal - is exponential and increasingly acute. Nowhere is that more obvious than in Guard and Reserve households.

Our loved ones perform the same duties as regular active troops when they are in theatre, but they do it with abbreviated training and, all-too-often, insufficient protection and aging equipment.  It was a National Guardsman who asked then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld what he and the Army were doing "to address shortages and antiquated equipment" National Guard soldiers heading to Iraq were struggling with.

Guard families experience the same stressors as active duty families before, during, and after deployment, although we do not have anywhere near the same level of support, nor do our loved ones when they come home.  Many Guard members and their families report being shunned by the active duty mental health system.  Army National Guard Specialist and Iraq War veteran Brandon Jones said that when he and his wife sought post-deployment counseling, they were “made to feel we were taking up a resource meant for active duty soldiers from the base.”  One Guardsman’s wife was told that “active duty families were given preference” when seeking services for herself and her daughters while her husband was in Iraq. 

The nearly three million immediate family members directly impacted by Guard/Reserve deployments struggle with issues that active duty families do not.  The Guard is a unique branch of the Armed Services that straddles the civilian and military sectors, serves both the community and the country.  The Guard has never before been deployed in such numbers for so long.  Most never expected to go to war.  During Vietnam, some people actually joined the Guard in order to dodge the draft and avoid combat.  Today’s National Guard and Reservists are serving with honor and bravery, each and every time they’re called.  But when the Governor of Puerto Rico called for a US withdrawal from Iraq at the annual National Guard conference, more than 4,000 National Guardsmen gave him a standing ovation. (“Troops cheer call for Iraq withdrawal.” The Associated Press, August 26, 2007)

These factors are crucial to understanding the mental health impacts of the war in Iraq on the families of Guard/Reserve veterans, and tailoring programs and services to support them.

Several weeks after my husband got the call he was mobilized.  There was very little time to transition from a civilian lifestyle and employment to full-time active duty.  The Guard didn’t have regular family group meetings, and I couldn’t go next door to talk to another wife who was going through the same things I was, or who had already been there, done that.  Most Guard/Reservists live miles away from a base or Armory, many are in rural communities.  We are isolated and alone. 

At least 20% of us experience a significant drop in household income when our loved one is mobilized.  This financial pressure is an added stressor.  The majority of citizen soldiers work for small businesses or are self-employed.  Some have lost their jobs or livelihoods as a direct result of deployment.  The possibility of a second or third tour makes it difficult to secure another one.  Guard members have reported being put on probation or having their hours cut within a few days of being put on alert status for deployment.  Some of us have to re-locate.  Some of us go to food shelves.  Where we once had shared parenting responsibilities, the spouse left behind is now the sole caregiver, without the benefit of an on-base child care center.

             During deployment, we withdraw and do the best we can to survive.  Anxious, depressed, and alone, we may attempt to cope by drinking more, eating less, taking Xanax or Prozac to make it through.  We close the curtains so we can’t see the black sedan with government plates pulling into our drive.  We cautiously circle the block when we come home, our personal perimeter check to make sure there are no Casualty Notification Officers around.  Every time the phone rings, our hearts skip a beat.  Our kids may act out or withdraw, get into fights, detach or deteriorate, socially, emotionally, and academically.  There are no organic mental health services for the children of National Guard and Reservists, even though they are more likely to be married with children than active duty troops.

There are a growing number of military families with what psychologists are beginning to recognize as Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder. Secondary Trauma may occur when a person has an indirect exposure to risk or trauma, resulting in many of the same symptoms as a full-blown diagnosis of PTSD. These symptoms can include depression, suicidal thoughts and feelings, substance abuse, feelings of alienation and isolation, feelings of mistrust and betrayal, anger and irritability, or severe impairment in daily functioning. (“Walking On Eggshells.” Mary Tendall and Jan Fishler, Vietnow Magazine.)

One woman wrote, “My husband is a Reservist and, foolishly or not, we did not expect him to be activated and sent to Iraq. During my husband's deployment I had anxiety, depression, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, and hair loss from the stress. I had to cut back on my work hours because I couldn't concentrate.”

            When our soldiers come home, they are given a perfunctory set of questions about their mental health status, and then they are given back to us.  50% of Guard/Reservists who have served in Iraq suffer post-combat mental health issues, and the government has known for decades that Reservists are at significantly higher risk.

Numerous studies conducted in the 1980’s and 90’s on the impact of combat deployments in citizen soldiers found that “Being a reservist, having low enlisted rank, and belonging to a support unit increased the risk for psychiatric breakdown. [And] Loss of unit support [post-deployment] was considered a potential major factor for PTSD…In a study of National Guard reservists …nearly all subjects reported one or more PTSD-specific symptoms 1 and 6 months after returning from the Persian Gulf area.” (Possibilities for Unexplained Chronic Illnesses Among Reserve Units Deployed in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Southern Medical Journal, December 1996.)

             The VA has done nothing about it.  I question the practice of commissioning reports and conducting studies if you’re not going to apply what you’ve learned. Perhaps rather than forking out another $5-10 million for another study to define a problem that somehow never fully gets defined, much less treated, you could use that same amount of money to fund community-based centers providing our military families and veterans three years of the free services that they are begging for – individual, high touch, weekend and evening, experiential, off-post – but aren’t currently available.

Perhaps in addition to soliciting the fee-for-service advice of people with Ph.D.’s in Psychology, you could commission the people with Doctorates in Deployment, the military families and veterans who have lived with it, worked with it and walked through it.  They know what’s needed, what helps, and what the emerging issues are.  I knew the suicide rates of citizen soldiers who served in Iraq were going to be off the charts when I started hearing from their family members more than two years ago. 

Although it stands to reason that the branch of service with the highest rates of PTSD would be the same one with the highest rates of suicide, it seems that the Department of Veterans Affairs had to do a formal analysis in order to determine that citizen soldiers are more likely to kill themselves as war veterans. A Military Citizens Advisory Panel could likely have saved lives, dollars and years of pain.

“How Do You Mourn for Someone Who Isn’t Dead?”

After our loved ones return from deployments that have all the precursors for post-combat mental health issues, (civilian casualties, longer than six months, significant combat exposure, enlisted rank, citizen soldier, loss of unit support post-combat, etc.) we’re given a pamphlet and told to “give it time.” While we’re reading and waiting, we’re losing our veterans, our marriages, and our families. One former spouse said:

This war cost me my family. When my husband returned from Iraq it quickly became apparent he was suffering from PTSD. He became increasingly verbally and mentally abusive to not only my daughter and I, but many of his subordinates at work who either quit or he had fired. He refused to admit he had a problem, and since the military does no mental status follow-up [for Reservists] he hasn't received any treatment for his condition. As a consequence, my family is destroyed. My son isn't being raised by his dad and my daughter lost the only father she knew. I know a divorce isn't as bad as losing my husband to death, but I can honestly say the man I married died in Iraq.

We are also given the option of five free sessions with a civilian provider.  Here’s what one Guard wife wrote about that:

When my husband returned from Iraq, we were offered five free “helping” sessions- they were careful to stress that it was not counseling or therapy- after which, we were on our own. In our first session, my husband talked about the nightmares, the sounds that would trigger a flashback or a rush of fear. Our “helper” chose to focus that particular session on….our financial situation. She was a civilian, and was thoroughly unfamiliar with any of the issues facing military families, much less returning vets.

And so, my husband entered private therapy, at a cost of $85.00 a week which we often didn’t have. I was no longer a part of this process. The impact of his deployments on our family was no longer addressed. We were simply supposed to continue on as if nothing had changed. But we had been changed. Rob came back hardened, angry. I was angry myself, bitter and resentful. We both experienced PTSD.

Any reminder of his deployment, such as hearing about a group deploying or returning from Iraq, would send me into sobbing panic attacks. I experience what I called “home-front flashbacks”, sudden overwhelming feelings of isolation, fear, depression, helplessness, triggered by commercials, news stories, or a particular song on the radio. What use were these “helping sessions” when our “helper” had no concept of what life was like for a military family?

This is what life is like for another military family living with a combat veteran:

Back in May, Kyle suffered a PTSD dis-associative state of mind [and] held me at knife point [and] wouldn't let me leave; he had me and our family sitting on the floor and was speaking to us in Arabic. This ordeal lasted about an hour and a half. He calmed down with the help of a Vietnam veteran friend [on] the phone… I took the kids next door and … the police showed up, woke my husband and arrested him.

The veteran’s unresolved traumatic re-enactment resulting in domestic violence – which is at least three to five times more prevalent in households with combat veterans - is the nucleus of intergenerational trauma, which the children and grandchildren of these veterans will live with for the rest of their lives. There are countless military family members suffering in silence all across America.  The wife of one profoundly injured Marine with polytrauma asked, “How do you mourn for someone who isn’t dead?” The physical, financial, emotional and psychological challenges faced by these caregivers are immense, and they have little – if any – support from the system. (“How the US is failing its war veterans.” Don Ephron and Sarah Childress, Newsweek, March 5, 2007.)

The greatest grief is borne by the Gold Star families, and often the parents and siblings have little, if any, support.  If the parents are divorced, one inevitably gets pushed aside.  This was the case for a grieving mother who contacted me, desperate for help for herself and her surviving sons, she told me, “I will spend the rest of my life in a mild state of depression.”  Another Gold Star mom wrote:

My son, Spec Jeremy W. McHalffey served in the Army National Guard and was killed in Iraq, January 4, 2005.  Jeremy's older brother Michael will never get over losing his brother. Jeremy owned a home in Little Rock, Arkansas and I planned to retire there in 5 years to live near both my sons. I don't want to retire to a grave site. We plan a family vacation to the shore each year. We have spent 3 years without Jeremy and it never gets any better.

But, “the military health system lacks the fiscal resources and the fully trained personnel to fulfill its mission to support psychological health” of the troops and their families, according to a Department of Defense mental health task force report released in June of 2007. 

When I went to the VA, I spoke with a program officer, who said, “It’s the wife’s responsibility to set the tone for the whole household.” A veteran’s advocate asked me, “Why don’t you take care of him?” The VA’s mental health professionals preach to the wives about resilience, but they aren’t the ones being woken up at three in the morning because their husband has shot the dog, or is holding a gun to your head, or a knife at your throat. 

Expecting the wife or family member to treat the veteran violates the professional standard prohibiting family members from treating their own; places the burden of care on the family; creates a highly unfair and unethical expectation that we are trained mental health providers; discounts our reality; excuses the VA from fulfilling its responsibility to our veterans; and places an immoral burden upon the family member, who is likely already suffering undue mental health and financial consequences as the result of having their loved one deployed.

The legacy of guilt and self-blame this creates is profound.  Virtually every family member I have talked to who lost their veteran due to suicide or divorce has said, “I thought if I loved him enough, I could fix him.”  That the VA and the military continues to lay this on the wives and family members, in practice, if not in policy, is a gross moral and ethical violation and an abdication of responsibility.

It Is a Covenant, and It Has Been Betrayed.

After being denied care, having their symptoms dismissed, or put on waiting lists of up to half a year, dozens of Guard/Reserve veterans have committed suicide, including Jonathan Schulze, Jeffrey Lucey, Chris Dana, Tim Bowman, and Joshua Omvig.  Given the documented failure (CBS News, November 2007) of the Veteran’s Administration to track and disclose veteran’s suicide rates in a timely and forthright manner, and the fact that they don’t monitor Guard and Reserve, it is extremely likely that the actual number is in the hundreds, if not a thousand or more.

When the VA repeatedly proves to us that we cannot trust them to take care of our loved ones, we feel betrayed.  The 60% of military family members of a veteran who has served in Iraq or Afghanistan and say that the war in Iraq was not worth the cost feel betrayed. (Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll, December, 2007) When our loved ones are committing suicide after they are refused treatment by the VA, we feel betrayed.  When the Army’s mouthpiece, Col. Elspeth Ritchie, says, “People don’t tend to suicide as a direct result of combat…failed personal relationships are the primary cause,” then goes on to further blame military families by stating, “Families are getting tired.  Therefore, they’re more irritable, sometimes they don’t take care of each other the way they should, are not as nurturing as they should be.” (Associated Press, 2008) WE FEEL BETRAYED.

There is no dictionary large enough to describe what you feel when you learn that your loved one has fought, died, been wounded, is on the ground or on alert to return to fight in a war that was launched on 935 lies. (The Center for Public Integrity, and the Fund for Independence in Journalism.) 

According to the wife of an Ohio National Guardsman:

My husband served with his National Guard Unit on Victory Base during 2004. [He] was deployed six months after our wedding... Neither of us believed that this war was just … The rage and anger at the sacrifices being asked of military families, coupled with the severe emotional strain of worrying about my husband in Iraq pushed me to a breaking point. We were able to receive a hardship discharge for him to come home because [of] my severe depression and anxiety…The shadows of the war are omnipresent in our lives still. We both seek therapy.

             Mental health experts refer to this as betrayal trauma, which occurs when “the people or institutions we depend on for survival violate us in some way. Betrayal, as a form of deception, is the breaking or violation of a presumptive social contract (trust) that produces moral and psychological conflict within a relationship amongst individuals, between organizations or between individuals and organizations.” (Wikipedia)

When it is life and death and your loved one on the line, when your husband, father, mother, brother, daughter or son is fighting for country and Constitution, military service is no mere contract.  It is a covenant, and it has been betrayed.

The Guard and their families are keeping their promise to this country.  It’s time for this country, and the VA, to keep its promises to them.  Please provide our veterans and families the mental health care and services they deserve.

Closing Remarks:

One of the most critical elements in promoting the short- and long-term wellness of the combat veteran is the military family.  Yet, Guard and Reserve families are generally left to fend for themselves during and after deployments.  In order for the VA to genuinely care for America’s veterans, it must attend to the needs of the families who are left behind during combat deployments, enduring the stress, trauma, violence and grief of war, struggle with marriage and family cohesion and reintegration, and serve as the first line of support for the soldier during deployment and for the veteran upon his/her return. 

However, within the Veterans Administration, treatment benefits are tied to the veteran. Military spouses cannot access services at the VA until their soldier has acknowledged his/her trauma, registered with the appropriate agency, and provided paperwork/given permission for the spouse to receive assistance or attend a support group, which may or may not be available at that time. 

The majority of the affected families/loved ones (parents, children, siblings, significant others, etc.) are beyond the scope and scale of mental health care and services provided by the military, the Veterans Administration, and Vet Centers.  Military ONE Source allows for a maximum of six visits, and Guard/Reserve families, extended family members, siblings and unmarried partners and significant others of the soldier’s family often do not have private insurance, cannot afford the co-pay or out-of-pocket expense, and are unable to find an adequate mental health provider. Few accept TRI-CARE (military medical plan); fewer still have the experience, training and awareness to address the particular needs of the military community during a time of war.  Such inadequacies put the health, well-being and future of military family members and their veterans at risk.

Gaps in Mental Health Services for Families of Guard/Reserve Veterans:

  1. Mental health resources available for military family members are typically designated for active duty dependents.
  2. Counseling/support is tied to the veteran, who may or may not be seeking services AND may or may not be willing to provide permission required in order for spouse to obtain care.
  3. General disregard for veteran impact on family, reintegration issues, and effect of combat-trauma on family members during and after deployment.
  4. DOD/VA subcontractors are often civilian providers with no previous experience with military families or therapeutic skill in counseling individuals struggling with the psychological stressors and strains of all phases of combat deployments.
  5. No programs available for parents, extended family members, or gender-friendly events for male spouses/ partners of female Reservists.
  6. No weekend or night sessions, when Guard/families are typically available.
  7. Lack of ad hoc or informal support opportunities.
  8. No exposure to wives/parents/military family members/veterans who have lived through combat deployments.
  9. Virtually no services available in rural areas.
  10. No regular phased follow-up i.e. 6, 12, 18, 24 months post-deployment.
  11. Attempting to apply active duty models to citizen soldiers fails to recognize and address challenges and issues unique to families of citizen soldiers.

RECOMMENDATIONS (Annotated – Proposals Available Upon Request)

The Military Citizens Advisory Panel (MCAP):

Real support for citizen soldier veterans and their loved ones cannot be achieved without the perspectives of those who are directly affected by combat deployments.  It is critical that the expertise and experience of military citizens, i.e. family members from all branches of services, retired active duty and reserve, combat and non-combat veterans, etc., who are able to speak about the realities of being a veteran, the effects of combat deployments, and the battles that begin when the war comes home, is brought into the policy, program and oversight processes of the Veterans Affairs Committee. Because they are the people they represent, the Panel members primary concern is for service men and women, their families and communities, and the veterans of the Armed Forces. They know first – and most accurately – what is occurring with our veterans, the shortfalls in care and services, emerging issues, suggestions for improvement.

Peer-to-Peer Support Groups:   Peer counseling prior to/during/after deployment by wives of combat veterans/military families/parents/combat veterans.

Implement Adopt-A-Family program - Involve community members in taking a Guard/Reserve family under its wing thoughout all phases of combat deployment.

Conduct Home Visits: Many Guard/Reserve families lack transportation or cannot easily travel to Guard Armories, and approximately 40% of veterans live in rural areas.

Fund Community-Based Weekend Retreats/Experiential Programs & Non-Clinical Services, including:

  • Veteran Mentoring/Peer Counseling
  • Family Group Counseling
  • Off post readjustment/reintegration counseling for families of wounded warriors
  • Grief Counseling for Gold Star families
  • Developmentally-appropriate play therapy for children
  • Respite & Bereavement Support: Taking care of the caregivers
  • Outdoor/Experiential Programs

Develop & Implement Family-Systems Theory Programs/Services

By definition, a family system functions because it is a unit, and every family member plays a critical, if not unique, role in the system. As such, it is not possible that one member of the system can change without causing a ripple effect of change throughout the family system. (Source Unknown)  “The entire family suffers when a Veteran’s mental health needs are not acknowledged and resolved; it can strain even the strongest of marriages.  ...the longer the problem is not treated, the complicated the treatment becomes due to complications that arise from the lack of treatment.  As a result, our families suffer through crisis on a daily basis.” (LTC Carol Seger, WAARNG State Family Programs Director, August 20, 2007)

FAST FACTS: National Guard & Reserve Veterans and Their Families

  1. Since the onset of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 400,000 members of the National Guard and Reserve have served in the Middle East (counting each deployment as unique), and more than 600,000 have been mobilized since 2001. (Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, September 2007).
  2. Assuming that each of those troops has seven immediate relatives–such as parents/step-parents, spouses/partners/significant others, siblings and children–the wars have closely affected more than 2,800,000 Guard/Reserve family members. (Formula adapted from “War’s Invisible Wounds.” Zak Stambor, APA Monitor on Psychology, Vol. 37, No.1, January 2006.)
  3. Almost 50 percent of the Guard and Reserve who have served in Iraq are experiencing combat-related mental health problems, as are 38 percent of Soldiers, and 31 percent of Marines. (“An Achievable Vision: Report of the Department of Defense Task Force on Mental Health” June 2007, Defense Health Board, Falls Church, VA, p.6)
  4. National Guard and Reserve troops who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan make up more than half of veterans who committed suicide after returning home from those wars.” (The Associated Press, February 2008).
  5. No U.S. forces have ever been compelled to stay in sustained combat conditions for as long as the Army units have in Iraq. In World War II, soldiers were considered combat-exhausted after about 180 days in the line.” (Lieutenant General William E. Odom, (Ret.) 05 July 2007)

Key Issues: Impacts of Combat Deployments on Military Families.

·      The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) released a study looking at families of enlisted Army troops with verified reports of child maltreatment.  The report revealed that among female civilian spouses, the rate of maltreatment during deployment was more than three times greater; the rate of child neglect was almost four times greater; and the rate of physical abuse was nearly twice as great.  (“Child Maltreatment in Enlisted Soldiers’ Families During Combat-Related Deployments”  Deborah A. Gibbs, MSPH; Sandra L. Martin, PhD; Lawrence L. Kupper, PhD; Ruby E. Johnson, MS. JAMA 2007; 298: 528-535; Vol. 298 No.5, August 1, 2007)

·  School counselors, teachers, therapists and military family members report that a growing number of military kids are exhibiting social, emotional, and behavioral problems during and after deployments.  These problems are intensified if their soldier returns with a physical or psychological wound. (“Communication is Key for Children of Deploying Parents”  Bilyana Atova, Army News Service, August 15, 2007)

·      Divorce and separation rates among returning Iraq war veterans are fast approaching double the rate of peacetime divorces. (“Deployments Stress Marriages.” Christine Metz, Lawrence Journal-World & News, October 8, 2007) The wife and child(ren) of the veteran suffer significant impacts of separation/divorce, including a major drop in household income, stress and expense of re-location, loss of friends, loss of sense of identity/connection to military, etc, in addition to the usual stressors associated with the dissolution of a marriage and the break-up of a family.

·     According to the Miles Foundation (hometown.aol.com/milesfdn), domestic abuse in military households is already five times greater than the rate of civilian domestic abuse, and the numbers do not take into account assaults that occurred off-base, or involving domestic partnerships/common law spouses, etc.  It has been shown repeatedly that violence in the home and on military bases and installations increases during wartime, and spikes in the first year post-deployment, as evidenced in the spate of spousal murders at Ft. Bragg in the first months of redeployment from Afghanistan. 

·     Preliminary research, self-reports and anecdotal information suggest that upwards of 30% of military family members are exhibiting war-related “secondary trauma,” which shares some of the same symptoms as a full-blown diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder, including emotional withdrawal, increased anxiety, depression and poor anger management.

·      With an unprecedented wound-to-kill ratio of nearly 16 to 1 and the prevalence of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) parents (particularly mothers), spouses, grandparents and siblings are becoming the primary caregiver of their grievously injured veteran and have scant support or services.

War IS a Women’s Issue, Senator Clinton

by Stacy Bannerman

I spoke with Senator Clinton back in 2006, when I spent almost three months spearheading Operation House Call, a daily vigil in the summer sauna of Capitol Hill, with a growing number of combat boots representing what Congress’s decision to “stay the course” in Iraq was costing our troops. The Senator is smaller and softer in person than she is on TV, but I guess that’s the benefit of living in the political and financial Green Zone that affords the luxury of denial; that insulates and isolates an elected official from having to face the human and domestic costs of war.

In an effort to cement herself as the candidate of choice for working- and middle-class women, Senator Hillary Clinton is reaching out to those constituencies by touting issues like child care, Social Security and health care. Speaking to audiences of women political activists, she focuses almost exclusively on domestic policy, framing her presentations in terms of family, health and home, rarely, if ever, addressing foreign policy. Perhaps Hillary thinks women shouldn’t worry their pretty little heads about things like war; that women should just leave that up to the men folk. Or perhaps it’s because the Senator has no real grasp on precisely how the seemingly-interminable occupation of Iraq and the repeat, extended deployments are destroying the American home front.

As the (separated) wife of an Iraq war veteran, and a card-carrying member of Military Families Speak Out, I have no buffer. I live daily with the fall-out from this war, I hear regularly from the women who are suffering in silence, rambling e-mails dripping with the psychic blood that is being shed all over this nation, long phone calls from weeping wives, worried about their children, their husbands and their families, but rarely, if ever, themselves. We are America’s uncounted, unrecognized collateral damage, left to fend for ourselves in a system that denies our experience and dismisses our existence.

Our numbers include: the mother in Seattle who is caring for - and bearing witness to - the grief and despair and suicidal thoughts of her young son who left blood, brains and body parts in the sands of Iraq; The wife of an Iraq war veteran who held her at knifepoint in front of the children while speaking in Arabic in a PTSD-induced disassociative fugue; the wife and child who are living in the dining room of a friend’s house because her husband, a veteran, is in jail after bringing home weapons (not unusual) and the military has cut off his pay; the wife who has endured multiple violent assaults by her husband, whom the VA has discontinued treatment for because he’s been issued orders for another tour in Iraq; the sister who is taking care of her brother with severe traumatic stress on a waitresses salary because his parents kicked him out and the VA won’t help and he’s got nowhere else to go.

Among the “acceptable losses” is the wife who asked, “How do you grieve for someone who isn’t dead?” She is the primary caretaker of her Marine, suffering severe polytraumas, while also taking care of their three children and her elderly mother. Another casualty is the wife of Oregon Army Reserve Supply Sergeant Matthew Denni, whose PTSD contributed to him butchering his bride and stuffing her corpse in a footlocker.

We’re branded “unpatriotic” if we talk about this in public. When we dare to tell the truth, we are slammed and slandered for being anti-military and not supporting the troops. Our loved ones are the troops. Without them - and, make no mistake about it, us, the women who were drafted when our loved ones enlisted and are serving without pay, support or recognition on the home front - there would be no military. And now we’ve got a female Presidential candidate who is trying to secure the women’s vote by talking to women about “women’s issues,” like family, and children and health care, but refuses to address the domestic disaster that is descending upon military families across this country as the direct result of America’s foreign policy. Senator Clinton, aren’t we women, too?

Stacy Bannerman, M.S., is the author of When the War Came Home: The Inside Story of Reservists and the Families They Leave Behind, (Continuum Publishing, 2006). She can be contacted at stacy@stacybannerman.com.

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Iraq Veterans Deserve More Than Post-Combat Negligence

By Stacy Bannerman
Special to The Seattle Times

Sunday 14 October 2007

WHEN the appalling conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center were made public, accompanied by grim photos of moldy walls, crumbling ceilings and dirty, bug-infested rooms, it sparked a national outcry and immediate action. Unfortunately, it has been comparatively quiet about the nearly 300 Iraq war veterans who have committed suicide, and thousands more who have attempted it.

America cannot afford the price of failing to care for veterans with combat-related mental-health problems. The systemic breakdown in mental-health care is so profound that military families and veterans groups have filed lawsuits against the Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth have filed a class-action suit on behalf of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The suit claims there are as many as "800,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans said to suffer or risk developing PTSD." The groups charge the VA with collaborating with the Pentagon to avoid paying PTSD benefits.

Joyce and Kevin Lucey of Belchertown, Mass., are suing the VA for negligence, contending that their son Jeffrey, a Marine Reservist, hanged himself after the military refused to treat his post-traumatic stress disorder.

Yet, in conversations about the dire state of care for deployment-related trauma, the question I am most often asked is some variation of "Why should I care?"

Not so long ago, I believed that when it came to veterans' assistance, demonstrated need was justification for treatment. I thought that the unprecedented number of troops returning from Iraq with post-combat mental problems — 31 to 48 percent, compared with the estimated 30 percent for Vietnam veterans — was evidence enough.

Because this country drapes itself in the flag of family values, I thought the increased divorce rates among U.S. troops might be sufficient motivation. I presumed that the growing body of evidence attesting to the skyrocketing rates of child abuse, neglect and maltreatment during combat-related deployments would be enough to spur this nation to tend to the invisible wounds of war.

I imagined that the escalating incidents of post-deployment domestic violence and murder — domestic abuse in military households is around five times the civilian rate — would seal the deal. And then there are the public health and community costs incurred when the police, fire and emergency medical technicians are called. The costs escalate more when the courts get involved, when guardians for the children are assigned, supervised visitation is required and foster-home placements have to be made.

I figured that making good on this nation's commitment to support the troops, and keeping America's promise to take care of our veterans, would be sufficient closing arguments.

I was wrong. It seems that the double bottom line on most Americans' minds is economic and national security, both of which are compromised by negligent post-combat care.

According to the Department of Labor, the unemployment rate for young Iraq war veterans is triple that of their civilian counterparts. Almost half of the 425,000 citizen soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan experience deployment-related mental-health problems, according to the Department of Defense Mental Health Task Force.

Because their post-combat mental-health care is limited or nonexistent, when citizen soldiers return to their civilian jobs, they bring their psychological problems along.

In Washington and other states with large concentrations of civilian veterans in the work force, untreated war trauma means higher turnover, increased absenteeism, elevated health-care and human-resources costs, and reductions in performance and productivity. It also means a diminished tax base, lower housing values and fewer consumers.

Those things may be the least of our worries. The No. 1 reason for military attrition is untreated mental-health problems, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. If we don't take care of the troops who have seen combat, they will, quite literally, not be available to take care of us.

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America’s Military Kids Are Latest Collateral Damage
by Stacy Bannerman
August 6, 2007

The children of the troops serving in Iraq are experiencing significant collateral damage at home, according to two staggering new reports on the occurrence of child maltreatment, neglect, and abuse during combat-related deployments.

The results of a three-year study recently published in the American Journal of Epidemiology stated: “War has a profound emotional impact on military personnel and their families. The rate of occurrence of substantiated maltreatment in military families was twice as high [during] deployment.” Most victims were four years old or younger and the perpetrator was usually the civilian parent who remained at home while a spouse was deployed.

An even greater finding of abuse was uncovered in a similar study published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Looking at families of enlisted Army troops with verified reports of child maltreatment, the study found: “Among female civilian spouses, the rate of maltreatment during deployment was more than three times greater; the rate of child neglect was almost four times greater; and the rate of physical abuse was nearly twice as great.”

Skyrocketing stress levels in the parent left behind are one of the key factors contributing to elevated rates of neglect and abuse, according to the research. The JAMA study found that the primary offenders were non-Hispanic white civilian females, who, according to other informal surveys and anecdotal reports, are also reporting higher rates of secondary post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). War-related “secondary trauma” shares some of the same symptoms as a full-blown diagnosis, including emotional withdrawal, increased anxiety, and poor anger management.

The extended deployments of 15 months or more and the reduced dwell time in between deployments are also exacerbating tensions on the home front. Another issue is the Army’s rather haphazard approach to providing respite childcare, family support, and prevention services and education.

“The Army is not really grasping what’s going on with the kids,” said Beth Pyritz, a 27-year-old mother of five whose husband, an Army specialist, returned to Iraq in June. It’s his third deployment in six years, and this time he’ll be gone for at least 15 months. His previous tour-of-duty lasted 10 months, during which time their six-year-old began acting out, and their eldest, an Honor Roll student, failed a grade.

Military kids are experiencing social, emotional, behavioral and academic problems that range from mild to severe, including bed-wetting, anti-social behavior, and juvenile delinquency. In the most acute cases, adolescents have been placed in psych wards or put on suicide watch while their parents were at war.

Well over one million children have had a parent deployed in combat since 2001, but there are few developmentally appropriate programs available, and the Veterans Administration and Vet Centers do not serve individual family members. The Army does provide some voluntary resources, such as Family Readiness Groups, but these are clearly not enough. And although the TV series, “Army Wives,” portrays a close-knit group of women on base, the reality can be quite a bit different. Beth’s family has been stationed at Ft. Eustis in Virginia for less than a year, and she says, “There’s not a lot of camaraderie with the wives.”

Resources and support, both formal and informal, are even fewer and further between for the families and children of the more than 400,000 National Guard and Reservists who have been deployed. Five years into the war in Iraq, and the military is just now beginning to recognize that these citizen soldiers and their families are struggling with different challenges from those experienced by active duty troops, and have often been more detrimentally affected by long deployments.

At the state and local level, some are taking steps to help these families cope. While the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs is just beginning to conduct research on the impact of deployments in Guard families, particularly the ways in which schoolchildren aged 6-12 have been affected, a Boston-based group is piloting a program for families of citizen soldiers who served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Strategic Outreach to Families of All Reservists (SOFAR) provides psychotherapy at no cost for the parents and the kids. Jaine Darwin, a psychologist who co-founded the service, said, “Unlike regular Army children who tend to be in a school with other Army children, the children of Reservists are more isolated and have … no one focusing on helping them to cope.”
For the littlest ones, who are most often the targets of maltreatment, immediate intervention is especially critical. The early years are the formative ones, and the mother-child interaction in the first 18-24 months of life literally helps shape the growth and development of the prefrontal cortex of the child’s brain. When that relationship is defined by neglect and abuse, the brain lobes responsible for higher intelligence, creativity, and adaptability, will be under-developed. So while the doubling—or more—of child maltreatment that occurs when a parent is in a combat zone is deeply disturbing in and of itself, it also has significant, long-lasting social ramifications. It certainly gives new meaning to that old bumper sticker: War is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things.

Think not forever of yourselves, O chiefs, nor of your own generation. Think of continuing generations of our families, think of our grandchildren and of those yet unborn, whose faces are coming from beneath the ground.” Peacemaker, Founder of the Iroquois Confederacy, circa 1000 AD.

 

Support the Troops?  My Ass.

Stacy Bannerman
Published on Huffington Post
July 16, 2007 

As a charter Board member of Military Families Speak Out www.mfso.org, I’ve been supporting the troops by advocating for veterans and protesting the policy that got our military into – and is keeping us in – Iraq for almost five years.  I’d say America, but when less than one percent of this country is bearing the burden of the war in Iraq, it’s not really a collective, national endeavor, now is it?  The military is at war; the vast majority of this nation is scrambling to purchase an iPhone and conducting “business as usual.”

I have not, as of yet, resorted to any type of profanity in my activism.  But I have reached a point where, to paraphrase Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House: “Political correctness is off the table.”  There is not now, nor has there ever been, anything politically correct about the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq.  And I am no longer able to be tolerant of the flagrant manipulation and misuse of the phrase “Support the troops,” which is being hijacked to serve political agendas.

Support the troops?  My ass.  When I hear that slogan being bandied about by civilians and politicians who don’t have anyone in the Armed Services, I ask them, “What, precisely, have you done to support the troops?”

I have yet to hear a single response from any American who doesn’t have a loved one in harm’s way that demonstrates any concrete action, any significant sacrifice whatsoever.  Perhaps they’ve been too busy shopping.

As for the politicians that I have met with over the past four years - on my own dime and time - when I can actually get their attention, the responses are underwhelming. That military family’s and veteran’s requests to meet with their Representatives are being turned down with greater frequency now than when the war began speaks volumes.  The fact that Senator John Warner, Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has reneged upon and subsequently refused every single request for a meeting made by Military Families Speak Out, screams of betrayal.

(For a recap of the scheduled meeting that didn’t happen, go to http://www.stacybannerman.com/articles-commentary.shtml#Anchor-47857)

The Republicans, who are trying to brand themselves as the “Family Values/Keep America Safe/Support the Troops” party recently blocked a bill put forth by Virginia Democrat Jim Webb, who’s got a son in Iraq, which would have placed strict limits on National Guard and reserve deployments as well as mandating more downtime at home before active-duty combat troops are returned to battle. (Bob Geiger, July 11, 2007)

So the folks who’ve never served, with no family members in uniform, presume to know better than those of us that do? Wow.  That’d be like me, someone without kids, telling parents how to parent. 

And if they support they troops, then it follows that they’d listen to the top-ranking military officers, like retired General Barry McCaffrey, who said, “We are in trouble in Iraq. Our forces can’t sustain this pace, and I’m afraid the American people are walking away from this war.”

  Professing to support the troops means implementing policies that actually support them.  But apparently that’s too much to ask.

According to the Associated Press, “The Defense Department put U.S. troops in Iraq at risk by awarding contracts for badly needed armored vehicles to companies that failed to deliver them on schedule, according to a review by the Pentagon's inspector general.” (July 11, 2007)

 An investigation by USA Today revealed that the Pentagon repeatedly refused appeals from officers in Iraq to “provide the life-saving Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, or MRAP, for patrols and combat.” (July 16, 2007)

My husband is an Iraq war veteran, and like tens of thousands of others, our marriage has been broken by this war. In part because the National Guard had no post-combat mental health programs in place, in part because:

No U.S. forces have ever been compelled to stay in sustained combat conditions for as long as the Army units have in Iraq. In World War II, soldiers were considered combat-exhausted after about 180 days in the line. They were withdrawn for rest periods. Moreover, for weeks at a time, large sectors of the front were quiet, giving them time for both physical and psychological rehabilitation. (Lieutenant General William E. Odom, (Ret.) 05 July 2007)

Yet Congress keeps sending them back, extending deployments, abandoning our veterans, destroying our military families and continuing an unwinnable occupation.

            Democrats and Republicans alike have jockeyed for position in the political horse race by cloaking themselves in the colors of “Supporting the Troops.” They do this while voting for funding and policies that clearly undermine America’s men and women in uniform, and the families that keep the home fires burning.

         It’s time for the people who were elected to serve as the “people’s representatives” to come out from behind that camouflage line, and show some real “support for the troops.”

 

 

Stacy Bannerman is the author of When the War Came Home: The Inside Story of Reservists and the Families They Leave Behind, (Continuum Publishing, 2006). She is the wife of an Iraq War veteran, and is currently working to establish The Sanctuary for Veterans & Families (501.c.3) in western Washington www.sanctuaryvf.org.  She can be contacted at stacy@stacybannerman.com.

 

 

After Half a Year on the Hill: What I Know For Sure
by Stacy Bannerman
April 16th, 2007

            I’ve been in Washington D.C. since February 4th, my longest deployment yet in four years of the battle to end the war in Iraq. I have spent half of the past 12 months, cumulatively, stationed in our nation’s capital. I was here in May of 2006 to take on Richard Perle for the documentary “The Case for War,” airing Tuesday, April 17, as part of PBS’s America at the Crossroads series.

            A few weeks later, Congress voted to “stay the course” in Iraq, and I returned to launch Operation House Call to show them exactly what “staying the course” cost the troops and military families. For about eight weeks, I and other military and Gold Star family members stood in front of the Cannon House building, weathering torrential rains and record-setting heat and humidity with a growing number of empty combat boots. We met with dozens of politicians and staffers, many of whom said, “We can’t do anything, we’re the minority party.”

            I was in D.C. when that officially changed on January 4th, 2007. Several weeks later, Speaker Pelosi bragged, “there’s a new Congress in town.” Now, after ten weeks on the Hill, here’s what I know for sure:

            When members were ‘released’ to vote for the supplemental appropriations bill, the “Out of Iraq” Caucus became the “Stay in Iraq” caucus. New branding materials are in the works.

            When the people that got elected on a strong anti-war platform voted to continue the war, they broke a sacred trust with their constituents. Keith Ellison (D-MN), Jim McGovern (D-MA) et. al., clean out your desks and return the keys to your offices. Immediately.

            When Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA), a long-time, outspoken opponent of the war, cannot look me in the face as he passes by on his way to vote for the war, I know that he knows that what he’s doing is wrong.

            The rationalizations for continuing to fund the war under the patently false guise of “supporting the troops” are just a different page from the same book that was used to build the case for war.

            The verbal gymnastics involved in explaining an increasingly deadly and futile occupation are yet another indication that the policy is fundamentally flawed. A moral good requires no justification.

            Repeatedly telling me that you never got my written requests for a meeting before relenting and whipping out your hard copy of my letter greatly annoys me and makes you a liar.

            A bully in a blue suit is a bully in a blue suit, regardless of the color of the tie.

            The majority of politicians, like far too many Americans, are primarily - often exclusively - concerned about their own immediate self-interests. They will act accordingly, even when it causes harm to others or violates their professed values.

            That President Bush refuses to heed the calls of the troops on the ground, the people of America and Iraq, and the advice of top military and policy experts, while repeating patently false statements about the war speaks volumes about him. That he is still in office speaks volumes about us.

            We have got the politicians we deserve.

            When the office of the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), specifically requests that I research, write, and submit a full proposal for the establishment of the Military Citizens Advisory Panel (MCAP) -“modeled after Citizens Advisory Boards and Commissions, which are a staple of local, county and state government, the 9-12 member non-partisan panel will be comprised of a group of credible and diverse individuals with direct connections to the United States Armed Forces during the Iraq War and the war on terror.” - and I do, and then I come to D.C. at my own expense for follow-up meetings, I expect the Speaker’s office to follow up. What I do not expect is for them to dodge my calls, refuse to respond to e-mails, and ignore my appeals to discuss further development on the proposal that they asked me to prepare. Given what the MCAP represents, that’s not just rude, it’s politically stupid.

            The Senate Armed Services Committee should reconsider who’s testifying at hearings. Case Study 1, Exhibit A: Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on February 6, 2007, with Secretary of Defense Gates and General Peter Pace, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff.

            When asked about the frequency of National Guard deployments, Gates said, “The plan is to have them deployed for just one year out of every five.” On January 11, 2007, the Pentagon (which, if I am not mistaken, is where Gates hangs out) lifted the time limit preventing Guard and Reservists from serving more than twenty-four total months on active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan. In early April, another 13,000 Guardsmen, including units that have been home for less than three years, we’re called up for round two, which, by the way, would be the new/now standard of 15 months.

            Case Study 1, Exhibit B: When Senator Susan Collins (D-MA), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, expressed concerns about National Guard readiness and equipment, Gen. Pace assured her that he had full “confidence” in the preparedness of the Guard for Homeland Security. I wonder who was more surprised when, several weeks later, Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, head of the Pentagon's National Guard Bureau, said 88 percent of the Army National Guard in the United States is "woefully under equipped" to meet homeland security needs?

            Veterans better buy their own damn Band-Aids, because it doesn’t look like post-combat care is going to improve any time soon, according to the statement by Senator Akaka (D-HI), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs:

            This is the committee’s second hearing on seamless transition. There is much talk about seamless transition, but it is far from clear that the talk is matched by effective action. This is not a new issue, but it seems … that there is more talk than action. We have entered the fifth year of this war. I cannot help but wonder why so many things are still being planned, still being discussed. Why is it that DOD and VA still can not make the handoff of wounded servicemembers more effectively? Why do budgets still not reflect that caring for veterans is part of the cost of war? (March 27, 2007)

             A nation that does not take care of its veterans has got no business whatsoever making new ones.

            My current tour-of-duty in D.C. will end soon, and I’m not sure if I’ll be back. Like the troops on the ground, I haven’t had a lot of time between deployments. And I doubt that I can stomach another go-round of fighting for meetings with – and action from - politicians and staffers whose message has become, “We don’t have to do anything. We’re the majority.”

 Stacy Bannerman is the author of When the War Came Home: The Inside Story of Reservists and the Families They Leave Behind, (Continuum Publishing, 2006). She is the wife of an Iraq War veteran, and is currently working to establish The Sanctuary for Veterans & Families (501.c.3) in northern Idaho. She can be contacted at her website www.stacybannerman.com.

Citizen Soldiers Didn't Volunteer for America's Broken Promises
by Stacy Bannerman
March 12th, 2007

            “They volunteered, didn’t they?”

            As the war in Iraq has gone from wrong to worse, that question, often delivered as a sneering statement, has become the fallback stance of folks who are attempting to silence the voices of those of us who actually have loved ones in uniform, or who died while wearing it. I love my country dearly, but sometimes it’s difficult to retain a feeling of love for my countrymen who have said, “They volunteered, didn’t they?” in an effort to shut up the growing numbers of military and Gold Star families who are speaking out against this war.

            More often than not, the phrase falls from the mouths of people who will send our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, spouses and children to war, but blanch or literally roll their eyes at the suggestion that they send their own, or - heavens! - go themselves.

            Less than one percent of Americans are in the Armed Forces. Over 1.3 million US troops have served in Iraq, including upwards of 450,000 National Guard and Reservists, surpassing by hundreds of thousands the number of Guard and Reservists that have fought in any other foreign war in this nation’s history. In the early years of the occupation, my husband was stationed at LSA Anaconda with the Army National Guard’s 81st brigade, so I speak from that experience, my conversations with hundreds of military families, soldiers, and Iraq War veterans, and a ridiculous amount of research.

            I had to become something of a layman’s expert on the National Guard in order to navigate the stultifying military bureaucracy, advocate for our soldiers and veterans, and speak out against the war.

What Citizen Soldiers Signed Up For:

            What the television ad promised: “One weekend a month, two weeks a year. Earn money for college and protect your local community.” That’s what citizen soldiers signed up for. While they were certainly aware of the dual mission, they believed the recruiters who told them that they’d never get deployed; that the only way they’d see combat is “if World War III broke out.” Since 2001, “four out of five guardsmen have been sent overseas in the largest deployment of the National Guard since World War II.” (Stateline.org, January 12, 2007) Over 400 Army National Guard soldiers have died in Iraq, more than quadruple the amount that died in the entire Vietnam War.

            For more than half a century, the National Guard's policy regarding mobilization was that Guardsmen would be required to serve no more than one year cumulative on active duty (with no more than six months overseas) for each five years of regular drill. After September 11, 2001, the possible mobilization time was increased to 18 months (with no more than one year overseas). Then it was increased again, to 24 months. That policy was effectively abandoned by the Pentagon in January of 2007 because it’s the only way they can continue to redeploy Iraq War veterans/Reservists. “The cumulative number of days Guard soldiers … called to duty [rose] from 12.7 million in 2001 to 68.3 million in 2005.” (“Guard troops are called up.” Los Angeles Times, March 2007)

            The constant changes to policy, time and terms of deployment, extensions, stop-loss, etc, are, in fact, NOT what they signed up for when they took an oath to protect the Constitution from “threats both foreign and domestic.”

The Army National Guard's charter is the Constitution of the United States:

Title 10 U.S.C. 12301(a) provides that, in time of war or national emergency declared by the Congress, reserve components can be called to active duty.

1) Article I, Section 8; Clause 15: The Congress shall have Power ... To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions.

            The men and women who volunteered to serve their communities and country did so with the contractual guarantee that they would not be sent into the killing fields unless the aforementioned conditions were met. “There is a contract between the soldiers and their civilian leaders that they will be sent into harm’s way under lawful conditions. The Bush administration has broken that contract. Citizens are the soldiers only protection,” said Michael McPherson, Gulf War I veteran, and father of an Iraq War veteran.

Was There One Legitimate Reason for Invading Iraq?

            If you don’t know the answer to this by now, please see me after class. A functional democracy depends upon the engagement of an informed electorate.

Here are some Cliff notes:

  • Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction nor overwhelming capability to manufacture chemical/biological agents
  • No link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks on America
  • No attempts by Hussein to purchase massive quantities of uranium yellowcake from Niger (see “What I Didn’t Find in Africa,” Joe Wilson, The New York Times, July 6, 2003; the Libby trial, etc.)
  • The Bush administration was “fixing the facts” to fit their case for war (see Downing Street memo)
  • The Pentagon Inspector General admitted they cooked the intelligence to start Iraq War (see Senate testimony, 2007)
  • The preemptive strike contradicted centuries of America’s professed and practiced foreign policy
  • Congress authorized use of force for Operation Iraqi Freedom based on faulty, manipulated intelligence
  • Congress has never issued a formal declaration of war in Iraq
  • A war of aggression violated the UN charter
  • US did NOT exhaust all diplomatic options with Iraq
  • The Bush administration did not wait for UN inspectors to complete search for elusive WMD’s,
  • Bin Laden was next door.
  • Apparently, he still is.

Promises, Promises:

            Dick Cheney said our soldiers would be greeted as liberators, and rose petals strewn in their path. Looking back, I think we can all agree: That went badly. The President told the troops they had his support, and they would have everything they needed, on the ground and after the war, including body armor, equipment, etc.

            The bulk of the troops in Iraq are Army, Army National Guard, and Reserves, and yet, they are grossly under funded, receiving approximately 17% of the DOD budget, with just 2-3% trickling to the Guard/Reserve. The severity of equipment shortages were brought to light by the Guard and Reservists in Iraq, and thousands of calls made to Congress by National Guardsmen and their families, pleading for body armor, fully up armored tanks and HMMV’s and other equipment. After four years, the problem has yet to be fully corrected.

            Instead, they keep sending our soldiers, while failing miserably at keeping their promise to take care of them when they come home. (“It Is Not Just Walter Reed,” The Washington Post, March 5, 2007) After having served some of the longest tours in Iraq, while their families waited, worried, and often suffered financial shortfalls or problems with receiving pay and benefits, our citizen soldiers come home, and bring the war with them. I wrote about this in “Broken by this War,” and want to expand on the following:

The tab so far: more than 3,000 dead U.S. troops, tens of thousands of wounded, over half a million Iraqi casualties, roughly 250,000 American servicemen and women struggling with PTSD, and almost 60,000 military marriages that have been broken by this war. Including mine.  

            Broken, which includes domestic abuse, spousal murder, suicide, internet porn addiction, divorce, separation, and estrangement. What does it say when a nation that prides itself on supporting the troops, shared sacrifice, and a commitment to children and family values continues to pass policies that directly and indirectly undercut them all?

Fault Lines on the Home Front:

            When Iraq was invaded in 2003, there were a combined total of almost 670,000 personnel in the Guard and Reserves, more than active duty Army, which had 499,301 soldiers. (DOD [309A] Sept. 30, 2003) According to the Department of Defense, approximately 51% of Army soldiers were married, as compared to nearly 60% of Guard and Reservists.

            The Pentagon’s Defense Manpower Data Center reveals that in the first years of the war, the annual divorce rate among active-duty Army officers and enlisted personnel nearly doubled, from 5,658 to 10,477. The increase is about 5,000 Army marriages per year, times four years, which totals 20,000 official divorces. That does not include active-duty Navy and Marines.

            If the Army divorce rate is applied to Guard/Reserve, (the number is probably higher because of increased PTSD rates [1], less preparation/support/care before, during, and after deployment, financial burdens, etc.), given that the total force strength of citizen soldiers is almost one-third higher than active-duty Army, AND almost 60% of Guard and Reservists are married (when averaged between branches) THEN, holding everything else equal, the annual increase in divorces among citizen soldiers would be roughly 8,000, times four years, equaling 32,000.

None of the estimates reflect Iraq war veterans whose military contracts expired prior to filing or finalization of divorce papers. Nor do they include the hundreds of divorces pending in the system, and several thousand other couples who are separated, but have not filed any paperwork, according to anecdotal reports, informal surveys, and conversations with dozens of military personnel and health care professionals. We aren’t official statistics, but things sure feel broken.

            As the war drags on, and soldiers are sent for their 3rd, 4th, and now 5th deployments, with the attendant risks and stressors involved, the fault lines that this war has created in too many – not all – of families will become chasms. Based on trends from previous wars, case studies, and information from marriage counselors, military families and soldiers, the rates of divorce and separation are rising, and available figures are “just the tip of the iceberg.”

            But divorce and separation aren’t the only things that break a marriage and shred the fabric of the family. In 2005, according to DOD figures, there were 16,400 cases of domestic violence reported, with 9,450 of them substantiated. That’s 14 cases for every 1,000 couples, compared with 3 per 1,000 among civilians. Domestic violence advocates contend that the figures are even higher than the DOD says. If military spouses live off-post—as do many active duty personnel, and virtually 100 percent of Guard/Reserves—and call the local police or shelter for assistance, they typically don’t show up in the military’s statistics. [2]

And consider that many soldiers spent all or part of 2004/2005 deployed and thus physically separated from their spouses. In every war, domestic abuse rates spike when troops return, up to and including murder.

Over the past several years, returning soldiers have turned their fists and guns on their families, and a number of married veterans have committed suicide. Army Special Forces soldier Bill Howell, back three weeks from Iraq, beat his wife, and then committed suicide. A recently returned soldier at Fort Lewis, Washington, "turned himself in... saying he had committed a homicide," according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The Pierce County sheriff's department later found the soldier's 28-year-old wife dead "apparently from homicidal violence."

            Sergeant Matthew Denni served in Iraq with the 671st Engineer Army Reserve Company. During his trial, it was determined that PTSD contributed to him murdering his wife and stuffing her corpse in a footlocker.

Murder, suicide, domestic violence, abuse, internet porn addictions are all casualties of war, collateral damage that destroys marriages and families, but they won’t be found on the DOD’s list of divorces. So when I said that “almost 60,000 military marriages that have been broken by this war. Including mine,” I was being kind with the numbers. Yet some of the responses I got were hateful, intentionally hurtful, small-hearted and mean-spirited comments about “bad, selfish wives” and “stupid, irresponsible soldiers,” demonizing those of us who have suffered and sacrificed so much. Enough.

Veterans and their families are already struggling, with too few resources and support, to try and heal. And yes, “they volunteered,” but not for this, America. Not for this.




[1] A study conducted in 1996 on the impact of long-term overseas deployments of Guard and Reserve troops found that “Reservists were more vulnerable than regular service soldiers...for psychiatric breakdown. [And] being a Reservist, having low enlisted rank, and belonging to a support unit increased the risk for psychiatric breakdown...Many such personnel entertained little expectation that they would ever be called to active duty.”

Just eleven months after returning from Iraq, 46% of one Washington State Reserve Combat Engineer Company reported mental health problems, more than double the rates for regular enlisted.


[2] Rates of marital aggression are considerably higher than civilian rates, double, three to five times.-The War At Home, 60 Minutes, January 17, 1999; Heyman and Neidig. (1999). A comparison of spousal aggression prevalence rates in U.S. Army and civilian representative samples. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 67 (2), 239-242; Rosen, Brennan, Martin, and Knudson. (August 2002).  Intimate Partner Violence and US Army Soldiers in Alaska, Military Medicine; The War At Home, 60 Minutes, September 1, 2002. The Miles Foundation

Broken by This War
By Stacy Bannerman

Published by The Progressive
February 2007 Issue

I was folding fliers for a high school workshop on nonviolence when my husband, a mortar platoon sergeant with the Army National Guard 81st Brigade, walked into my office and said, “I got the call.”

We hadn’t talked about the possibility of him being deployed for months, not since President Bush had declared, “Mission accomplished.” But I knew exactly what he meant; I didn’t know then what it would mean for us.

We weren’t prepared, and neither was the Guard. The Guard sent him into harm’s way without providing some of the basic equipment and materials, such as global positioning systems, night vision gear, and insect repellant, that he would rely on during his year-long tour of duty at LSA Anaconda, the most-attacked base in Iraq, as determined by the sheer number of incoming rockets and mortars, which averaged at least five per day.

Unlike active duty military, the National Guard had no functional family support system or services in place. While the Guard was scrambling to get it together, my husband was already gone, and I was alone, just months after we had moved to Seattle.

Twenty-four hours after Lorin boarded the plane for Iraq, I hung a blue star service flag—denoting an immediate family member in combat—in the front window. Then I closed the blinds, hoping to keep the harbingers of death at bay. They still got in, through the phone, the Internet, the newspaper, and the TV.

Each week, I heard of a friend’s husband or son: wounded, maimed, shot, hit, hurt, burned, amputated, decapitated, detonated, dead. A glossary of pain. I checked icasualties.org all the time, cursing and crying as the numbers rose relentlessly, praying that Lorin wouldn’t be next.

I got involved with Military Families Speak Out, which is exactly what the name suggests: an organization of people with loved ones in uniform who are adamantly opposed to the war in Iraq. We were breaking the military’s traditional code of silence by publicly protesting this war, and the pushback was intense, particularly for military wives. I was ostracized by the women married to men in my husband’s company, and my husband was reprimanded by his superior officers. I was an “unruly spouse,” and Lorin could “expect adverse career consequences.”

I thought being forced to serve in a war based on lies was itself an “adverse consequence.” I said as much during an interview on Hardball with Chris Matthews, which just happened to be broadcast on the big-screen TV during lunchtime in the mess tent at Anaconda. Lorin didn’t see it, but approximately 5,000 of the troops he was serving with did. He heard about it for weeks, but never asked me to stop. He had his own questions and concerns about Operation Iraqi Freedom.

During the run-up to the war, when 76 percent of Americans supported the invasion of Iraq, we protested in the streets of Spokane. But he was contractually bound and committed to his men. He clung to what he’d been briefed on regarding the Guard’s mission in Iraq, which included building schools for kids.

Two months into his deployment, I got a call from him, and he said, choking up, that there was an “accident.” Two Iraqi children were dead because he gave the order to fire a couple of mortar rounds. Several weeks later, he phoned again, his voice flat and emotionless, to tell me that the men he had dinner with the previous night had been killed by the same Iraqi soldiers that they were training six hours earlier.

Days went by without any communication—anxious hours, restless nights. I swerved between anger and fear.

His e-mails were sometimes delayed, or returned to him as undeliverable, with portions blacked out by military censors. The ones that got through asked for more homemade treats, baby wipes, batteries, movies, and magazines. One missive informed me about rockets landing next to the trailer where he slept . . . while he was in bed. Another ended abruptly because he was under attack.

Lorin spent hours loading coffins onto cargo jets; I spent days on red alert.

Finally, the phone rang with the news that my husband was coming home, after nearly a year in Iraq. They didn’t tell me he’d bring the war with him.

He’d been back for almost two months, but he was still checking to see where his weapon was every time he got in a vehicle. He drove aggressively, talked aggressively, and sometimes I could swear that he was breathing aggressively. This was not the man I married, this hard-eyed, hyper-vigilant stranger who spent his nights watching the dozens of DVDs that he got from soldiers he served with in Iraq. He couldn’t sleep, and missed the adrenaline surge of constant, imminent danger. The amateur videos of combat eased the ache of withdrawal from war, but did nothing to heal my soldier’s heart.

At a conference on post-deployment care and services for soldiers and their families, a Marine Corps chaplain asked, “How do you know if you’re an SOB? Your wife will tell you!”

Har-de-har-har-har. The remark got the predictable round of applause from the capacity crowd, which, with one exception, wasn’t living with anyone who had recently returned from Iraq. I was that exception, and it infuriated me that this was a joke. The Pentagon’s solution for the constant stress endured by those of us who felt bewildered and betrayed was: “Learn how to laugh.” With help from the Pentagon’s chief laughter instructor, families of National Guard members were learning to walk like a penguin, laugh like a lion, and blurt “ha, ha, hee, hee, and ho, ho.”

Emotional isolation is one of the hallmarks of post-combat mental health problems. The National Guard didn’t conduct follow-up mental health screening or evaluations of the men in my husband’s company until they had been home for almost eight months. Nearly a year later, in August of 2006, my husband was informed of his results: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It was obvious that he was suffering, but when I brought it up, he parroted what the military told him: “Give it time.”

Time wasn’t a panacea for Jeffrey Lucey, Doug Barber, or the dozens of other Guard members and Reservists who have committed suicide after serving in Iraq. Time hasn’t helped the hundreds of homeless Iraq War veterans wandering lost in the streets of what military families are assured is a deeply grateful nation. Time is most definitely not on our side.

My husband has served his time with the Guard. He’s got more than twenty-three years of actual service, and almost twenty years of “good time” that qualifies him for retirement benefits.

But then he learned about a few loopholes. Now, if he serves as a member in good standing for 364 days in a year, instead of 365, that year isn’t credited as time served toward his retirement. If he’s deemed irreplaceable—he’s one of a handful of mortar platoon sergeants who’ve seen combat—the Guard can retain him for several more years after his contract expires.

He is surprised by this, but I’m not. I no longer expect that the Department of Defense will keep its promises to the soldiers or their families. I don’t pretend that the Pentagon will adhere to its policies. And I know from experience that “support the troops” is a slogan, and not a practice.

On January 11, 2007, the Pentagon discarded the time limit that prevented Guard members and Reservists from serving more than twenty-four total months on active duty for either the Iraq or Afghan wars. The Pentagon’s announcement came in the wake of President Bush’s decision to deploy an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq.

The escalation contradicts the advice of top U.S. military officials. Although the majority of Americans are opposed to the “surge,” most members of Congress are reluctant to block the supplemental appropriations request that will fund it, claiming that they don’t want to abandon the troops. Congress has abandoned the troops for nearly four years.

It is the soldiers, their families, and the people of Iraq that pay the human costs. The tab so far: more than 3,000 dead U.S. troops, tens of thousands of wounded, over half a million Iraqi casualties, roughly 250,000 American servicemen and women struggling with PTSD, and almost 60,000 military marriages that have been broken by this war.

Including mine.

It was hard to reconnect after more than a year apart, and the open wound of untreated PTSD made it virtually impossible. Lorin is still the best evidence I have of God’s grace in this world, but we just couldn’t find our way back together after the war came home.

Stacy Bannerman is the author of “When the War Came Home: The Inside Story of Reservists and the Families They Leave Behind.” She is a member of Military Families Speak Out, www.mfso.org, and can be contacted at her website, www.stacybannerman.com.

 

It Will Never Be "All Right" Again
By Stacy Bannerman

Academy award-winner Michael Moore recently published an article entitled, “Quitting Iraq Is the Only Brave Thing to Do, (Nov. 28, 2006.)  I agree with much of what Mr. Moore is about -- my husband got his copy of Fahrenheit 911 while at LSA Anaconda in Iraq during his one year tour of duty with the Army National Guard, but I’m afraid Mr. Moore missed the boat when he said:

We Americans are better than what has been done in our name. A majority of us were upset and angry after 9/11 and we lost our minds. We didn't think straight and we never looked at a map. Because we are kept stupid through our pathetic education system and our lazy media, we knew nothing of history … Our leaders played off our stupidity, manipulated us with lies, and scared us to death.

I, too, am an American.  I went to the same schools, grew up in the same culture.  So I can say with some authority that people aren't necessarily "kept" stupid, they choose to be stupid. And, let's face it, selfish. Because it's easier, financially profitable, and much more socially acceptable.  I also remember September 11, 2001, and the horrific sadness and terror of that day.  I live in Washington State, but felt the fear that swept the nation, and cried buckets on that day and in the aftermath. Although I aspire to pacifism, truth be told, if I had had unlimited frequent flier miles, security clearance, and the appropriate training, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t have been on my way to Afghanistan.

I am also a member of Military Families Speak Out.  When we first began in 2002, with just a handful of military families, we were mocked.  Over the past three and a half years, we have become more than 3,100 strong.  During that time, the laughter turned to angry attacks - physical, personal, and political - up to and including President Bush.  Now, our message, which is and always has been that the invasion of Iraq was a war for oil, that there was no proof of WMD's, and no connection between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein, has come to be recognized as self-evident.  

It's a sociological case study that proves Schopenhauer's theory about how a new truth enters a system, brought to America courtesy of Military Families Speak Out.  Paid for by 2,937 dead soldiers, more than 21,000 wounded G.I.'s, and at least 650,000 dead Iraqi civilians, and costing more than 315 billion dollars and the loss of this nation's reputation and standing in the international community. 

Maybe next time, America won’t be so resistant to the truth before dashing recklessly into a war based on lies.  Or maybe, just maybe, the next time never comes. But the "gee, I'm sorry I was so stupid" just doesn't cut it.

Mr. Moore writes: “At our core we are a good people. We may be slow learners, but that "Mission Accomplished" banner struck us as odd, and soon we began to ask some questions. .. By this past November 7th, we got mad and tried to right our wrongs. The majority now know the truth. The majority now feel a deep sadness and guilt and a hope that somehow we can make it all right again. “

I salute Michael’s hope that somehow things can be made all right again, but here's the real deal for those of us upon whose backs this war has been waged, because the "good people" are "slow learners":

Many National Guard soldiers get no follow-up mental health screening or evaluations until seven months or more after they return.  That was the case for my husband's company.  Their comprehensive evaluations were done eight months after they got home.  Nearly a year later, in August of 2006, my husband was informed of his results: PTSD. He was advised to come in for treatment.

Many months went by between his return, his testing, and his eventually being informed of the test results.  A lot can happen when Guard and Reservists are not being helped, their problems undiagnosed, or the delivery of information about diagnosis is postponed for months, if not years. 

Just ask the families of the Jeffrey Lucey, Doug Barber, or the dozens of other Guard and Reservists who have returned from Iraq suffering from PTSD that was either undiagnosed by the military, or the military refused/delayed treatment, and the Iraq vets committed suicide.  Or ask the hundreds of them now wandering lost in the streets of what military families are assured is a deeply grateful nation?

Just ask former Oregon Army Reserve Supply Sergeant Matthew Denni, (he's serving a twenty year prison sentence, so it shouldn't be too hard to track him down) whose PTSD contributed to him murdering his wife and stuffing her corpse in a footlocker.

Better yet, perhaps you want to ask his dead wife's family how they feel knowing that their cherished daughter, and sister, was butchered by a citizen soldier that got a lot of fanfare when he deployed with the rest of the 671st Engineer Army Reserve Company, but was promptly forgotten when he got home?  The Iraq War veterans have a cadence about this:

"They fly the flag when you attack; when you come home they turn their back."

I appreciate that the "good people" of America feel "guilty," and thank God folks are starting to call for an immediate exit from Iraq, but what the “mad” majority (as Mr. Moore refers to them), who also, not coincidentally, don't have loved ones in uniform and have no family members who have EVER seen combat in Iraq just don't seem to fathom is that the Iraq war veterans and their families don't get any do-overs.  Our loved ones' lives are at stake, and we really couldn't afford this county's flat learning curve.

For us, as we bury our beloveds, care for our wounded by ourselves, struggle alone with the phantoms of war, and watch our families fall apart, it will never, ever, ever be "all right" again.

.

Military Families, Iraq Veterans Protest Pentagon's Plan to Rush Reserve Call-Ups
By Stacy Bannerman
t r u t h o u t | Report

Tuesday 07 November 2006

The Pentagon revealed in September that it may change the policy limiting National Guard deployments in order to send more weekend warriors to Iraq after the elections. While most of the media and the American public slept through the news, the family members of more than 400,000 National Guard and Reservists did not. Some of them have spent the past six weeks collecting thousands of signatures on petitions protesting the Pentagon's plans and demanding an end to the "backdoor draft," cited in the document as "troop extensions, stop-loss orders, [and] involuntary recalls."

The petitions will be delivered to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on Thursday, just seventy-two hours after all four versions of the Military Times published an editorial calling for his removal. The contingent, which includes Iraq War veterans, retired National Guard and Reserve soldiers, military families, and citizen supporters, is led by Military Families Speak Out (MFSO), a national organization of more than 3,000 military families opposed to the war in Iraq, with members in all 50 states and at military installations around the world. Hundreds of MFSO members have had sons and daughters, husbands and wives forced to stay in the military, and in Iraq, long after their contract expired.

Shortly after the invasion of Iraq, the Defense Department issued a "stop loss" order that has since compelled more than 70,000 of the country's volunteer armed forces to remain in service beyond their contractually agreed-upon term. The stop-loss measure prevents soldiers from collecting the sign-on bonuses and extra compensation that is offered to new recruits or soldiers that choose to renew their contracts.

"Thank God for stop-loss orders," said Vice President Dick Cheney in an October interview with Rush Limbaugh.

Haeley, the wife of a New York National Guardsman, feels differently:

"My husband, Luke, is currently serving in Iraq under stop-loss orders. He was supposed to be able to leave the military in December of this year, [but he] was put on stop-loss orders and his enlistment was involuntarily extended for 30 years. He left for Iraq a little over a month ago. He will now miss out on the first year of his first child's life. I don't agree with the use of the National Guard in this way. I also don't like that the military is involuntarily extending the contracts of the troops - it is underhanded and desperate, and they should take into account that people do not want to serve in this war as a sign of just how mishandled it's been."

In the past four months, 7,500 soldiers have had their tours extended in Iraq, including members of the 172nd Stryker Brigade in Iraq, some of whom were forced to get back on a plane after having already returned home from a year-long deployment. In August, the Marines announced a call-back of their Individual Ready Reserve force, which was intended for use only in times of national emergency. But stop-losses and extensions are proving insufficient to meet the constant demand for troops in an increasingly violent Iraq, and "most US Army units are right now not ready for combat," according to NBC Nightly News (September 22, 2006).

In order for the Army to carry out its plan to maintain troop levels of 120,000 in Iraq through 2010, the Pentagon will have to lift the restraints on Guard deployments, which now limit Guard combat tours to two out of every five years.

Almost 300,000 Guard soldiers - 60 percent of the force - have hit their threshold for overseas combat, but National Guard Lieutenant General Steven Blum expects his soldiers to get the call again. The Pentagon has postponed announcing the likelihood of additional mobilizations and accelerated call-ups for Reservists until after the November elections because it's such a politically explosive issue. For the military families and veterans who will be at the Pentagon this Thursday seeking to stop the stop-loss and prevent the Pentagon from redeploying Reservists months, if not years, before the current policy allows, it's a matter of life and death.

The Audacity to Talk About Hope

While Senator Barack Obama has been busy promoting his new book, The Audacity of Hope (Crown Publishing, October 2006), 91 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq. Since the beginning of this month, when the senator started selling his second memoir, the casualty count in Iraq has mushroomed, and October is on track to become one of the deadliest months of the war. In his new book, Mr. Obama, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expresses concerns about the damage the Iraq war and the Bush administration’s foreign policies have done to America’s moral authority and reputation in the world. He writes, “I cannot honestly say that I am optimistic about Iraq’s short-term prospects.”

Many of the military families whose loved ones are still being sent to fight and die in what will likely be regarded as our national nadir are even less optimistic. But Senator Obama’s book doesn’t offer them any concrete suggestions for cultivating hope. His lackluster efforts to change the policy in Iraq give them no reason to hope. I am one of the 0.04 percent of Americans who actually have an immediate family member in uniform.

My husband has already served a year in Iraq with the Army National Guard. If the Pentagon moves forward with its plan to revise the rules pertaining to National Guard and Reserve deployments shortly after the election, he may go back for round two.

The first deployment nearly broke us; a second almost surely would. At least a quarter of Guard and Reservists suffer significant pay cuts during their deployments, and the vast majority of employers don’t make up the difference. Since the start of the Iraq war, the divorce rate among enlisted personnel is up 28 percent, and for officers it’s up 78 percent, according to a report on NBC Nightly News. Where is the hope in that? Where are military families supposed to find hope when:

As the Iraq war marches toward its fourth anniversary, food lines operated by churches and other non-profit groups are an increasingly valuable presence on military bases countywide. Leaders of the charitable groups say they’re scrambling to fill a need not seen since World War II. San Diego Union-Tribune, October 13, 2006.

Mr. Obama pontificates about the audacity of hope to standing-room-only crowds, basking in the soft-filter focus of an enamored nation that appears to have forgotten about the hundreds of amputees who will never stand again. The freshman senator from Illinois serves on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, which oversees the system that failed to serve Ohio National Guardsman Doug Barber after he had served in Iraq.

For two years, Doug sought help from the VA, and for two years the VA stonewalled him every step of the way, refusing his claim, denying him treatment for his severe post-traumatic stress disorder. Depressed and recently divorced, Mr. Barber was finally able to get emergency crisis care, consisting of quarterly counseling and medication, but it was far too little, and much, much too late. He shot himself in the head. The final message on his answering machine said, “If you’re looking for Doug, I’m checking out of this world. I’ll see you on the other side.”

Hope is a hollow word when the politicians that send you to war break their promise to take care of you when you come home.

When the leaders who opposed the war in Iraq are doing precious little to end it, upon what shall hope hinge as your return to your base, drenched in your battle buddy’s blood, which gushed from his legless torso as you tried to save him?

What bright future can be sketched for Gilda Carbonaro, who held her horrifically burned boy as he died from his wounds at a military hospital in Germany last May? And what is left to wish for tonight at Ronald Paulsen’s home in Vancouver, Washington? While the Senator was selling books and dreams, the family of the 53-year-old Army reservist called up for active duty after 13 years with the inactive reserves began living a nightmare when the Casualty Notification officers arrived at their house to tell them that Paulsen had been killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. With all due respect, perhaps the senator should spend some time with these folks before having the audacity to talk about hope.

Stacy Bannerman is the author of When the War Came Home: The Inside Story of Reservists and the Families They Leave Behind (Continuum Publishing, 2006). She is a member of Military Families Speak Out, www.mfso.org, and met with Senator Obama this summer as the creator/director of Operation House Call. Her husband served one year in Iraq with the Washington Army National Guard 81st Brigade. Stacy can be contacted at her Web site at www.stacybannerman.com.

 

Integrity, Moral Authority, and Some Inconvenient Truths
By Stacy Bannerman
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Thursday 28 September 2006

"The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. To redefine Common Article 3 would add to those doubts." General Colin Powell's statement came after a Congressional "compromise" that would legalize torture and condone trials with secret evidence, among other things. The nation whose Constitution [1] includes the "right to a fair and speedy trial," the country that crows about its moral values and commitment to human rights, the government whose leader repeatedly states that "we do not condone torture," is preparing to sign off on a document that makes those policies, protections, and professed moral values a lie.

There is no moral authority without integrity.

We cannot be a beacon of light for the world while shrouded in shadows. America is not who we have said that we are. And the world is becoming wise to what we have tried to hide.

We have tried to hide the hideously uncomfortable fact that America has pursued an unscrupulous foreign policy predicated upon pre-emptive strikes, and initiated a deadly, seemingly interminable, conflict as a matter of first choice rather than last, necessary resort. Self-proclaimed patriots have parroted the phrase about supporting the troops while sending them to die in a war based on lies. Those same summer patriots have borne false witness, standing silently by as the Veterans Administration has broken every promise that's been made to take care of the troops when they get home.

The Bush administration is now asserting that the mission in Iraq is to bring democracy to that nation, while methodically stripping away the very basis of democracy in America. We have acquiesced to the unprecedented destruction of civil rights and liberties, and the invasion of privacy, which seems not to matter much to most in the "home of the free." Not enough to get them involved, anyway, which has become par for the course. Never before has the silent majority been quite so mute.

At last tally, about 63% of Americans said they don't support the war in Iraq, but are nonetheless (a)pathetically condoning it by refusing to engage democracy, failing to vote, to protest, and to mobilize. I spoke with one of them this summer, when I spent six weeks in Washington, DC, meeting with congressmen and senators, and conducting Operation House Call, a project of Military Families Speak Out. One day, when the heat index soared to 110 degrees, hot enough to melt the tar between the steps in front of the Russell Senate Building, a family passed by our vigil of empty combat boots. The distraught mother of two talked about how upset she was about the war, and asked why more people weren't doing something.

When I asked her what she was doing, she replied, "Me? Nothing. I've got responsibilities. I'm on vacation."

You do your children no favors by taking them on a tour of the political house of horror that Capitol Hill has become while being an absentee citizen yourself.

If we really cared about children, if we were truly a nation immersed in family values, we would recognize that when we consent to torture, we create a standard of legalized brutality that flies in the face of everything we've ever told our kids about who we are, and who they should become. We would know that when we tacitly agree to keep sending soldiers to fight in a war we don't support - an unnecessary, illegal, and immoral war, according to the overwhelming, condemning evidence - then we, too, are culpable, and damned.

We have hawked our moral compass for the illusion of Homeland Security. We have become a nation that easily excuses violations of law, democracy, and morality, invoking the free pass that we purchased with World War II, and guaranteed with the Marshall Plan and the Good Neighbor policy. For decades, though, we've made payments drawn from the account of power and privilege.

With the profligate spending of the politically insolvent Bush administration, and the war in Iraq, this nation is on the verge of moral bankruptcy. And now Congress is moving to ratify the revisions to Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, along with the Wiretapping bill. This would change the War Crimes Act of 1996 to provide retroactive immunity from prosecution for wrongdoing, thereby giving President Bush and his administration a personal "get out of jail free" card.

We have no moral basis whatsoever to congratulate ourselves for what we're doing to win the unwinnable war on terror. Of course the world is "beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism." The only question is: Why aren't we?

[1] The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is one of the post-Civil War amendments, and it includes the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. It requires the states to provide equal protection under the law to all persons (not only to citizens). - Wikipedia

Bring It On: Defining Support
by Stacy Bannerman

Published on Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Maybe I've just misunderstood the definition of "support". Ever since my husband's National Guard Brigade got deployed to Iraq in March of this year, I've been trying to decipher the President's thought processes, and where some of his strategies for winning the war on terror and supporting the troops originated. It's not been an easy task, but I think I've made some headway.

Apparently, the President's challenge to terrorists to "Bring It On" was drawn from a popular movie of the same name. While it made for a great film about a cheerleading competition, "Bring It On" has proven a somewhat less effective defense strategy for reducing American casualties, winning the war on terror, and ending the occupation in Iraq.

Granted, I'm no military tactician, just the lonely wife of a soldier who has already completed his 20-year contract to serve his country, although he won't be home until March of 2005 at the earliest. But I've heard the President talking about the need to support our troops often enough that I've wondered exactly what he meant.

I thought supporting our troops meant making a decision to send them into harm's way based on accurate intelligence, a compelling need, and a clear objective. I thought supporting our troops meant we didn't send them anywhere without an exit strategy in hand, much less without some level of backing from an international coalition. I thought it meant that the people who comprise this country's current administration don't send other peoples kids off to fight a war that they haven't sent their own to.

I interpreted supporting the troops as making sure they had body armor, so they didn't have to buy their own. I thought it meant that the Humvees were sufficiently plated and protected, not that the soldiers would have to retrofit the vehicles themselves - with scrap metal.

My understanding of support for the troops included the expectation that our government would honor this country's Constitution; uphold its moral obligations, legal contracts and commitments, and not implement the backdoor draft of the stop-loss order. (So, okay, it hasn't been enforced with Gen. Tommy Franks and other high-ranking military personnel - Geez, talk about your selective service! - but still, far too many of the boots are kept on the ground and overseas long after their contract is up).

I've believed support to entail making sure all soldiers and veterans have the very best benefits and medical care available. Support means we're not sending soldiers to fight on crutches, or with undiagnosed cancer raging in their bodies.

Support means that when they come home, they're given treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, unlike the Iraq war veteran who, upon his return, was denied treatment, and went into his parent's basement and hung himself.

I would've thought support would mean that the same government that pays an additional 25% of the base pay to firejumpers (often amounting to $700 or more per month) for what's termed 'hazardous duty', provided more than the current $225 per month that shows up on my husband's pay stub as "hostile fire."

When I looked up the definition of support in the dictionary, here's what I found: 1. to hold up or bear (a load, etc.). 2. to sustain or withstand (weight, etc.). 3. to provide with the means of sustaining life.

Ah ha! I've located the source of the misunderstanding. The President has a different dictionary. In his dictionary, it's okay to criticize the family members of soldiers currently stationed in Iraq by saying that raising questions isn't supporting the troops.

Mr. President, this country was founded on citizen dissent, and our loved ones ARE the troops. That same dictionary allows some of the powerful leaders and politicians in this country to suggest that when I - and other military families - ask some of the hard questions, questions that no one really seems to want to answer, we are undermining the war on terrorism and assisting the enemy.

My lord! If that's actually true, if the 'success' of Operation Iraqi Freedom (the stated mission has morphed so frequently that I'm not sure what today's measure of 'success' over there is) hinges on my words, then we've got no business whatsoever being over there, and we'd better bring the troops home now.

Oh, and one other thing: in the movie, the one with the head cheerleader who said, "Bring It On,"? Her team lost.

Senator Warner Misses Meeting with Military Families Speak Out
by Stacy Bannerman
Published on Monday, October 11, 2004 by Common Dreams

Stacy Bannerman
Wife of National Guard Soldier Stop-lossed in Iraq
American Citizen Registered Voter
Kent, WA

October 6, 2004

Senator John Warner, VA
Russell Senate Building
United States Senate
Washington D.C.

Senator Warner:

For shame. You deployed our husbands and children to Iraq, which will take a year or more out of their lives, if not actually costing them their lives, and you couldn't spare fifteen minutes of yours? You sent your military legislative assistant, Cord Sterling - anyone with a name like that is clearly not a member of the working class that's largely responsible for providing the targets, excuse me, troops in Iraq - to meet several dozen members of Military Families Speak Out. We came to your office on October 1st, at our own expense, with the understanding that you would be there. You were not.

Apparently listening to the concerns of the family members who actually have loved ones in Iraq, or have gotten their bodies back from there, just isn't important to you, who is sworn to serve the public. Since you avoided us - and mind you, our group included several members from the State of Virginia, with the power to vote you out of the very office they voted you into, let me re-cap.

Although we'd called in advance to confirm our appointment, and provided your office with the size of our group, we weren't offered a place to sit, or a private conference room. Instead, we were forced to stand in the rotunda. Now, I'm just guessing, but I'd wager that's not the reception given to Halliburton. Incidentally, it seems that after a dispute with the government about a couple million in overcharges, Halliburton said, "We may withhold all or a portion of the payments to our subcontractors." Let me bottom-line this one for you, Senator Warner: What that means is that the soldiers in Iraq have had, at times, to subsist on one meal a day and very low water rations, in a desert where temperatures rise to more than 130 degrees during the day. Wow, how's that for supporting the troops?!

Since we're on the topic of money, when I asked your assistant why some of the National Guardsmen in Iraq are getting paid about five bucks an hour, and yet government-paid private contractors are compensated to the tune of upwards of a thousand dollars a day, his first response was: "We don't have any control over that." Senator, you may want to give your assistant a refresher course in precisely which entity ultimately pays members of the military and the major private contractors in Iraq.

Perhaps realizing that his ignorance was showing, Cord said, "Well, I can't speak for the Senator." That, of course, begs the question: What was he doing there? Moving right along, then, since we had a lot to cover in a very little time, we then asked, "Why is the administration telling the American people things are getting better at the same time that our loved ones on the front line are telling us that things are getting worse?"

Perhaps it's easy to dismiss first-hand accounts, but how about the National Intelligence Council's report pointing to the possibility of a civil war before the end of 2005? How about the Army lowering its recruitment standards to increase the number of troops in order to put more boots on the ground? How about the fact that 1,100 U.S. soldiers were wounded in August, setting a new record, and that the 80 U.S. soldiers killed in September made it the second-deadliest month of the year? Does that get your attention?

Finally, how come the public is being told things are so much better at the same time that there are reports of plans to triple the size of the Reserve Mortuary Affairs Company by the middle of next year?

Speaking of the dead, something this administration has been loath to acknowledge, thirty members of Military Families Speak Out have buried their husbands, wives, daughters, or sons. Celeste Zappala, mother of Sherwood Baker, the first Pennsylvania National Guard soldier to be killed in action since World War II, showed a picture of her son to your assistant, as did several other grieving moms. His response? Nothing. No "I'm sorry for your loss", no "Please accept my condolences."

I had heard politics could strip you of your humanity, but I thought you guys had better public relations skills. Cord, I'm almost sorry for you that you were sent in the Senator's place. Almost, not quite. However, I meant it when I said, "God be with you." as you were retreating into your cubicle. Unlike the current administration, which still hasn't put together an exit strategy to bring the troops home, when we realized we'd been given flawed intelligence, and that you weren't actually there, we knew when to leave. But Senator, we will be back.

Seriously,

Stacy Bannerman

MFSO Letter to Congressman Adam Smith

Date: Sun, 23 Jan 2005 11:30:18 -0800

Dear Congressman Smith:

On behalf of Military Families Speak Out members Judy Linehan, Sherrie Tillstra, and myself, I would like to thank you for meeting with us in your Tacoma offices on the 20th. I understand you've got your work cut out for you with the current administration, and the Republican majorities in both Houses. We're hoping you will utilize your seat on the Armed Services Committee to call for a Hearing and subsequent vote of confidence/no confidence on Donald Rumsfeld. The Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal is just one example of his failure of leadership, as you're well aware.

I would also like to remind you of our request that you contact Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell and join her in calling for hearings regarding the plan to extend call-ups for Reservists. This administration's poor planning, refusal to listen to military advisors, and lack of consideration for the citizen soldiers has resulted in a gross abuse of power and a contractual breach of the terms under which these weekend warriors were recruited and signed up for e.g. the Stop-loss policy. Furthermore, these soldiers (and their families) are not provided with the same training, treatment, and benefits of regular enlisted, although they are now being deployed at almost the same rates, and often for longer tours-of-duty. In addition to adding your name to the Letter to the President from 16 members of Congress that I shared with you, please consider calling for Washington State's Democratic Governor, Christine Gregoire, to bring the Washington State National Guard home. Now.

I appreciate your concern about creating more bureaucracy, but clearly the State Department is not doing its job, and one of the costs of the invasion of Iraq is the significant damage to this country's reputation and international relations. Furthermore, the Bush administration has demonstrated that it's got no plan whatsoever for 'securing the peace', and it certainly didn't consider non-violent options prior to invading the country and initiating a war that's killed over 1,300 U.S. soldiers and at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians. Now, more than ever, it's critical for the future of this nation, and the world, to support the bill to establish a Department of Peace, which will be reintroduced by Dennis Kucinich in the upcoming months.

As discussed, the one-time death 'benefit' of $12,000 is ludicrous, and I will look for you to address that. For bereaved military families and spouses to find themselves homeless, and forced to go to food shelves and welfare offices after their loved one died serving this country is reprehensible and morally abhorrent. Perhaps the gross tax cuts for corporations and the very wealthy could be revoked as a way to pay for this and some of the other costs of this war. I am grateful for your efforts to support the troops, but was disappointed by your hesitancy to call for an immediate exit strategy. I will state what you diplomatically skirted around: The situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate; the window of opportunity for the occupation to even vaguely resemble a 'success' hasn't just closed, it's shattered; and the American presence has exponentially increased terrorist activity in that country and elsewhere.

The best way to support our troops is to bring them home from this reckless, ill-conceived war based on lies. Help President Bush to honor his pledge to end world tyranny: get the United States out of Iraq.

Sincerely,

Stacy Bannerman, M.S.

Let Mr. Bush Explain the War to Highschoolers
Published on Wednesday, July 13, 2005 by MinutemanMedia.org

I'd like to see President George W. Bush go on live television before a tough crowd. Like a high school class in my hometown that includes Iraqi students and boys who are preparing for boot camp. These Seattle kids are still able to exercise their Constitutional right to freedom of speech. My guess is that they'd have some questions.
The president has already proven he's got the time to sit in a classroom. After all, that's what he did after being informed that this nation was under attack on 9-11, something he mentioned repeatedly in his speech, even though he's acknowledged that there's nothing whatsoever linking Iraq to that day.

If ever there was a president who needed flashcards to keep his facts straight, it's Mr. Bush.

Maybe the president can discuss his statement that "terrorists respect no laws of warfare or morality." Did not this administration violate international law and it's own policy against pre-emptive strikes when it invaded Iraq on false pretenses? Perhaps he can clarify for the kids why he clings to the dream that the U.S. invasion is supported by a sizable coalition of the willing despite ample proof to the contrary. As the President inadvertently pointed out, the only real coalition of the willing is the one that has developed amongst terrorist cells converging in Iraq as the result of the American presence.

Since the president thanked the soldiers and military families for their service and sacrifice, I'm sure the students would be interested in learning more about just how grateful the administration is. Is it grateful enough to provide all of the troops with tetranike vests and up-armored tanks? Is it grateful enough to help the thousands of military families who've had to apply for food stamps to feed their children?

Is it grateful enough to deal with the fact that Tri-Care, the military's medical coverage for soldiers and their families, is rapidly becoming obsolete, as fewer and fewer providers accept it? And does the administration's gratitude mean that they will take care of the Reserve and National Guard troops who are already exhibiting much higher rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder than active-duty military?

Possibly the president would like to explain why this country enforces truth in advertising laws, and considers bait-and-switch sales tactics poor business practice, but plays shell games with the mission in Iraq. And whether he would like to tell the children they're more valuable as consumers than as citizens?

Speaking of citizenry, perhaps he'd like to discuss the Iraqi citizens that have died during this war; many more than were killed during any comparable time frame of Saddam Hussein's reign. The tens of thousands of dead Iraqis dispel any pretense whatsoever that this war can ever be called "moral." Yet, it was President Bush's moral values that got him elected to a second term. I'm sure the Seattle high schoolers would like to hear an explanation of how a moral person justifies it when he creates, rather than alleviate, suffering.

Since high schools have strict policies against fighting, I'm sure they'd like to hear the president, a 'compassionate conservative,' reconcile the New Testament's command to "turn the other cheek" with his decision to respond to violence with violence. Then the president could talk about democracy, explaining how, counterintuitive though it may be, it actually can be imposed. The president could tell the kids that when he said a totalitarian regime is one that "despises dissent," he wasn't referring to his administration.

After reviewing the national polls showing that at least half the U.S. population wants troops withdrawn and 60% believe the war in Iraq wasn't worth fighting, the president could specify which country he was talking about when he referred to a "Constitution that upholds the will of the majority." Because the children should be forgiven if they want to know how we can presume to do that in Iraq when we seem unable to do it here.

The president made it to Fayetteville and talked to the troops at Ft. Bragg in June. Now, he should take his act to Seattle. And don't forget to bring the cameras. The world will be watching.

Worlds Apart
Published on Wednesday, July 27, 2005 by CommonDreams.org

When you're a Governor, making difficult decisions is part of the job description. Just ask the chief executives of 33 states who attended the 97th annual meeting of the National Governor's Association in Des Moines, Iowa on July 15-16, where they had to choose between boots, bats, or bucks. The 233 pairs of combat boots -- one for each National Guard soldier killed in Iraq - were the focal point of a Memorial service co-sponsored by American Friends Service Committee and Military Families Speak Out to honor the citizen soldiers. Batting practice at Principal Park included a lavish reception for governors and their families, and was followed by an Iowa Cubs baseball game. A couple of heavily barricaded blocks away, Republicans held a fundraising reception at the Des Moines Club. The events took place within a six-block radius, but they were worlds apart.

8-year-old Mary Sapp, of Billerica, Mass., her older sister Lydia, and her mother, Anne, were at Nollen Plaza for the commemorative service. Mary clutched a picture of her dad, Staff Sgt. Andrew Sapp, a National Guardsman deployed to Iraq in October 2004. Mary talked about how much she missed him, and how sad she was that he hadn't been able to attend her first softball game.

Back at the ballpark, Anibal Acevedo-Vila, Governor-Puerto Rico, stood next to his son, chatting up the players before throwing the opening pitch. After the Cubs rallied to beat the Omaha Royals, the Gov's and their families were treated to a fireworks display. The next morning, the Governors tackled the conference agenda, focused on health care and Medicaid costs and economic development.

The war in Iraq wasn't highlighted on the docket because it's not considered a pressing domestic concern. But with nearly 300,000 National Guard and Reserve soldiers deployed to Iraq so far, and 138,457 pairs of boots belonging to citizen soldiers currently on the ground, how can it not be?

Reserve and National Guard troops tend to have significantly higher rates of stress-related disorders than active duty military. A study of Persian Gulf War veterans found that upwards of 90% of Reservists had one or more symptoms of Post-traumatic stress six months after coming home, compared to approximately 20% of fulltime soldiers. (Comprehensive Clinical Evaluation Program, Department of Defense Report, June 1995)

Reservists returning from Iraq are reporting mental health problems at levels more than twice that of active duty personnel, and a Seattle Times article stated that "out of 76 members of [the Washington National Guard] Bravo company, 14th Engineer Battalion, just under half were referred for counseling." (July 26, 2005) But Vet Centers are so desperately underfunded that they've turned away citizen soldiers seeking medical and dental services, making veterans care a state health care issue by default. Federal labor statistics revealed that the unemployment rate of young male veterans was nearly double that of comparable civilians in the first quarter of 2005, which is obviously relevant to local economies. When a military newspaper cites " divorce rates as high as fifty to eighty percent in some [Guard & Reserve] units returning from yearlong deployments." (Fort Lewis Ranger, March, 2005), clearly the war has come home. The unprecedented suicide rate of Iraq War Veterans makes the war a domestic problem, as does the number of women who are murdered by their returning husbands. One such case is Matthew Denni of Oregon's Army Reserve 671st Engineer Company. Driven, in part, by the trauma he experienced in Iraq, Denni murdered his wife and packed her corpse into an Army regulation footlocker. He was convicted of second-degree murder and was sentenced to 20 years in a state penitentiary.

Celeste Zappala, co-founder of Gold Star Families for Peace, received a different sort of sentence when her son, Sherwood Baker, was killed in Iraq. His was one of the names she read at the Memorial service. When a mother bears witness to the death of her child, this nations' foreign policy becomes a domestic matter of the highest order.

Meanwhile, George Pataki (NY), Mike Huckabee (AK), and Mitt Romney (MA) socialized with donors. Their quips about being Republican Governors in predominantly Democratic states got some laughs, which isn't surprising, because Republican leaders have proven that they can be a very funny group.

After all, President Bush did his own comedy routine at a party fundraiser in 2004. The Commander-in-Chief looked behind curtains and under tables, laughing with the audience, telling them that he was searching for hidden weapons of mass destruction. His joke has cost 233 of our Guard and Reserve troops their lives. But the Governors decided there was no time for mourning in Des Moines.

A Memo to Scott McClellan, White House Press Secretary, from Stacy Bannerman, Military Families Speak Out
by Stacy Bannerman

September 27th, 2005

MEMO

TO: Scott McClellan, White House Press Secretary
FROM: Stacy Bannerman, Military Families Speak Out
DATE: September 27, 2005
RE: Proof

Mr. McClellan:

You remarked yesterday that "the president strongly believes that withdrawing [from Iraq]...would make us less safe and make the world more dangerous." Please provide me, the soldiers and their families, and the American taxpayers who are funding the occupation with the evidence that supports the president's most current belief. I hate to have to ask, but it's just that all of the president's previous ideas about why the war in Iraq was necessary, and the mission being accomplished, have, in fact, been based on faulty intelligence, misinformation, fixing the facts, and pure speculation. And well, yes...lies.

I imagine the president's demonstrated track record of providing the public with false information makes your job difficult, but can you imagine how hard it makes it for the soldiers and their families, who desperately want to trust the president, only to find that, time after time, they've not been told the truth?

The president first told us that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. He did so without any proof whatsoever. He said it even though some of the initial reports indicated otherwise. U.N. weapons inspectors concluded that there were no weapons of mass destruction.

The president informed us that there was a clear link between the 9/11 attacks on America and Saddam Hussein. There was not. It's been proven. Just as it's been shown that the Bush administration was fixing the facts to be able to justify the invasion. That was revealed in the Downing Street memo. (Scott, don't ever let it be said that you're not earning your money.)

Saddam was eventually captured, even though the president had already said, "Mission accomplished." But he must have changed his mind, because the troops are still in Iraq.

In August of 2005, the president announced a new mission: To protect the oil reserves from terrorists. Scott, I've got to tell you, that doesn't sound like a noble cause to me. Maybe it doesn't even sound good to the president, which would explain why he couldn't say it to Cindy Sheehan's face when she began asking him what the noble cause was in August. After all, how do you tell a parent that their kid was killed for oil?

Now it's September, and the president says that keeping our loved ones - our soldiers - in Iraq is making this country, and the world, a safer place to be. It's not that I don't want to be able to take the president at his word; it's just that his performance to date has made it impossible.

Based on the facts, the ongoing presence of the U.S. and a handful of coalition troops in Iraq has significantly increased the number of terrorist attacks in London and elsewhere, insurgent uprisings in Iraq, and Iraqi civilian casualties. I wish I could say that at least things are more secure here on the home front, but they're not. With so much of the National Guard and Reserve being deployed, along with their gear, every single American is at risk. Case study: Hurricane Katrina. The destruction of the Guard's equipment, and the decimation of their ranks due to their higher casualty rates, increased attrition, and reduced enlistment, will have negative repercussions for homeland security for decades.

The president thinks that occupying Iraq is making everybody safer. How? And can he prove it? It's the same question I posed during a visit to the office of Senator Byron Dorgan (ND) last week. I was told that the Senator only had to answer to his constituents, not to me, someone who was born and raised in North Dakota, and whose husband spent a year in Iraq. To which I replied, "Our elected officials should have to answer to the military families and American people. And one day, they will have to answer to God."

God is not asking right now, Scott, but I am, and so are millions of others. We look forward to getting the president's proof from you soon.

Cc: dc/gb

National Guard Sent to Protect Oil, Not People
by Stacy Bannerman
Published on Tuesday, September 27, 2005 by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Hurricane Katrina blew apart President Bush's rickety arguments about how invading Iraq would make us safe.

We don't know Hurricane Katrina's death toll, or how many Americans might have lived had the thousands of National Guard troops trained to help in the wake of hurricanes and floods not been protecting oil in the desert.

But we know 35 percent of Louisiana's and 40 percent of Mississippi's National Guard troops were in Iraq while their towns were leveled. National Guard officers repeatedly had warned officials about the catastrophic impact of having so many Guardsmen deployed in the event of a major natural disaster.

More soldiers and equipment are now stateside. But hundreds of high-water vehicles, humvees, refuelers and generators the Gulf Coast desperately needs remain overseas. Not only Gulf Coast residents are in jeopardy; the Iraq war endangers the nation.

More than a third of the U.S. soldiers based in Iraq belong to the Reserves or National Guard. Weekend warriors intended to supplement full-time active duty troops now fight for 14 months on average. But most are still treated like part-timers, and prepped and outfitted for combat accordingly. New equipment goes to the Army while Guardsmen and Reservists get hand-me-downs. This bodes badly for part-time soldiers who have become a major fighting force in Iraq.

August was the deadliest month for citizen soldiers. Five Pennsylvania Guardsmen died when the second-class humvee they were in was blown up. They had requested permission to use some of the 12 brand new, fully up-armored vehicles issued to a nearby active duty unit. The request was denied. The trucks stood idle when the Guardsmen died.

A total of 46 National Guard and Reserve soldiers were killed in August, more than half the 83 troop deaths. The disproportionately high -- and rising -- casualty rates of citizen soldiers are part of a trend. Pentagon statistics released at the end of 2004 showed losses sustained by Army National Guard soldiers in Iraq were 35 percent higher than that of regular enlisted. The elevated mortality rate of citizen soldiers is unparalleled. Of the 58,209 U.S. deaths in Vietnam, 94 were Guardsmen, and none were killed in the Persian Gulf War, USA Today has reported.

Long, hazardous duty is one reason why Army National Guard and Army Reserve recruitment numbers are off by 23 percent and 20 percent, respectively. In the first half of 2005, the Seattle Army Reserve office missed its target of about 100 recruits by 75 percent. Oregon recruitment is down 40 percent. Several battalions have lost more than half their members. One Reserve unit saw 70 percent of its members leave within a few months of coming home.

Half the soldiers leaving active duty service have traditionally joined the Guard, but since that likely means a quick trip back to Iraq, the number has dropped to about 35 percent. With so many first responders in Iraq, we have fewer first responders -- fire, police and emergency medical technicians -- in our communities.

While the Guard and Reserve are particularly hard hit, our entire country is suffering from the Iraq war. Rep. Michael McNulty, D-N.Y., recently noted that more than 16,000 U.S. troops have been killed or wounded in Iraq, and that the government has spent more than $200 billion on the war so far, saying, "The war has been a tremendous failure by both measures." He was announcing his support for legislation to require that U.S. troops begin their withdrawal from Iraq by October 2006.

It's time we add Homeland Security to the growing list of casualties of the war in Iraq.

Spiritual Activism in a Time of War
by Stacy Bannerman
Published on Friday, November 4, 2005 by Edge Life

I have spent much of my adult life working to change the conditions that create war. I never imagined that my husband would be fighting in one. He got the call in October 2003, and deployed to Iraq with the Washington Army National Guard in early 2004. By the time he left, I was already active in Military Families Speak Out (www.mfso.org), an organization that has been at the forefront of the efforts to end the war in Iraq. If ever there was an opportunity to turn swords into ploughshares, it's now.

Over the past two years, I've made numerous visits to my Congressmen and Senators. So much so that two of them are now on my Christmas card mailing list. I've spoken at rallies and vigils and marches, presented petitions calling for an end to the war, and the return of our citizen soldiers. I rode on the northern route of the Bring Them Home Now bus tour, and met with Cindy Sheehan the day before she made a stand by sitting down outside the President's ranch in Crawford, Texas.

I have conducted press conferences and hundreds of interviews, written letters to the Editor, Op Eds and articles. I have mourned, and meditated, and prayed, not always sure to whom. I have also made some new friends.

One of my friends told me, "I learned my brother was dead during a graduate seminar at Emory University when my mom called my cell phone, and said, 'He's gone.'"

Ryan was killed on the 29th, four days after he should've been home. His sister, Brooke, saw President Bush speaking at a black-tie fundraiser, doing a comedy routine about the "missing" weapons of mass destruction. He was looking behind curtains and under tables, acting like he's searching for hidden weapons, laughing as he did. His joke cost Brooke's little brother his life.

When I asked my friend Bill Mitchell how he'd learned about his only boy's death, he said, "A phone call. I got a phone call at home. They said it was a military representative, and they told me to stay home. They said they were sending some people over. And I knew. But I asked them, 'What for? What are they coming here for?'

"She said, 'Sir, I cannot tell you. Just please stay there. Someone will be at your home shortly.' And I was just yelling, I kept yelling, 'Goddammit! You tell me now! You will tell me now! Is my son dead?'

"And she said, 'Yes, sir, I'm sorry, sir.' I dropped the phone and fell on the floor. Remember that picture of the coffins that was in all the papers? I'm sure Mike was in one of them."

The same day
Casey Sheehan's casket was almost certainly in the picture, too. He died on the same day, in the same place. His mom, Cindy, got the news of her son's death while watching CNN. Like all of us with a soldier overseas, the Sheehan family has a love-hate relationship with the media coverage of the situation in Iraq.

It was the first Sunday in April, and her family was eating supper with the television tuned to the nightly news, which was covering the Sadr City attack. When the footage rolled, they watched, helpless and horrified, as their first-born died. A few hours later, three military officers at the front door confirmed his death.

Casey was buried 46 days before his 25th birthday, as his three younger siblings looked on. As Cindy Sheehan beat back the overwhelming urge to lay down in that grave with her boy. It's a battle she fights every day.

Elaine Johnson fights that same fight, and I asked her how she was notified of her son's death.

"I was at work, and my husband called. He said to come home. People were looking for me. Nobody would tell me what was going on. So I went home, not really thinking too much about it, I guess. I don't really remember what happened afterward, but I do remember that I screamed when they told me, and my whole body gave out. I just fell down and sobbed. I stayed there for hours."

Notification of your child's death seems to collapse the body as much as it does the heart. A friend of mine sold her house in the months after her son's death, when the walls of her home seemed to be imploding with grief. When Carlos Arredondo was told that his beloved 20-year-old son, Lance Cpl. Alexander Arredondo, was dead, his grief exploded, and he went to the garage, got a can of gasoline, went to the Marine van outside and torched it and himself. Carlos joined the northern bus tour at the Amherst (MA) Commons, where more than a decade earlier, a Buddhist monk immolated himself in protest of the first Gulf War.

Dianna, another acquaintance I've made, told me about the young Marine wife who was having a party for her 3-year-old daughter. Right after singing Happy Birthday, she answered a knock on the door. Standing on her front step was the same Chaplain that had informed Dianna that her husband was dead.

Smoke from the candles was still wafting in the air when the young woman learned that her 24-year-old husband had been killed in the first days of the Fallujah offensive. His tour-of-duty was set to end in three weeks.

They come to induct the new Gold Star Families (those with an immediate family member KIA) between 6 in the morning and 10 at night. The United States Military Casualty Notification Office won't tell you about the death of your loved one in the dark. Nearly 2,000 military families have been told, "We regret to inform you...." Many of the 80-plus people of Gold Star Families for Peace harbor a profound regret of their own: They knew the war in Iraq was wrong, and they did nothing. People who identify themselves as Christian or spiritual didn't act to stop the bloodshed until after someone they loved was killed.

Founded in January of 2005, Gold Star Families for Peace (GSFP) is made up of families of soldiers who have died as a result of war (primarily, but not limited to the invasion/occupation of Iraq). Members are involved in protests and political actions, speaking out for peace in the hopes of "minimiz[ing] the 'human cost' of this war, and to prevent other families from the pain we are feeling as the result of our losses." [www.gsfp.org]

Where were you?
I met with GSFP co-founder Cindy Sheehan, the California mom who wanted to know the Noble Cause that the President was referring to when he said, "The families of the fallen can be assured that they died for a noble cause."
What I wanted to know on August 5, the day before Cindy drove to Crawford, was, "Where were you two years ago?"

She paused, dropped her gaze, and said, "I was one of the Americans asleep at the wheel, and I got a horrible wake-up call."

Didn't the spiritual community refer to 9/11 as a wake-up call for the nation?

It's time for all of us to ask ourselves not only, "Where were you two years ago?" but, more importantly, "Where are you NOW?"

What are you doing, now, to act on what you know? What are you doing, NOW, that engages your spiritual values in the public realm?

I've been involved in what's termed the New Age community for the past decade or so, and for the most part, what that's meant is buying books, channeled readings and seminars. It's been countless conversations about the inner child and abundance, healing sessions and past life regressions and the steps for attracting our soul mate. I am not diminishing the possibility of the Cultural Creatives for changing the world, WE are.

A surface-level spiritual makeover that is primarily focused on the personal and the material cannot address the deep challenges of our times. Engaged spirituality, or spiritual activism, a combination of prayer and meditation, work, and social and political activity, can.

Engaged spirituality entails two distinct, yet ultimately intertwined, activities. The first, which the New Age community has done exceedingly well, is to connect with those resources that provide spiritual sustenance. The second, which we have yet to really consider, is to engage with the world via acts of compassion and justice, service and citizenship. These four universally held values (there are at least a dozen) are found in virtually all spiritual teachings and traditions. But it's not sufficient to say we hold certain values, we must live them, for "faith without works is dead." (James 2:14-26)

Prayer and meditation, two of the cornerstones of faith, are necessary practices, but they are not enough, as every great spiritual teacher and social activist has shown us. The activists prayed, and the preachers acted: Gandhi, Chief Seattle, Dorothy Day, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Thich Nhat Hanh -- and Jesus, one of the original radical political protesters.

We must reframe the perception that the spiritual life is comprised mostly, or exclusively, of things like contemplation, study and prayer. Thomas Merton, an activist monk, cautioned against "diddl[ing] around in the contemplative life, making itsy-bitsy statues." Authentic spiritual life necessitates movement in the world, which includes the demanding, often chaotic, activities of protest, writing about and speaking out for peace and justice, and tendering mercy, care and compassion to all whom we encounter, but particularly those in need.

If your neighbor were hungry, would you pray for them, feed them, or help them find work? The solution is a trinity. God did not create the problems we are facing; we did, albeit from a very low vibrational frequency.

Given the amount of time -- and dollars -- that so many of us have spent cleansing and healing and toning to raise our frequencies, shouldn't we be bringing that new resonance to the world? And wouldn't now be better than later?

Remembering its heart
A little more than a year ago, a massive earthquake and the ensuing tsunami killed at least 160,000 people in Southeast Asia, and donations and assistance began to pour into that corner of the world. Much like the days following the terrorist attacks of September 11th, national boundaries dissolved, and humanity lost its mind (in the best possible way) and remembered its heart. After initially designating $35 million for relief assistance, President Bush increased the amount tenfold when members of the media and world leaders opined about the lack of generosity from the wealthiest nation on the planet. A nation that is spending more than $177 million a day to wage war in Iraq.

Less than two months ago, Hurricane Katrina devastated America's Gulf region. The initial shock and horror felt in the aftermath of the record-breaking tropical storm was quickly translated into compassionate action to heal the wounded, recover the several thousand dead, and relieve the suffering of millions. People were talking about the horribly inadequate evacuation systems, the failure of the levees, the loss of life, and the devastation of the natural landscape. Some asked how God could allow it to happen, others wanted to know why more wasn't done to warn people or somehow prevent it. The destructive forces of nature dismay us, yet man-made destruction continues.

The combined soldier and civilian casualties in Iraq will surpass 170,000 sometime this year, according to the most conservative estimates. Hundreds of thousands have been wounded or permanently disabled, and millions of Iraqis are without homes or jobs, engaged in a daily struggle for food and water.

The country's landscape has been irrevocably changed by bombs and poisoned by depleted uranium, and I suspect the before-and-after photos of Fallujah and Louisiana have much in common. Yet no one speaks of the dead in the Gulf of Mexico as collateral damage. Because that's a tragedy; this is war.

If we have a spiritual, moral and humanitarian mandate to alleviate suffering, then surely we are ordained not to inflict it. And those of us in the Christian and spiritual communities belie our faith when we do not speak, and act, and work for change.

Empty Boots and Baby Shoes

I am so tired of standing at memorials for soldiers;
tired of weeping for the victims of this war.
I am tired of watching parents plant crosses for their dead children,
day after day after godforsaken day.

I am tired of placing flowers in empty boots and baby shoes;
of the way my body shakes at the first readings
of the names that were added to the casualty count this week.

What's wearing me out is bearing witness to this war.
This foreverness of death, and the unrelenting loss.

It drains my spirit to meet the widow's eyes;
to watch the fathers falter, falling to their knees.
Christ, that makes me weak.

To stand at the lip of the mouth of a grave that will never get enough
catching mothers tears, a nation driving by the dead, is exhausting to my soul.

I am deathly tired today.

   Not One More Dime, Not One More Life
    By Stacy Bannerman
    Tuesday, March 01, 2006

Stacy Bannerman provides her testimony to House Appropriations Sub-Committee on Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs.

March 1, 2006 Testimony to House Appropriations Sub-Committee on Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs.

    I am the wife of a National Guard soldier who served twelve months in Iraq. I am also a member of Military Families Speak Out, an organization of more than 3,000 military families opposed to the war in Iraq. I am joined by Tia Steele, Gold Star Families Speak Out; Liz Frederick, Military Families Speak Out; and Garett Reppenhagen, Iraq Veterans Against the War. We are the military families and personnel who pay the price of war.

    This is the medal given to family members of Iraq War veterans. National Guard Specialist John West took a very long time making it to the Freedom Salute stage to pick it up. Sixteen months earlier, he'd been hit by an IED that broke his back, and bones in his foot and leg. It tore out a few pounds of his flesh, and ruptured multiple internal organs. SPC West gets around now with the help of a walker. He still struggles with post-traumatic stress, depression, and flashbacks of fellow soldiers being killed in front of him. West was granted a ten percent disability.

    First-hand accounts from military family members and personnel working at Fort Madigan Medical Center reveal a pattern of Reservists being granted lower benefits than active-duty for comparable injuries.

    The United States Government has known for at least a decade that citizen soldiers have significantly higher rates of combat-related PTSD than their active duty counterparts. [1] But you've done nothing about it. That failure of duty is costing military families their homes, marriages, jobs, and lives.

    For the 56,000 Army marriages that have ended since the war on terror began, a Freedom Salute medal doesn't mean much. It isn't particularly valuable for this father, whose son returned from Iraq. He wrote:

    "I need your help. My son's body showed up at my house for Christmas but [my wife] and I did not know the person who claimed to be [our son]. He was severely drunk every day for the whole week, belligerent, and generally just someone that nobody wanted anything to do with. He has nightmares every night of the murdered innocent children and civilian Iraqis. The Army has abandoned him as far as giving him help. They will go out of their way to help him re-enlist though."

    A Freedom Salute medal isn't going to make things better for Pat Gunn, who got this response from the Army after she contacted a member of Congress when her son was redeployed to Iraq following a diagnosis of PTSD:

    "SPC Gunn was wounded in the leg during an attack on his HUMVEE. The soldier behind him was literally torn in half. After returning from convalescent leave [Gunn] was informed he would be redeployed. [He] indicated he would not go back to Iraq [and] was sent to Heidelberg Hospital for evaluation. They concluded he was suffering some post traumatic stress from seeing his comrade killed so violently. They recommended he be retained and treated at Heidelberg, [which] was contacted by medical authorities from Iraq. After discussion of his case it was determined [that SPC Gunn be] treat[ed] downrange [as it] may be in his best interest mentally to overcome his fear by facing it. [SPC Gunn was] cleared for redeployment."

    The Freedom Salute medal is just tin on a ribbon for the families of Marine Reservist Jeffrey Lucey, National Guardsman Doug Barber, and the dozens of other Iraq Veterans who have committed suicide after the Veterans Administration refused to treat them. Last year, the VA denied requests for care from over a quarter of a million veterans. Congress has tried to cut funding for veterans, and has grossly underestimated the needs of the soldiers returning from Iraq. You want to take care of our veterans? Quit making new ones.

    The 1.2 million soldiers and their families who have paid for this war with their lives and limbs and loved ones don't need medals.

    We need leaders.

    We need leaders who will honor the Constitution, not shred it. We need leaders who hold accountable an administration that promotes a policy of torture but penalizes the foot soldiers who are expected to carry it out. We need leaders who don't bankrupt a nation in the interests of bankrolling their personal political agendas. We need moral leaders who are champions of truth and justice, not lapdogs to private interests and war profiteers. We need leaders willing to reclaim democracy from the iron fist of imperialistic power and greed.

    We need leaders who will give America back to Americans, the overwhelming majority of whom want the troops home. We need leaders who care more about the lives of our soldiers and the material and spiritual health of this nation than the next election. Congress gave the Bush administration a blank check for a war based on lies. Stop payment. Immediately. Not one more dime, not one more life. You took an oath of office, and declared yourself a leader. Be one.

    Brings the troops home now. Take care of them when they get here. And never again send our soldiers to fight in a war based on lies.


No Deals for Democrats: Quit Bargaining with the Lives of Our Loved Ones
by Stacy Bannerman
Published on Sunday, March 5, 2006 by CommonDreams.org

It’s easy to make deals with soldiers’ lives when it’s not your soldier. It’s pretty simple to postpone coming up with an exit strategy when your loved ones are already home.
What’s not so easy is sitting across from a familiar stranger, someone who looks like your loved one, but isn’t, not quite. What’s even harder is dining next to an empty chair, day after day, month after month, and year after year. Taking your meals at the bedside of what’s left of your son lying in intensive care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center is a whole different degree of difficult.

Diane Benson’s 26-year-old boy was still unconscious when he arrived at Walter Reed after being hit by a roadside bomb in Tikrit, north of Baghdad. Latseen Benson, in the 101st Airborne, had his legs blown off, along with part of an arm. If he survives—and it’s still a pretty big if—he will never again sit in his old chair at his mother’s table. Negotiate that, Senator Clinton.

Anne Roesler’s son just returned from his third deployment to Iraq in three years. Before he left in August, he told his mom that, if he made it back this time, it would take years for him to recover. Iraq War veterans are already exhibiting post-combat mental health challenges at unprecedented levels.

Part of the reason for the escalating psychological problems is that while soldiers were typically sent for one tour-of-duty in Vietnam, more and more troops are serving two, three, and sometimes four rotations in Iraq. Another complication is the moral ambiguity of fighting a war without front lines, and where the combatants are, or are dressed as, civilians, some of them women or teens. Iraqi law allows the use of children as soldiers, and at least 1,000 youths are believed to be serving in the Iraq military, a figure that doesn’t account for the adolescents providing assistance to insurgency forces.

There is considerable psychological distress associated with going into a country under the auspices of liberating and helping a people, only to have those people rise up against you, and it lingers long after the war has ended.

This nation’s leaders told our soldiers that the people of Iraq would be overjoyed to see them. Forty-five percent of Iraqis think that the insurgents’ attacks on American troops are justified. Eighty percent of Iraqis want the troops out now, as do a majority of Americans.

When this administration sent my husband to Iraq, they told him he’d be building schools. Instead, he killed schoolchildren. Now, how is he supposed to deal with that? How does the wife deal with being woken up in the middle of the night by her husband, holding an imaginary gun to her head?

The only deals that interest politicians are the ones that will keep them in office. They speak of “phased withdrawals,” a gradual drawing-down of forces, which has been tried before.

It didn’t work in Vietnam. It’s sheer arrogance or stupidity to think it will succeed in Iraq.

Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) said an immediate pullout “would cause more problems for us in America." Does “us” refer to you folks on Capitol Hill? What about the nearly 70 percent of Americans who want the troops out of Iraq? Or do you mean the soldiers who are serving in Iraq, and the families left behind? Because, I assure you, the problem for “us” is not an immediate withdrawal of troops.

The problem, for those of us with loved ones in uniform, is that our soldiers are fighting and dying for a lie.

Bargaining with the lives of our soldiers is not leadership. It is moral cowardice and an egregious failure of office of the highest order. I’ve come to expect that from the Bush administration, but surely the Democrats can do better. With the exception of Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), too many Democrats are trying to make deals with the lives of our soldiers. Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean recently endorsed a report by former assistant Defense secretary Lawrence Korb. The ‘strategic redeployment’ concept sets out a plan for a phased troop withdrawal over an 18 month period.
Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) recently stated that he thinks: “In 2006, American troops will begin to leave Iraq in large numbers. By the end of the year, I believe we will have redeployed at least 50,000 troops."

But Biden, Dean, and far too many other Democrats are remarkably silent about the 80,000 or more troops that would remain in Iraq. And they’re mute when it comes to the 800-plus soldiers who will most likely get killed between now and then, bringing the U.S. body count to around 3,000. That’s playing Russian roulette with our loved ones. If the Democratic leaders don’t play that game with their families, they’ve got no right to play it with ours.

Stacy Bannerman is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus and on the Advisory Board of Military Families Speak Out. Her book “When the War Came Home: The Inside Story of Reservists and the Families They Leave Behind,” will be released by Continuum Publishing in March 2006. Her husband deployed to Iraq with the Army National Guard 81st Brigade in March 2004, and returned home on March 11, 2005.


    Bibliography

    Can We Come Home Now? Charlie Anderson, TruthOut.org, February 2006

    "Combat Duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mental Health Problems, and Barriers to Care." New England Journal of Medicine, July 2004, Vol. 351, No. 1, pages 13-22.

    "The Iraq Quagmire: The Mounting Costs of War and the Case for Bringing Them Home." Bennis, Leaver, & IPS Task Force, August 31, 2005.

    "Much Ado About Nothing." Susan Lenfestey, CommonDreams.org, February 18, 2006.

    "Possibilities for Unexplained Chronic Illnesses among Reserve Units Deployed in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm." Southern Medical Journal, December 1996.

    "Soldiers Neglected after War." Stacy Bannerman, Tacoma News Tribune, January 22, 2006.

    "To War and Back." NBC Documentary, December 2005.

    "Vets' Medical Premiums May Triple." Seattle Times, February 18, 2006. Walter Reed Army Institute of Research Report on the Mental Health and Well-Being of Soldiers in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF-II), Annex A, January 30, 2005, chartered by the US Army Surgeon General.

    "Why 2,245 Is Just the Tip of the Iceberg." Erik Leaver, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, February 9, 2006.

    [1] In 1994, the Department of Defense implemented the Comprehensive Clinical Evaluation Program in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs to study long-term stress reactions in soldiers.


Empty Boots and Baby Shoes
By Stacy Bannerman

t r u t h o u t | Perspective

   Saturday 03 June 2006

   In the wake of the rising tide of allegations claiming that US forces executed a sort of vigilante justice by staging murderous attacks on Iraqi civilians, General Chiarelli, second in command in Iraq, stated his belief that it's important for troops to "take time to reflect on the values that separate us from our enemies." The Marines who were reportedly involved in the Haditha rampage were on their third deployment. Some soldiers are on their sixth tour of duty. Many have spent more time in Iraq than they have at home in the past few years, scooping up body parts of friends and "friendlies." When, precisely, does the General think our soldiers will have a little down time to reflect?

   More importantly, why haven't our elected leaders taken the time to reflect, discuss, and decide on a clear exit strategy that would prevent more empty boots and baby shoes from being added to the growing pile of casualties in Iraq every day?

   It has been more than a month since leaders of the US House of Representatives declared that they would convene a "full and lengthy" debate on the war. Theoretically, that debate would address questions pertaining to the legality of a confrontation that was initiated on false information and in violation of virtually all modern conventions and standards of warfare.

   Presumably, that conversation would explore the morality of a conflict that has become a civil war in which 90% of the casualties are unarmed civilians, and the short- and long-term impacts of multiple deployments on troops already stretched to the breaking point.

   One might suppose the discussion would address what the "noble cause" is, and whether or not it is within the purview of the United States Armed Forces to build a democracy (which is not what Congress or the American public were told they were paying for). One might also surmise that a dialogue would take place about whether that might be something better left to a regional, if not international, coalition of statesmen and diplomats. It may be difficult to appeal to the United Nations for assistance, but, as the wife of a National Guardsman who has already served a year in Iraq, I assure you, it would be no trickier than having your loved one sent off to fight in a war based on lies.

   Which begs the question: If you support the troops, can you name one? If not, why aren't you signing up to become one? With an increasing number of Americans opposed to the war in Iraq, why aren't we doing anything about it? Why aren't our Representatives? It smacks of hypocrisy to ask our soldiers to do what we, from the comfort of our couches or the halls of Congress, won't. Namely, to align our morals with our actions.

   If Congress waits until November to act, it is likely that 350 or more US soldiers will die, along with countless Iraqi children, women, and men. Since March 2003, on average, over two service men and women and nearly 20 Iraqi citizens have been killed in each day of the war.

   Perhaps when what's left of the troops on the ground in Iraq are done with their values training, they can all come home and teach us. Until then, I suspect that the poem I wrote while participating in the Bring Them Home Now Tour (September, 2005) as a member of Military Families Speak Out, will continue to be relevant:

EMPTY BOOTS AND BABY SHOES

I am so tired of standing at memorials for soldiers; tired of weeping for the victims of this war.

I am tired of watching parents plant crosses for their dead children, day after day after godforsaken day.

I am tired of placing flowers in empty boots and baby shoes; of the way my body shakes at the first readings of the names that were added to the casualty count this week.

What's wearing me out is bearing witness to this war. This foreverness of death, and the unrelenting loss.

It drains my spirit to meet the widow's eyes; to watch the fathers falter, falling to their knees. Christ, that makes me weak.

To stand at the lip of the mouth of a grave that will never get enough

catching mothers tears, a nation driving by the dead, is exhausting to my soul.

I am deathly tired today.

 --------

   Stacy Bannerman is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus and is on the Advisory Board of Military Families Speak Out. She is the author of When the War Came Home: The Inside Story of Reservists and the Families They Leave Behind, (Continuum Publishing, March 2006). Her husband deployed to Iraq with the Army National Guard 81st Brigade in March 2004, and returned home on March 11, 2005.

 -------

Adapted excerpt from: "The Spiritual Crisis in our lives generated by the war in Iraq" presented by Stacy Bannerman at the Spiritual Activism Conference, May 17-20, 2006, sponsored by the NSP (Network of Spiritual Progressives - www.spiritualprogressives.org). published on www.tikkun.org

   

   Almost forty years ago Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned this nation about "the giant triplets of racism, militarism, and materialism." At the end of August, 2005, while Cindy Sheehan was outside of the Bush compound in Crawford, Texas, waiting for an answer to the question, "What is the Noble Cause for which my son has died?" Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. More than a third of the National Guard and equipment specifically trained for those kinds of natural disasters was in Iraq. And it became clear that the triplets had come of age, and the war had come home. 

   I have been on the front lines of this anti-war movement since before it began. Military Families Speak Out is an organization of over 3,000 military families. Our soldiers have served, are serving, or have died in Iraq. It is the first time in American history that there have been so many military families speaking out against a war. Clearly something has gone wrong when you've got military families on the forefront of the peace movement.

   What I have found fascinating as I've been doing this work, marching next to mothers, fathers, and grandparents, many of whom marched once before, is that we are here again, as a nation and as a people. Four decades ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. evoked the power of soulforce as a necessary tool for modeling nonviolence and building the Beloved Community. His vision from the mountaintop rang a bell for peace, justice, and freedom that resonated within the hearts of millions of Americans. Committed to the principles of non-violence, Reverend King, who spoke so convincingly of love, was assassinated the day after delivering the famous "I See the Promised Land" Sermon. I believe that this nation has been living in the shadow of the Dream ever since.

   There has been no subsequent public discourse on the need for peace and nonviolence in this nation's foreign policy, much less in Homeland Security. There have been no more clarion calls for genuine compassion and forgiveness between peoples. The revolution of values that Dr. King deemed necessary has been ignored or forgotten.

   The basic premise of non-violent resistance, agape love and spiritual power has been relegated to the back room of some barely remembered hall.

***

   Suppose for a moment that the mountaintop spiritual awakening for this nation happened in the Sixties. As a collective, this country was closer than it has ever been to embodying the principles of love, compassion, and justice. The slogan of the era, All you need is love, was more than an ad campaign. People actually seemed to believe it. 

   Modeled after Gandhi's teachings of ahimsa and his efforts to dismantle institutionalized racism in India using nonviolence, one of Gandhi's gifts to Dr. King, and, I believe, one of Dr, King's gifts to us is soulforce, the translation of satyagraha. 

   Satya refers to truth as the equivalent of love and both as qualities of the soul. Agraha is unyielding will power, a passionate, steadfast commitment, which is an emotional attribute. Soulforce is the combined capacity of emotional and spiritual intelligence. It is the heart of the Dream.

   One of the reasons that my friend Cindy Sheehan's sitting down outside of President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas so galvanized not just this nation, but the world is because we saw some of the same qualities that we saw at the forefront of the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement of the Sixties. 

   We saw soulforce there.

   I have seen it in the military families that I have walked with and worked with and cried with. Soulforce is desperately needed now.

   Part of what made the movements of the Sixties so successful was that they were driven by the people who were directly impacted by what was going on, and those who allowed themselves to be impacted. 

   I am deeply, deeply disappointed by the fact that almost 70 percent of the American public has indicated that they think the war is wrong or they want the troops home, but so very few are doing anything to make it happen.

   What the war in Iraq and the overwhelming challenges of our times are calling us to do is to engage our spirituality. 

   As Dr. King said, "New Laws are not enough."

   In the Sixties and Seventies, we thought that new laws would be enough. We thought it would be enough just to end the war in Vietnam. What we are seeing is that new laws are not enough, because ultimately and fundamentally what is needed is soulforce.

   We need people to engage in the public sphere with the deepest essence of who they are. With their flaws, and failures; with their magnificence, and their hopes and dreams. We do this not only for ourselves, not only for our children, but for the future of the world.

   I've spoken at so many different events and rallies and vigils, and things, and I'm standing there, literally in the middle of a graveyard sometimes. Standing there, watching a parent plant a white cross for his dead son while cars are driving by.

   This nation seems to be driving by this war. We are not as a nation and as a people bearing witness to the war. And as spiritual progressives, as Christians and Buddhists, and Muslims and Jews, and Hindus, and God knows, as human beings we are asked to bear witness.

   We are failing to do that. And yes, our government is facilitating that - you bet they are. They don't allow pictures of our dead loved ones in the news. They don't want photographers and the media coming to funerals.

   I have heard story after story about friends of mine waiting for several hours for the passengers on an American Airlines flight, or Delta, or Continental, waiting for hours for all of the passengers to get off the plans, and then the luggage, the cargo, and pets. Do you know what comes off the plane last? What is left of their children. This nation is walking down a path we cannot afford to keep moving on.

***

   God is inviting the people of America to become who it is we have said that we are. That is the opportunity before us at this time. If we do not take it, the consequences are appalling. Silence is not support.

   Yet, as I have been doing this work, I have been amazed at how many religious people, spiritual people, who do not agree with the war in Iraq and yet are doing nothing. That is not the level of spirituality that is required at this time upon this planet. Every single one of us is being called. The only question now is, "Are we calling back?"

   We are being called to move into a more authentic - fuller - expression of our spirituality, which is a fundamental aspect of who we are. It's a component of soulforce, which is about truth and spiritual power, and pure human expression. That's why when Cindy Sheehan sat down, people around the world stood up. Because there was something in that simple question, "What is the Noble Cause?" that completely by-passed our minds and got us in our hearts.

   Earlier this week, I went to an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute that chronicles the history of America's wars, including the war in Iraq. It was called "The Price of Freedom."

   No. Death is not the price of freedom. Betrayal is not the price of freedom. Silence is not the price of freedom. The price of freedom is something that frankly, we don't want to pay. The price of freedom is integrity. The price of freedom is democracy. The price of freedom is justice. The price of freedom is peace. The price of freedom is compassion.

   And that is where the spiritual community really has got to step up and get involved. In the whole run-up to the war in Iraq, the Pope was clearly and consistently saying, "If you invade Iraq, God is not with you." Yet, too many of our leaders, and our preachers, tell us that the occupation of Iraq is God's work. How dare we allow faith to be used to justify this war?

   But more pernicious and devastating is the belief that somehow we've got to be flawless before we get involved. We think we've got to be perfect before we can; we've got to be masters before we do. I know, because I struggle with it, too. But let me tell you, for those of us who are sitting in this room, and those of us in the spiritual progressive community, we have done enough, and we do know enough. It is upon us now to share it with the world.

   Stacy Bannerman is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus (www.fpif.org) and on the Advisory Board of Military Families Speak Out. She is the author of When the War Came Home: The Inside Story of Reservists and the Families They Leave Behind, (Continuum Publishing, March 2006). Her husband deployed to Iraq with the Army National Guard 81st Brigade in March 2004, and returned home on March 11, 2005. She can be reached at www.stacybannerman.com

No Surprise In Bush's 'Emergencies'

By Stacy Bannerman
Published on Thursday, June 22, 2006 by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

President Bush has yet another supposed "emergency" on his hands. This time it's illegal immigration. His response is to deploy thousands of National Guard troops along the Mexican border. The tactic is eerily familiar: send soldiers on a murky mission under the pretense of promoting homeland security and the war on terror.

In the "initial guidance" Pentagon memo that The Associated Press recently acquired, Bush provided no clear estimates of operational strategies, costs or timelines. That's just how he made the Iraq war a military, monetary and moral failure.

More than 2,500 U.S. soldiers have died. In the first three months of this year, more than 3,800 innocent civilians were killed in Baghdad alone. That's the real emergency. But Bush is deaf to the screaming sirens.

Sad to say, neither of the two major disasters that the Bush administration (eventually) categorized as emergencies was unforeseen.

Pre-9/11 intelligence reports specifically warned about the possibility of a major, imminent, terrorist attack in the United States. Various FBI personnel and flight school instructors repeatedly raised concerns about potential or suspected terrorists getting aviation training but skipping sessions about how to land a plane. Mossad officials traveled to Washington from Israel to warn government agencies that a cell of terrorists was setting up a major operation.

Two weeks before the attacks, a CIA cable received over a classified government computer network warned that two "bin Laden-related individuals" had come into the United States and that two other suspected terrorists should be banned from entering, according to the Los Angeles Times. Ignoring those warnings contributed to the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans.

The administration's failure to heed the National Weather Service's predictions about the severity of Hurricane Katrina, coupled with a yearslong pattern of sabotaging FEMA and gutting the Guard for the Iraq war, contributed to the deaths of at least 2,140 people along the Gulf Coast. Far fewer would have died had the Bush administration not delayed declaring a state of emergency.

The Bushies, however, are rushing to frame the immigration issue as Code Red and militarize the border with Mexico (but not with Canada). People have fled their homelands to come to this country in the hope of a better life for themselves and their children for centuries. Suddenly, it's a "national emergency"? Please. With Bush's low approval rating and the Republicans deeply divided, perhaps he's just worried about an electoral emergency.

The real crisis is the result of more than three years of a war based on false information that Bush persists in repeating. While discussing immigration reform at an Orange County Business Council event at the Hyatt Regency Irvine on April 24, Bush stated, "Iraq has -- had weapons of mass destruction." He went on to say, "I base a lot of my foreign policy decisions on ... things I think are true." This suggests some of his decisions are based on lies.

The real emergency is that this administration and Congress have cut funds for education and social services while pouring $320 billion into the Iraq war.

The true menace before us is that a nation that once was a beacon welcoming millions would douse the light and bar the door.

So Over It
We need a real debate about the costs of the Iraq War

By Stacy Bannerman
Guest Writer
Published on Friday, July 14, 2006 by realchangenews.org

June 29, on location at the Cannon House Building, Washington, D.C. —

“Get over it!” bawls the blue-suited bully as he scuttles by the military family members standing next to 29 pairs of empty combat boots, the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq since Congress decided to “stay the course” on June 15.

The man didn’t look any of us in the face, so it’s not clear whom he was addressing. Was it Anne Roesler, whose Marine Corp son recently returned from his third tour of duty in Iraq? Was it me, whose husband spent a year at Mortaritaville, aka Camp Anaconda, with the Army National Guard? Was it Mona Parsons, whose boy’s boots are currently on the ground, caught in the crossfire of a civil war and insurgent attacks that have reached a record-high of 600 per week, according to CBS News? Or is it Al Zappala who needs to “get over it”?

The guy didn’t stick around long enough for me to ask, but if he had, I would have wanted to know exactly what we needed to “get over.” I would have been interested in hearing his suggestions for how Al was supposed to “get over” the death of his son, Sherwood Baker. Sherwood was killed in April 2004 while looking for weapons of mass destruction — a heartbreakingly futile attempt to make an honest man of President Bush.

If his comment was directed towards Anne, perhaps he would have some strategies for her to “get over” living with the very real possibility of her son being redeployed a fourth time, knowing that the odds of his safe return diminish with each tour. Knowing that, at this very moment, he is caught in the grip of profound post-traumatic stress disorder. If I was the intended recipient of his remark, then I would be most curious to hear his thoughts on how to “get over” the fact that I am now married to a slightly different version of my original husband. The man who went to war is not the one who came home from combat.

There is no way to “get over” any of these things, not for any of us. But on Thursday, June 15, as I watched the House debacle (pardon me, debate) unfold, I realized what I am “over.”

I am “over” a Congress that holds a mock debate, refusing to engage with the single most critical moral issue of our era. I am “over” pundits and politicians who parrot the phrase about “building democracy in Iraq” while refusing to practice it here, ignoring the majority of Americans who are opposed to the war and want a clear timeline for the troops to come home.

I am “over” acting as if the alleged incidents of rape and murder of unarmed Iraqi civilians by U.S. troops are not part and parcel of a war based on lies, facilitated and sanctioned by an administration that condones torture in both policy and practice.

I am “over” the self-serving pretense that the American public doesn’t share in the culpability. President Bush continues to say that “Iraq had weapons of mass destruction”(April 24). That Bush is still spouting patently untrue statements speaks volumes about him: that he is in his sixth year of the Presidency speaks volumes about us. We have got the leaders we deserve.

I am “over” House Democrats who attempt to justify their lack of leadership by saying, “We can’t do anything, we’re the minority party.” And I am about three stops past “over” dealing with hard-hearted, fiscally irresponsible, and morally bankrupt Republican Representatives and their sneering staffers, who snicker when we come into their offices with the empty boots representing the soldiers killed in the last 24 hours.

I am “over” the excuses, rationalizations, and justifications for trying to find a right way to do a wrong thing. The soul of America hangs in the balance, and I am “over” the political sport of pretending it does not.

On June 15, Congress decided to “stay the course In Iraq.” One week later, Military Families Speak Out launched Operation House Call. We’re keeping a vigil of empty boots and civilian shoes in front of the Cannon House Building every day that Congress is in session, showing them what “staying the course” looks like. Then maybe Congress will “get over it”, too.

Fly the Flag, Forget the Dead
By Stacy Bannerman
t r u t h o u t | Report

Thursday 03 August 2006

   "Open the casket. We need to see what's inside."

   Carlos Arredondo spends most of his days traveling up and down the East Coast with a flag-draped coffin. He takes it to parades and protests, schools and state fairs. Today it's in front of the Russell Senate Building, next to 78 pair of combat boots representing the number of US troops killed since June 15, when Congress voted to "stay the course" in Iraq. One week later, Military Families Speak Out launched Operation House Call on the front steps of the Cannon House Building.

   This week we moved to the Senate side, where two Capitol Hill police have spent the past twenty minutes going over our event permit and making calls to headquarters. The flag-draped coffin passed the security checkpoints on the National Mall, and got an initial "OK." Now that it has come to rest at the entry of the building where Senator John Warner (R-Va.), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has his office, the casket is a problem.

   Ten military family members, including three Gold Star parents, are gathered around the coffin, which has a photo of Carlos's son, Alex, on the lid. Alex was killed in Iraq in August of 2004. We watch as Carlos methodically removes his boy's boots from the lid and hangs his son's uniform, bedecked with the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, on the crossbars of the Operation House Call sign.

   We know Alex's body isn't in the glossy wooden box, but we still hold our breath when Carlos lifts the lid. The two officers observe stoically as he pulls out Alex's soccer ball, followed by two of his favorite childhood toys. When Carlos retrieves a fuzzy Winnie the Pooh bear in camouflage, one of the cops loses his composure, and removes his mirrored aviators to drag a hand across his eyes.

   I cannot bring myself to look at Gold Star parent Al Zappala and newly-minted member Gilda Carbonaro, who watched a box like this being lowered into the ground of Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery on May 23rd, 2006. The coffin contained the remains of her son, Sgt. Alessandro Carbonaro, a Marine in the Second Reconnaissance Battalion. Sgt. Carbonaro was serving his second tour of duty in Iraq when he was hit by an IED, which caused severe burns on over 60% of his body. Gilda was at the military medical center in Landstuhl, Germany, holding her boy in her arms when he died.

   The Capitol police inform us that Carlos and his coffin have got to go. Now. It's not listed on the permit and apparently the "stay the course" strategy applies here, too, because they tell us they can't make any changes or exceptions.

   But when I ask the officer if we can keep the large American flag that was added to our vigil this morning, he flip-flops and says, "That's not a problem."

   "Are you sure? Because I know it's not on the permit either."

   "Yeah, well, it'll be fine."

   The policy on the Hill: fly the flag, forget the dead.

   --------

   Stacy Bannerman is the creator of Operation House Call. She is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus and the author of When the War Came Home: The Inside Story of Reservists and the Families They Leave Behind, (Continuum Publishing, 2006). Her husband served one year in Iraq with the Army National Guard 81st Brigade.

 
 
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