Sgt. John Russell

(Original article dated May 13, 2009 –

Since this wretched war began, I’ve heard countless people make the comment, “It’ll take a violent tragedy for the United States Military to give veterans adequate mental health treatment.” Why in the hell does it always take an act of violence for people to start paying attention? With every single homicide, murder, suicide, etc….there have always been signs of stress and disturbance before the incident. Signs that had been over-looked or deemed inconsequential.

It’s no different with Sgt. John Russell. A military man who had given 15 years of service to the United States Army. It was mental stress that placed him in a mental health facility located within Camp Liberty in Baghdad six weeks shy of wrapping up his third tour of duty in Iraq. And it was in this clinic that five men lost their lives, not to the perils of war, but at the hand of a fellow comrade. A comrade who had obviously shown enough emotional and mental distress to be transferred to Camp Liberty by his superior officers.

The military screams in the faces of its recruits to show toughness in the face of weakness. To never show signs of fear. To never cry. To always maintain a facade of mental and physical strength. It is precisely THIS mentality that needs to be addressed. Last November, Army Secretary Pete Geren said combating the stigma of mental illness “is a challenge” throughout American society, especially in the Army “where we have a premium on strength, physically, mentally, emotionally.”

Stigma: A mark of social disgrace. And what is society? A community, nation, or broad grouping of people having common traditions, institutions, and collective activities and interests. Our society has created the very conditions that have become a cesspool for mental afflictions. We are expected to out-perform our neighbors, co-workers, friends and family. Society places a gold medal around the necks of those who live a markedly priviledged life with no sign of weakness or mental affliction, expecting the rest of society to match these standards to be deemed respectable and strong. So is our society one that has “common” traditions and “collective” activities and interests? Uh, no. We’re a society divided. Divided by prejudice, stigmas, entitlement and bias.

It seems unforgivable that the men and women who risk their lives to ensure our safety are treated the worst when it comes to healthcare and quality of life. How many times have we heard, “This war is like no other.” People are coming home…YOUNG people…kids…missing arms and legs, with major brain trauma resulting in paralysis. But aside from these obvious injuries there are ones that are just assevere and life-threatening. That being Combat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Families across this nation are describing their husbands, wives and children returning as completely different people. People who had previously been gentle, soft-spoken and kind are coming home violent, depressed, angry and suicidal. And it’s not just one or two. It’s hundreds. I believe the official count is 1.7 million. 1.7 million people living in excrutiating, mental anguish without the proper care and treatment. Now, those 1.7 million people have families which would double, if not triple, those numbers.

I’m so sick of hearing the U.S. Military giving the same repetitive answers to these increasing tragedies stemming from PTSD. “U.S. Military to re-visit mental-care system after 5 killings.” Why not BEFORE 5 killings?! If a soldier came home with an arm injury and you neglected it, the arm would eventually fall off. Now let’s get juvenile and pretend that for every arm that was neglected, five more perfectly healthy arms suffered the same fate. If this was taking place, facilities would be shut down and doctors would be stripped of their credentials. How is Mental Healthcare any different?

According to several reports, Sgt. John Russell was showing signs of distress long before he was taken against his will to the Camp Victory facility. Could this tragedy have been prevented? It’s hard to say. But what IS known is the less-than-adequate mental support by the U.S. Military. These men and women are mentally being placed in the middle of a war with no gun or protection, figuratively speaking. Alot of these soldiers receive divorce papers and lose their families while deployed. There is virtually no type of legal or mental support for these types of occurences, which are becoming more and more frequent.

Maybe some good will come of this tragedy. We are re-writing history in so many areas, why not in the way we treat and council members of the military along with their families? If the stigma is so volatile, then why isn’t it being aggresively addressed? The U.S. Military’s number one fact of Combat PTSD is “Traumas happen to many competent, healthy, strong, good people.” Yet these traumatized soldiers receive inadequate healthcare. Things just don’t add up.

I’m always skeptical about investigations being launched after a tragedy of this magnitude. Maybe if proper education and precaution were taken, we could have avoided this type of thing altogether. I’m sure more military men and women would be more apt to seek treatment for their mental issues if they weren’t labelled as “weak” by their own.

“The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” ~Colin Powell


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