The single most damning thing about our wars of opportunity and empire is the damage done to our young, active-duty military and veterans when they come home and attempt to re-integrate into American society. Instead of helping them with their injuries and nightmares we just expand the problem by throwing them in jail.
Recently, I spent a disturbing couple of days reviewing a 120+ page Analysis of arrest, conviction and incarceration data of active duty and military veterans. The Analysis was compiled, collected and published by Dr. Charles Corry and Dr. David Stockburger of the Equal Justice Foundation in Colorado Springs. The Analysis should become the landmark study in this area and the benchmark from which we stop harming our soldiers, sailors, airman and marines even more, once they come home.
Reading the report, to say the least, I’m more angry than ever at my faux-patriotic, complacent fellow citizens, the Chickenhawks and Warmongers who promote and support our endless wars. Just reading the “Abstract” to the Analysis should serve as an indictment and a Bill of Particulars for Impeachment of the elected and appointed officials, judges and prosecutors responsible for this tragedy.
Talk about “Blowback!” Saying “ignorance” is to blame is to excuse the all-too-apparent and readily observable. However, most Americans are behaving in their usual ‘eyes-averted’ mode, when it comes to the added harm veterans receive, from the “Global War on Terror.” The direct damage done by the wars is bad enough. Piling-on through the criminal “justice” system is even worse.
Drs. Corry and Stockburger and the Equal Justice Foundation have done a remarkable job trying to find justice for wounded, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder- (PTSD) and Traumatic Brian Injury- (TBI) afflicted veterans returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan. It should astound and anger every American why it is that a small, non-profit has stepped up to perform such an analysis. One guess would be the VA or DoD dare not perform such a in-depth review due to the local and national tragedy it exposes. The Administration and military may seek to ignore or whitewash the implications of findings in the EJF report. It’s happened before.
The Americans who supposedly “support the troops” by waving their little flags and wanting the parades of returning ‘victorious’ young men and women in uniform should instead hang their heads in shame. As soon as the parades end, apparently, so does any real concern for the actual welfare of the soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who served, or their families. Somebody else should take care of ensuring that, right?
Every year the El Paso County, Colorado jail facility and 4th Judicial District will process the arrest of ~3200-3400 active duty military and veterans. There are many counties around the country with large active duty and veteran populations, all of them experiencing the same tragedy outside of anyone’s (other than family) notice. Then think of all the counties where afflicted veterans return home with few if any veterans services and now wind up in jail without any regard to their “invisible” injuries.
Few people recognize the vast changes modern warfare has had on combat veterans:
1) Almost all wounded soldiers, even those with horrendous injuries who receive treatment within the “golden hour,” survive to come home; one way or another. In previous wars they died.
2) The “armoring-up” of personal gear (“hugs”) and military vehicles results in vastly higher numbers of Traumatic Brain Injured soldiers over any previous conflict.
3) The level of urban, 4th generation warfare now waged means high levels of “collateral damage” (civilian deaths), especially children, perpetrated and witnessed first-hand or via remote video by soldiers. It also means constant alertness and anxiety for in-country and FOB deployed troops as the local population largely hates, not loves, their ‘liberators.’ That is an additional price paid for by the hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths caused by urban interdiction, drone attacks and large-scale military operations that include rural civilian populations all over the world.
4) Nearly all combat-engaged soldiers have to complete multiple tours, some have been through multiple TBI incidents and many, if not most, are on various types of mood-altering and psychotropic drugs while in the “battlespace” and after-action.
Many come home and literally carry around bags full of drugs that military doctors prescribe for them, with little understanding as to the comprehensive effects. In Vietnam, many troops relieved the stress and anxiety with marijuana and other readily-available opiates. In Iraq and Afghanistan, various drugs are automatically prescribed and then supplemented by the local marijuana and opiates.
The 96% of the population who’ve never even glimpsed the inside of the military and its operations has no clue as to what it takes to engage in active modern warfare or the totality of the damage it can cause. That, in itself, is a large part of the problem. Ignorance is bliss. That’s why they also don’t, on average, know that 3 active duty and 22 military veterans commit suicide every day. Does anyone ask, when veterans are only 4% of the population, why they are almost one-fourth of all suicides annually?
As reflected in the report, many of those arrested are repeat offenders with multiple and escalating “crimes.” Some have already been diagnosed with PTSD/TBI and have been processed through the system on the “catch, convict and release” plan outlined in the Analysis. Tens of housands never receive the necessary screening and evaluation to determine the source of their supposedly “criminal” behavior.
Our last four Wars, PG-1 and 2, OEF and OIF, with a smattering of other conflicts scattered throughout (such as Somalia), have placed a largely silent and growing segment of physically and mentally injured ex-military into the population. More than 40% of these currently-returming veterans have applied for one or more disabilities. Claims run months to years behind in processing. They have to stand in endless lines or wait to be seen for appointments for months at a time.
In most communities, little to no help or understanding for the ordeal combat troops have endured is supplied to assist re-integrating them into the population and productive lives. The faltering economy and financial dislocations caused by our wars, with its featured permanent unemployment, compounds the problems.
Worse yet, similar ill-treatment has gone on since the Korean War. The most damning chart in the Analysis is the one on page 19 that shows that after age 60 the vast majority of all inmates are veterans. Living military veterans comprise less than 4% of the total US population. With current trends in place nearly 100% of the incarcerated inmates, in the El Paso Co. CJC and many similar facilities co-located with large ex-military populations, will be veterans of our current wars by 2040. Why is that?
It’s because the law enforcement and criminal ‘justice’ system we have is itself criminogenic, meaning; it is the system itself that produces the “crime” and “criminals.” The explosion of laws on the books concerning ‘domestic violence,’ divorce and child protection, which already destroy families of non-veterans and veterans alike with great frequency, are especially punitive on veterans with un-diagnosed PTSD and TBI.
Add to that the DUI and substance abuse laws and its own “zero-tolerance” policies and it’s easy to see how the criminal justice system is just a trap waiting to be sprung on returning veterans.
The cops are given no latitude in arrest with “zero-tolerance” statutes and policies. Prosecutors and Courts are both ignorant to the problem and are more interested in looking “tough on crime” than obtaining and maintaining justice. High arrest and conviction percentages are much better for re-election and retention than appearing “soft on crime.” The military doesn’t want to acknowledge publicly the extent of the problem for obvious reasons. Most everyone in the system wants this swept under the rug. And the veterans languish in jail, courts and in probation programs.
America has been great at getting into wars for the last 100 years while doing an extremely poor job in helping it’s active duty military and veterans. Remember the Bonus Marchers of 1932? They were Veterans of WWI who marched on Washington, DC, demanding the bonuses Congress promised in 1924, only amended to not be paid until 1945 when Congress knew a very large percentage of the vets would most likely be dead. How much has really changed and how much hasn’t? Today, is it just a different form of neglect?
Yes, in some ways it is better today than in years past. However, in some ways, it’s every bit as bad. No soldier should ever be left on the field, alive or dead, or in a jail cell to rot for injuries received in battle and for service to this country. No one should allow combat veterans to be imprisoned without full benefit of every service the government can place at their disposal to insure they can rehabilitate and reintegrate if needed.
Year after year, we hand out trillions and trillions to those who never serve anyone through the welfare system or to fund the mechanics and armaments of war. We can argue about the justification for these useless wars all day long. One thing’s for sure, the system we have is not working and will insure that many of those that sacrificed for their country will pay dearly for the privilege, on or off the battlespace. However, nobody should be sticking their head in the sand while we then stick GI Johnny or Jane in jail when they come marching home.