Sunday, May 14, 2006

The McVeigh Finishing School

Everyone should go read the Hartford Courant series on how the Pentagon has been deploying mentally ill soldiers. Especially striking was this:
The Courant's investigation found that at least 11 service members who committed suicide in Iraq in 2004 and 2005 were kept on duty despite exhibiting signs of significant psychological distress. In at least seven of the cases, superiors were aware of the problems, military investigative records and interviews with families indicate.

Among the troops who plunged through the gaps in the mental health system was Army Spec. Jeffrey Henthorn, a young father and third-generation soldier, whose death last year is still being mourned by his native Choctaw, Okla.

What his hometown does not know is that Henthorn, 25, had been sent back to Iraq for a second tour, even though his superiors knew he was unstable and had threatened suicide at least twice, according to Army investigative reports and interviews. When he finally succeeded in killing himself on Feb. 8, 2005, at Camp Anaconda in Balad, Iraq, an Army report says, the work of the M-16 rifle was so thorough that fragments of his skull pierced the barracks ceiling.

One thing the story only briefly addresses is that veterans damaged psychologically like this also bring their scars home. And when the violence that results is not inwardly directed, it can also be directed outward.

Paul deArmond pointed this out three years ago, as we began this invasion:
Here's an unsettling thought. The last go-round in the Gulf produced at least three spectacular domestic terrorists: Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols (Oklahoma City) and John Mohammed (DC sniper killings). Both McVeigh and Mohammed were reported to be unbalanced by their experience during the Gulf War.

... The levels of stress on our troops is quite high and several sources report that the training and conditioning of troops for agressive behavior is more severe than in the past. Combine this with the continuing spread of anti-government ideologies through terrorism-related conspiracy theories and the encouraging (or at least failure to suppress) of activities like vigilante border partrols which combine racism with xenophobia.

Even if the war ends with Bush's tenure in 2008, I'm afraid we're going to have a real long-term mess on our hands. Messed-up soldiers cost us in so many ways -- in therapy, in the damage they inflict, but most of all in the theft of their promise.

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