PACIFICA – For six years of war in Iraq, the Bush administration has done absolutely nothing to take care of the hundreds of thousands of wounded veterans coming home, said Aaron Glantz, a journalist who has been covering the stories of US military vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We’ve had people brought into the VA, turned away, who have committed suicide after coming back from the war with post-traumatic stress disorder. We’ve had people redeployed to Iraq, even after they were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. We have 300,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans coming home with traumatic brain injury, physical brain damage. We have 300,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who have filed disability claims with the federal government," Glantz told Democracy Now! on Thursday.
"In many cases, there is no medical services at all, because remember that many people serving in Iraq and Afghanistan come from rural communities where the VA doesn’t even have a hospital," he explained.
There are 200,000 homeless war veterans in the United States.
"On every night, 200,000 people who have put on the uniform and served this country sleep homeless on the streets," said Glantz.
"Imagine that you come home from Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder, a mental wound, or traumatic brain injury, physical brain damage often caused by a roadside bomb. The first thing that you have to do just to get in the door at the VA is to fill out a twenty-six-page form where you substantiate exactly how you were wounded, where you get letters of support from your battle buddies, from your commanders. You subpoena your own Army records, often with the help of your congressperson. And you present to the VA a gigantic claim folder, which they then sit on for an extended period of time. And that’s just to get in the door. So we take our veterans when they’re most wounded and most vulnerable and exploit them by making them fill out a mound of paperwork just to get in the door," noted Glantz.
"If you served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and you come home and you say that you have PTSD, that the VA should assume that you got that in the war, not from a auto accident, not from some experience growing up, but perhaps your experience seeing your buddies killed or your experience killing an innocent civilian, that those might be the incidences that caused you to develop a post-traumatic stress disorder," he explained.
But some problems date back way back to 1991.
"We are seventeen years after the Persian Gulf War of 1991, and veterans of that war are still fighting to get disability compensation and healthcare. And for the last seventeen years, up until about two months ago, the VA had said that Gulf War syndrome simply didn’t exist, and they called it 'undiagnosed illness'. And one problem with that is if you call it undiagnosed illness, then there’s no way to treat it, because you’re pretty much throwing up your hands," said Glantz.
"I think another question that we should be asking is, what is the 'Gulf War illness' of the war that we’re involved in right now? Is it our troops’ exposure to depleted uranium, for example? Is it our troops—the pills that our troops were forced to take before they went into this war? Might those things have long-term effects on our Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans? Shouldn’t we get ahead of the curve this time and not wait until seventeen years after the war to begin to look at how to treat and compensate people who served in it?" Asked Glantz.
"We can’t forget about the 1.8 million Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who are coming back into our communities. And if we don’t deal with this now, we’re going to be looking at an increase in those statistics."
Glantz is the author of the new book The War Comes Home: Washington’s Battle Against America’s Veterans and co-author of Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations.