February 07, 2006

Abandoning Those Who Fight

I have written about Doug Barber's suicide before: When the Pain Can Be Borne No Longer. A veteran of the Iraq war, Barber killed himself shortly after writing this:
My thought today is to help you the reader understand what happens to a soldier when they come home and the sacrifice we continue to make. This may be lengthy, it may be short; but no matter how long it is, just close your eyes and imagine a flag draped coffin.

Inside that coffin is the body of a man or woman who will never get to live their life to the fullest, yet they bore the total cost so that we could live free. Their soul is somewhere else and all we have is their memory which over time will be forgotten by other events of greater importance. The families of these soldiers have a hole in their hearts that will never be replaced, even though they have pictures and happy memories.

Some families will refuse to believe they are gone, but still their sons and daughters are the hero's of a country that sent them to war. This war on terror has become a personal war for so many, yet the Bush Administration does not want journalists or families to photograph the only thing that is left of our soldiers who have died. They do not want the people to remember that image of a flag draped coffin as the last memory this country will ever have of our fallen men and woman.

They say that America will raise their voices and demand a stop to the war, but my question is why should we not show the results of war? For us as a country, we send these soldiers to war and we see their faces while they are alive. I say let their memories live on in every photo, even when they do come home in a flag draped coffin. Let their sacrifice be forever etched in the memory of America. We owe their families this at the very least.

All is not okay or right for those of us who return home alive and supposedly well. What looks like normalcy and readjustment is only an illusion to be revealed by time and torment. Some soldiers come home missing limbs and other parts of their bodies. Still others will live with permanent scars from horrific events that no one other than those who served will ever understand.

We come home from war trying to put our lives back together but some cannot stand the memories and decide that death is better. They kill themselves because they are so haunted by seeing children killed and whole families wiped out.


Still others come home to nothing, families have abandoned them: husbands and wives have left these soldiers, and so have parents as well. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has become the norm amongst these soldiers because they don't know how to cope with returning to a society that will never understand what they have had to endure to liberate another country.

PTSD comes in many forms not understood by many: but yet if a soldier has it, America thinks the soldiers are crazy. PTSD comes in the form of depression, anger, regret, being confrontational, anxiety, chronic pain, compulsion, delusions, grief, guilt, dependence, loneliness, sleep disorders, suspiciousness/paranoia, low self-esteem and so many other things.


This is what PTSD comes in the shape of--soldiers can not often handle coming back to the same world they left behind. It is something that drives soldiers over the edge and causes them to withdraw from society. As Americans we turn our nose down at them wondering why they act the way they do. Who cares about them, why should we help them?

Talk show hosts like Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and so many others act like they know all about war; then they refuse to give any credence to soldiers like me who have been to war and seen the brutality of war. These guys are nothing but WEAK SPINELESS COWARDS hiding behind microphones while soldiers come home and are losing everything they have.

I ask every American who reads this e-mail to stand up for the soldier who has given their everything for this country to stand up to these guys in the media; ask them why they don't pick up a weapon and follow in the steps of a soldier. Send this e-mail to as many people on your e-mail lists and ask them to do the same.

There needs to be a National awareness for every Veteran who has ever served in any war. Send e-mails to the Big Mouths on TV and ask them to have soldiers like me on their programs. I am asking you as Americans to BOYCOTT every TV show or host/journalist that refuses to tell the real truth.

Just today, I found this remembrance of Specialist Barber. It describes the nightmare Barber went through -- not only in Iraq, but after he returned to the United States. I recommend you read the entire article as well as the comments. Here are some excerpts:
Today I come to you with a heavy and troubled heart. I have the unfortunate task of giving you some very tragic news. Yesterday afternoon Specialist Douglas Barber, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, took his own life after struggling with the demons and nightmares of PTSD for over two years.

No one really knows what caused his sudden and deadly breakdown. Doug had been on the phone laughing and kidding around with one of his best friends about an hour before the incident. Several friends have said that Doug seemed to be in an upbeat and playful mood throughout the morning, and that he never mentioned any problems.

He was on his way over to his best friend’s house to hang out and try to forget about his problems for awhile. Something happened after that which caused Doug to give up and make the decision to take his own life. For some reason Doug decided he could no longer bear the ongoing pain, agony and inner torment.

The Lee County, Alabama sheriff’s department was on the scene trying to talk Doug out of it for over 30 minutes. The investigating officer has stated that every effort was made to stop the situation and save Doug’s life. Doug apparently turned his back to the officers, fired one shot, and ended his life.


Today I was supposed to publish a positive update to Doug’s case for 100% service connected PTSD with the VA. He had finally achieved a victory in his long struggle and fight to get counseling and medical benefits.

Instead I find myself mourning someone who had become a good friend of mine. Instead of writing Doug’s story of hope and courage, I find myself compiling [...] his final memorial. An overwhelming wave of sadness washes over me as I write this. What was a story of triumph has turned into a tale of tragedy.


I was helping Doug to arrange his personal account into an outline for book publication. I have spent hours helping him talk out the chapters and to flesh out his story in fuller detail.

As a result of this work I was in contact with him at least three times a day and we spent over 100 hours in contact over the phone. Next week Doug was planning on coming down to visit and to meet me in person.


I spoke to him on Sunday and was prepared to conduct a final interview about the progress in his life yesterday morning. I never spoke to Doug again. I feel such a loss that I cannot begin to comprehend it. One of the last things he said to me was that he was happy to be standing up for all the other vets who were getting screwed by the VA and the military.

Doug had just been awarded a 50% disability with 100% to be awarded within 90 days. After over two years of hell and agony he was finally able to access proper counseling for his PTSD. Sadly it was too little, too late.

He had been denied treatment for so long that he was in an unimaginably horrifying mental state. All the problems that had been buried and untreated for the last two years finally overcame Doug’s ability to deal with it.

He was looking towards a conclusion to his personal war for benefits and treatment. After fighting for over two years, the end of his struggle appeared on the horizon. He repeatedly told me that the clouds of PTSD were breaking up and that he felt the light of day in his darkness and despair. Those were the last words he ever spoke to me.

He hung up in a cheerful and jubilant mood. All he could think about was that the update was coming out today, and everyone would see that a vet could win against the system if he stuck in there long enough. He wanted every vet to know that they could stand up and tell everyone if they had been denied treatment or recognition from the VA.

He kept his hopes up with the thought that he was leading the way for every returning soldier who would follow in his footsteps. The overwhelming public response and support gave him courage and strength when he was at his weakest.

He could see that his story had made a tremendous impact with the public and had resonated to the highest levels of the VA, Pentagon, and Congress. Because of his story and words of truth, hurried investigations have been initiated and VA administrators are now reviewing their policy in regard to the treatment of returning Reservists and National Guardsmen.

Doug may have taken his own life, but the blame should rest squarely on the shoulders of the VA. They stonewalled his claim and prevented him from getting treatment at every step of the way. He struggled for two years to get any type counseling for his problems.

Last year he turned himself in for emergency crisis treatment through the VA. Their response was to give him a counseling appointment every three months and give him medication without any real supervision or follow-up.

Because they did not immediately respond to Doug’s cry for help, his condition was allowed to grow into an insurmountable problem. If they had given him access to therapy and full PTSD counseling and support I doubt his life would have come to this unnecessary end. It was a complete failure on the part of the VA that led to this senseless death of a man who put his life on the line for his country.

They had the ability to step in last year after they knew without doubt that he was in imminent crisis and desperate for help. Instead they stalled him to the point of utter mental breakdown. His pleas for help were ignored and shuffled through the chain of endless paperwork, applications for services and case reviews.

What happened to Doug has happened to thousands of veterans who have returned from the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is also happening to vets from every previous war.

Doug was just the latest soldier in a long tale of tragedy and woe being suffered by this nation. Many families have lost a loved one after every option and resource was unavailable to a soldier in dire need of immediate care and compassion.

The VA by its denial of assistance and betrayal of trust helped Doug to reach his final day of desperation. It is their failure to help, not Doug’s reaction to problems he could no longer cope with that needs to be the story behind this tragedy. They must be held accountable for their failure not only to help Doug but the hundreds of thousands of other vets being denied their benefits.
Please read it all.

Related Essays:

The Mythic Reality of War: Denying the Pain, and the Death

The Suicide Taboo: About the underlying dynamics of suicide, relying on the work of Alice Miller (who discusses Sylvia Plath's history as a notable example of the pattern involved), together with a story about other military suicides and some personal observations.

The Ignored Casualties of War: A story about how the ravages of war kill veterans in other ways as well.

The Indifference and Denial that Kill: A discussion of a lengthy article about Iris Chang's life and work -- and what may have led to her suicide at the age of 36.

"Suck It Up": The Denial Continues, and Kills Once More: An examination of the same dynamics in the suicide of a New Orleans police officer in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

When the Demons Come: The second half of this essay discusses the demons which plague many Vietnam veterans -- the same demons that finally came for Mr. Barber -- and the continued denial engaged in by many of today's warhawks.