Let’s Remember Military Veterans All Year

by Diane Dimond on November 16, 2015

Life as a Military Vet in America?

Life as a Military Vet in America?

Now that the parades are over, now that we’ve thanked military service members for their sacrifices let’s drill down to take a look at what its really like to be a military veteran in the United States.

According to experts there are more than 23 million veterans in America. Thanks to a recent two-pronged push by corporations and the government the unemployment rate for vets is down to 3.9%. That’s a 7-year low and that is a rare bit of good news for this group.

Among the bad news: There are almost 50,000 homeless veterans with many thousands more finding themselves in and out of shelters during the year. Most are single males, are predominantly Black or Hispanic and 54% have some sort of physical or mental disability.  Nearly half of the nation’s veterans who have nowhere to call home served during the Vietnam era. That war ended some 40 years ago and those veterans have to be over 60 years old. Sixty and living on the streets. Think about that.

We Still Forget Some Veterans

We Still Forget Some Veterans

I’ve previously written in this space about the still-languishing needs of Vietnam-era veterans suffering from what they firmly believe are diseases caused by their exposure to Agent Orange. Countless numbers of veterans continue to be denied health benefits from the Veterans Administration because all these years later they must provide documented proof of their contact with the toxic defoliant. Almost impossible.

Today, a significant number of vets – both male and female – who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars report brain injuries. And over 300,000 have been diagnosed with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD frequently leads to substance abuse, relationship problems, inability to keep a job, stay in school and, literally, function in the world. As we all know the Veteran’s Administration has a dismal record treating veterans in need.

Now a newly released report called, “Battle Scars: Military Veterans and the Death Penalty” released by the Death Penalty Information Center, takes a deep dive into the lack of mercy shown to military veterans who are charged and convicted of murder.

Veterans Courts -- Not Enough Help for Troubled Vets

Veterans Courts — Not Enough Help for Troubled Vets

The DPIC says there are more than 300 veterans currently serving on death row and many more who have already been executed.  According to the report defense attorneys, prosecutors and jurors don’t give enough weight to the fact that part of the cost of war is veterans who return home with out-of-character and potentially explosive personalities.

“As the death penalty is being questioned in many areas,” the report states, “it should certainly be more closely scrutinized when used against veterans with PTSD and other mental disabilities stemming from their service.”

To underscore the point, the report highlights the first person executed in 2015. He was Andrew Brannan, a decorated Vietnam veteran with a diagnoses of PTSD and other forms of mental illness. Even though Brannan was given a 100% mental disability the state of Georgia sought a death sentence after he inexplicably killed a police officer during a traffic stop.

There is no adequate excuse for cold blooded murder, of course, but sometimes there is an overriding explanation to consider.

Remember, Especially, the Ones Damaged by War

Remember, Especially, the Ones Damaged by War

More recently, in Alabama, Courtney Lockhart’s murder trial included testimony from his fiancée that he returned after a bloody 16-month deployment to Iraq a different man, as did a dozen others from his unit also later charged with murder. Lockhart hid in the closet at night, the fiancée said, started living out of his car, drank too much and once put a gun to his head.  The defense argued he was suffering from untreated PTSD when he carjacked and killed college student Lauren Burk in 2008.  In the end, Lockhart was convicted and the jury sentenced him to life in prison. In a rare move, the judge overrode the jurors and put Lockhart on death row. He remains there awaiting his appeal to the Alabama state Supreme Court.

We cannot excuse murder in our society but is there some special consideration to be given to those veterans who gave up part of their lives in the service of the rest of us?

Is there some understanding we need to extend to those who have killed the enemy on our behalf, seen the spilled blood of civilians and children or cradled their best friend as they died in their arms in combat?

No one is arguing the guilty should escape punishment but there is always the option of life in prison without the possibility of parole, isn’t there?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane Dimond November 16, 2015 at 11:16 am

Facebook Friend Kyla Thompson writes:

“Yes – what a concept.”

Reply

Diane Dimond November 16, 2015 at 11:16 am

Facebook Friend Joya Colucci Lord writes:

“I am a veteran with 21 years of service in the Army and I don’t believe that we should have a separate set of rules, standards, or punishment for veterans. I do, however, think that we owe veterans a satisfactory, predictable, and ACCESSIBLE standard of care within the Veterans Health Administration (commonly referred to as the VA), especially in the area of mental health.”

Reply

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