The New Britain (Conn.) Herald, March 5, 2014
Combat fatigue. Shell shock. Previous generations had a wide variety of names for what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder. But it has only been in recent years that psychologists recognized this reaction to war as a valid psychological condition — acknowledged that the horror of combat could leave a permanent mark on those who had to endure it, an invisible wound that was, for some, as debilitating as any physical trauma.
The difference? Those who took a hit to their body received lifelong care from a grateful nation. Not so for those suffering from mental scars.
Today, now that we have a better understanding of PTSD, it's time to go back and right the wrongs of another era.
A lawsuit was filed by a Yale University law clinic on behalf of Vietnam veterans who had been denied medical care and other benefits as a result of discharges accepted in the days before the military recognized post-traumatic stress as a medical disorder.
According to The Connecticut Mirror, the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale is seeking class-action status for litigation that asks the U.S. District Court to order the Pentagon to use "consistent and medically appropriate standards" in evaluating claims of PTSD by Vietnam veterans appealing their discharge status.
"They were wounded by war, and they were wounded by the discharge process," said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
The government now recognizes this mental condition, acknowledging that 30 percent to 50 percent of all combat veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffer from varying degrees of post-traumatic stress. But, Blumenthal pointed out, a whole class of veterans is being denied fair treatment, because they suffered trauma not recognized as a medical syndrome until 1980.
Often their symptoms were seen as bad behavior and they were denied an honorable discharge, as well as the important veterans' benefits they were entitled to.
Vietnam-era vets, in particular, were often treated badly by a society that was torn apart by an unpopular war.
Now it's time to right at least one of the wrongs of that era. It's time for the government to stop fighting these claims — even if it adds to the Pentagon's budget — and grant these men the honorable discharge they have earned. It's time to stop fighting this lawsuit and others like it and welcome these vets back into the fold.
The Concord (N.H.) Monitor, March 2, 2014
Significant cuts to defense spending like those proposed by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel are more likely to strengthen the nation economically and militarily than weaken it. That made the response to the proposed cuts by all four members of New Hampshire's congressional delegation disappointing, if predictable. All expressed fears that the cuts were too deep; all vowed to protect the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard from any new attempt to lose unneeded military bases.
The four members are in a strong position to influence future military spending. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte sit on the Senate Armed Services Committee. First District Rep. Carol Shea-Porter sits on the House Armed Services Committee, and 2nd District Rep. Annie Kuster serves on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. Like every member of Congress with a military base, defense industry jobs or a National Guard force in their state, they are concerned about the loss of jobs and federal money that might come with the cuts. The tendency, call it a strategy if you want, is to claim that reduced spending will threaten national security, yet the opposite might be true.
Reducing the nation's standing army from 520,000 soldiers currently to 440,000 or 450,000 would leave the United States with fewer troops than at any time since 1940, a fact critics point to with alarm. But a smaller force does not mean one less able to keep the nation secure, particularly if its composition changes to reflect different threats in different times. Instead, the proposed reductions are a recognition that two of the longest wars in American history, in Iraq and Afghanistan, have come or are coming to an end. They recognize too, that the ever-escalating price of maintaining a huge fighting force and paying veterans retirement benefits and health care expenses and subsidizing housing, education and other costs for so many people reduces the military's ability to spend on the technology and innovations needed to fight the conflicts of the future.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost taxpayers nearly $1.3 trillion, but that does not include the estimated $3 trillion to $5 trillion cost of providing long-term medical care, disability payments and other compensation to veterans and their families. Nearly half of the 1.6 million veterans from those two wars have already applied for disability benefits.
In the aftermath of World War II, President Dwight Eisenhower, the former Allied commander in Europe, led the battle to cut defense spending because he recognized that it hurt the nation's ability to spend on things that make a nation strong in war and peace: highways and other infrastructure, education and innovation and peacetime jobs. He famously warned of the danger that comes when spending decisions are driven by the demands of a military-industrial complex:
"We annually spend on military security alone more than the net income of all United States corporations. Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet, we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society," Eisenhower said in his farewell address.
If the cuts proposed by Hagel, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, are made, the United States will still spend more on defense than all of its allies combined. The savings that result could be used to raise the quality of American education; rebuild the nation's crumbling infrastructure; support the research and development of clean energy technologies, high-tech manufacturing and innovations in health care; prepare for climate change and do the myriad other things that become affordable when a nation spends what it must on swords and as much as it can on plowshares.