COLUMN: Veterans still fighting for U.S.

Steve Schirra

On Nov. 1, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said, “We have had a pattern of increasing the number of coalition forces during periods when there was an expectation that the insurgents and terrorists would like to try to disrupt the political process.”

If this pattern were to continue and more troops were sent to Iraq to provide security for the parliamentary elections, the extra troops would more than likely come from the Army National Guard, which has a troop strength of over 350,000.

Even more U.S. soldiers may be needed as other countries pull out. Poland may cut its commitment by 500 soldiers next year. And now, Britain is talking about withdrawing its troops.

The total number of U.S. soldiers in Iraq now is 150,000, a number that seems bound to grow.

All troops in Iraq have been constantly threatened by attacks. This fear may lead many soldiers to develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

PTSD develops after a terrifying or life-threatening experience, such as war. Thirty percent of Vietnam veterans and 8 percent of Persian Gulf War veterans developed PTSD.

It is a debilitating condition. Patients suffer from terrible headaches, ulcers, and depression. Doctors usually treat these symptoms individually, rather than PTSD as a whole. Anxiety, irritability, emotional numbness, and outbursts of anger are also common with the disorder.

PTSD is very difficult to treat and nearly impossible to cure. A common treatment is exposure therapy, in which a patient relives their experiences to help him or her cope with his or her trauma. Many patients have group therapy sessions to talk through their problems with other people that have had similar experiences. Medication is often required.

In March of 2003, the U.S. again invaded a country. In the Persian Gulf War, U.S. forces stopped their thrust into Iraq in the western desert after liberating Kuwait. In contrast, U.S.-led forces drove all the way to Baghdad in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In Baghdad, Iraqis have engaged in urban combat. This type of combat tends to be more traumatic to soldiers.

For years, the government has been consolidating veterans’ hospitals to save money.

Locally, there is a plan to close Brecksville Veterans Hospital. It is thought that closing the hospital would save millions of dollars in building maintenance and staffing. Closure of the hospital would cause patients to travel to Cleveland for treatment.

Although the distance between Brecksville to Cleveland is only 15 miles, there is a big difference between the two cities.

“Brecksville’s for mental patient people,” said John Coslowe, a patient at Brecksville Veterans Hospital. “You take mental patient people and move them to the city, they hear gunshots; they hear sirens all the time. You’re supposed to be in a safe environment. You’re not in a safe environment up here in Wade Park. Brecksville, you’re safe.”

When U.S.troops finally return from Iraq, they will need support. They will need hospitals – away from sounds that may trigger flashbacks – to treat PTSD.

Allen Hines is a freshman pre-journalism and mass communication major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].