May 09
Lorraine Berry lives in the Fingerlakes region of New York, although it's her transplanted home. On weekends, she can be heard throughout the area, cheering on her beloved Manchester City F.C. When not writing at Does This Make Sense? or Talking Writing, she can be found hiking with her two dogs, hanging out with her two daughters, eating what her beloved Rob has cooked for her, or teaching creative writing at a small college in the area.


Editor’s Pick
FEBRUARY 6, 2009 7:46AM

PTSD is a Feminist Issue

Rate: 35 Flag

Dear General Shinseki,
I cannot imagine the burden of responsibility that you feel right now, the need to take care of the thousands of wounded young men and women who are now the responsibility of the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

Given what I know about you, you must feel as if they are your children. What must feel worse is that you were Cassandra, warning the powers above you that the war was being run in such a way that only death and destruction would rain down upon us. And, like Cassandra, you were shut up and shut away.

One of the truly nauseating moments in the run-up to the Iraq war was the humiliating public rebuke that Paul Wolfowitz, then Donald Rumsfeld's #2 at the Pentagon, delivered to Eric Shinseki, then a four-star general serving as Army chief of staff.

Shinseki, a wounded combat veteran of Vietnam, was by career and reputation a cautious, methodical person. Those who criticized his performance as Army chief mainly complained that he was too traditional and non-innovative in his approach. Thus, he was constantly at odds with Rumsfeld's crew, who viewed him as a passive-aggressive, fuddy-duddy obstacle to doing things in their new lean-and-mean way.

The showdown came just before the war began. Shinseki, who had direct experience with land warfare (in Vietnam) and post-combat occupation (in the Balkans), was urging that the U.S. go in with a force large enough to ensure that it could maintain order and genuinely control Iraq's sizable territory and potentially fractious society after it ousted Saddam. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz hated this whole idea.

Now, you have been charged with attempting to clean up the mess, tend to the wounded, the ruined lives who you tried to save before this disaster was upon us.

I want to know what I can do to help. I do not have medical training. I do not have psychological training. What I do have is experience, having lived with a Viet Nam vet who carried physical scars and private demons of the time he spent in the jungles.

Increasingly, I see PTSD, and the military's refusal to treat it as a legitimate battlefield injury, as a feminist issue. Let me explain.

Feminists have long claimed that the personal is political; they have also wrestled mightily with the "mind-body" problem. Whereas western male philosophers from ancient times have insisted that the body is secondary to the mind, and the mind is master, many feminists have recognized no such division. The mind is part of the body. The brain is an organ, and organs get hurt. The brain as an organ needs treatment.

Psychological issues are not indicative of some feminine weakness: it is not hysteria to suffer nightmares, and rages, and crave the sweet release of drink and drugs. It is not some sign that one is a lesser man because one may have come home from Iraq whole in body but shattered in spirit.

And who bears the brunt of these brain injuries? If the servicemen and women were married, then it is their families. How many incidents of domestic violence have there been since Iraqi veterans have been coming home? How many drunken rages that have resulted in jail time? How many abused children?

The war has invaded the private sphere. If the private sphere is the microcosm of the public sphere, then we have time bombs set to go off all over this nation. How long before one of these domestic blow-ups goes public, and even more folks suffer as a consequence?

Sgt. Kyle J. Harrington died yesterday. We lose sight of that sometimes—that there are still men and women in Afghanistan and Iraq fighting. Dying. Being injured. Suffering trauma that will haunt them the rest of their days.

In case you're keeping count, here are the lastest numbers:
Operation IraqiFreedom

Troops Killed in Iraq: 4221
Troops Killed in Afghanistan: 636
Wounded in Action: 33648

When the DoD says 33,648 wounded in action, is it referring to the number of Purple Hearts it has given out? Or the number of service members who were hospitalized? Does it count those who have come home so brutalized by the war that whatever shiny newness they had before they went to war has been tarnished, rusted, destroyed?

It's not as if this is the first time I've written about this. here
and here and here.

But in the week or so since I have written about the lack of Purple Hearts for those with PTSD, two opinion columns have appeared in the NY Times.

See, it doesn't really matter about the medal. That's not the point. It's what the medal buys: access to VA Hospitals, to some level of care from the government that took away these kids' youths.

For the Ancient Greeks, it was a "divine madness" that infected the minds of soldiers. During the US Civil War, it became known as "soldier's heart". By the First World War it was called shell shock. Today, the condition is known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Jeffrey Lucey, 23, hanged himself when he was denied mental health care.

Why in 2009 are we still arguing over whether PTSD or shell shock or battle fatigue is a real injury, a wound inflicted by war? Sometimes, just this question is enough to set me off. Goddamnit, I want to say. Goddamnit.

The British are dealing with it.

And vets themselves are writing about it.

Also, please stop telling people what me and my fellow Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans want. I won't be their voice because I don't know what they individually want to say and it's not fair to assume the mantle of "Voice of Vets." At least I have served this country and I understand the challenges that current Vets face making an adjustment from war. Here's a hint...its not like the movies. I have had to deal with the suicides of three fellow military members from my six years in the service. I have struggled with using the VA healthcare system and the difficulty of getting into college. Most troubled vets never ask for help and a lot of them end up homeless, in prison, or addicted to drugs and alcohol. Putting a yellow ribbon on your car or calling for the media to silence themselves sure as hell isn't going to help them out.

Personally, I no longer give a good goddamn whether you declare PTSD to be Purple Heart worthy or not. What I do demand is that these injuries be treated as that: as injuries that need to be treated. NOW. RIGHT NOW. Before others get hurt.

Lorraine Berry


For those of you who are reading this, I have a couple of suggestions about how you might help. First, go to this site:

There you will find information about how you can volunteer, letters you can write, money you can send.

And second, please consider writing a letter to this man: Shinseki.

Part II of this article can now be found be found here.

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Thanks for writing again so openly about this subject. We need to demand accountability and honest "accounting" from the military regarding PTSD. I thought we had done just that after Vietnam.
What a great post, very informative. Yes you are right PTSD needs to be recogized as an injury and treated now not later. Because it is an injury of war and if not treated they can become a danager to themselves and others around them. It isn't anything that is new to the war fields, it just has a proper name now and the porfessionals now how to treat it now, unlike years ago when they thought there was nothing they could do and the person had to just live with it.

Thank you very much for this post.
Thank you for writing this. Thank you, also, for putting links that I can follow later today.

This was a gift from your heart that can spur some action.

This has meaning and purpose. The "real" OS.
24 suicides by Army Soldier in January alone

And they don't acknowledge it.

This is the country/world we live in.

You are an amazing lady! I do not know if I can help in nay way but I will pray.
So love you, wanderer!
I have heard a vet's wife talk about PRESENT traumatic stress disorder in relation to family of vets which is what they suffer.
One of my cohort served as an intern at a VA facility and said that it is filled with Vietnam vets--the new vets, who are screened by the military now for MST (military sexual trauma) and PTSD, either lie or do not know how they have been damaged. One thing they do know is they want nothing more to do with the military--even help.
Caring for our vets--with facilities near them and accessible--is paramount.
It IS a feminist issue! Feminism, as you say, does not separete the soul and body as the male scientific method does and needs to be a perspective that we look through.
Such a valuable post.
"The number of soldiers who committed suicide in January could reach 24, a count that would be the highest monthly total since the Army began tabulating suicides in 1980.
"If confirmed, the suicide count in the last month would exceed those killed in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan during the same period. In January 2008, five soldiers committed suicide."

By Lizette Alvarez
The New York Times
National Section, p. A12


More is required than prayers and kudos to the writer posting here.

Action is required, like confronting public officials, insisting that action be take to protect soldiers, veterans, families, and communities from the whirlwind that is only just beginning.

Some Vietnam veterans who survived that war and have thought about it could have told people in this country what would happen in Iraq.

Gen. Shinseki tried and was ignored. There you have it.

We've been here before, and here we are again.

Why is anyone surprised?
I think we should challenge as many people as we can today on OpenSalon to write to an elected official.
Or Shinseki.
I'm sick about this issue. I don't want to deal with another student whose life is falling apart because a relative has PTSD.
YOU TELL US what must be done. And I'll do it.
DANIEL AKAKA (D) is the Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Office. You may contact him at the following:

Take two minutes to write him a letter, or Shinseki. Or cc both of them.
wanderer, I am not a community organizer nor an expert in political activism. It's common sense: people who are really concerned will act; others will cry and wave their hankies and do nothing. Still others, as I experienced it before, will ignore, not only the problem but the people in their midst who served and suffered, and who suffer for a lifetime.

It's human nature.

People here on this site will do more than comment nicely on what you post, or they will not. Frankly, I don't feel all that welcome at OS because I am noticing some of my remarks are not recorded as part of the activity stream; and, at the same time, an insistent poet name bebop, another veteran from long ago, seems to be regarded by editors here as a problem child. Thanks so much.

Anyway, action is needed to confront officials about the needs of our veterans, as before; but in contrast to before, the need this time is and will be much, much greater. The tools of democracy are there. Use them.

One other news note from today's headlines, it seems there's a hold on the shipment of more troops to Afghanistan. It's being explained as a to and fro about the mix of troops related to a possible new strategy there. However, there have been other reports about raw numbers related to the actual count of ready troops which can be sent, considering overall stress on the force after seven years of high-tempo combat. Those reports have suggested the only way to ship large numbers of troops to Afghanistan is by way of a real numerical reduction in the numbers in the field in Iraq. This calculation, if correct, ties into the number of troops who are resting at home and must be able to recover for a defined period of time, and possibly, to new recruits who may be in training but who are not ready to deploy.

Sounds like the spigot is being adjusted, but I'm not General Sherman.
Sorry. My last comment was recorded in the activity stream; guess I'm paranoid too.
Dirigo beat me to it. I was going to post something about January's numbers for military suicides surpassing those killed in action.

Who ever thought we would reach that particular tipping point?

I certainly didn't, and I've been paying attention.
Thanks, ktm. Nice to see you here.
there are those of us who battle this syndrome who are trying to contstruct peer to peer groups that will hopefully save lives and stop the madness. Understand, this does not go away, but As Alchoholics Anynomous has created of network of thos who care becuase they know about the illness first is the Peer to Peer concept. My husband who is the President of the Utah County Veterans's Council is heading up this effort under the aegis of the VA, which is overburded, undstaffed and beyond saving any of these vets who tend to deny the disorder, self-medicate and run the other way. Check out his site at: and please forward him this post, he will be happy to include it on his site. He gets bucoup traffic.
I did it. Thanks for the heads up.
Thanks Fingerlakewander,
and Dirigo ... You know too,
all those medals just a-gather
And the spirits of the other war slain,
come down and carry our comrade off
they die in battle. Suddenly, without a
word ... the divine carries them to rest
in peace.
Thank you.
There's another news story breaking this morning which includes a slant about the impact of war, and policy decisions - or changes to previous policies - affecting troops and families.

The former commander of the USS Cole, Kirk Lippold, today is criticizing a decision by Susan Crawford, the chief legal authority for military trials at Guantanamo, to drop charges against suspected Cole bomber, Abd al-Rakim al-Nashiri. The decision comes under the Jan. 22nd order by the president to freeze the military tribunal process at Gitmo.

A Pentagon spokesman says al-Nashiri will remain in custody and may be tried again under new procedures.

Seventeen U.S. sailors died aboard the Cole as it sat in Yemen harbor on Oct. 12, 2000. Alleged al-Qaida suicide bombers drove a small boat, laden with explosives, into the ship, blowing a hole in its hull and disabling it.

The ship's former captain says he plans to attend a meeting, scheduled for later today, between families of crew members and the president to hear an explanation for the decision.

This thread is focused on the impact of war on those who serve, and their families.

I think I've stated before that I think Gitmo should be closed.
Since the man has likely not had a proper hearing yet, his civil rights have been violated. He's been denied habeas corpus. On the other hand, the families of the dead are due compensation, and an explanation. If this guy is really who they think was the mastermind of the operation, then the system needs to start legal proceedings against him, and quit screwing around with the crap that poses as justice at Gitmo. After all, aren't the families entitled to know--beyond a shadow of a doubt--who is responsible for the deaths of their loved ones?

Leave no one behind.
wanderer, yes of course, you're right.

Commander Lippold said something else that is interesting (on the Joe show on MSNBC). He feels the attack on the Cole was the actual "first shot" in the so-called war on terror, or whatever name might be attached to the conflict.

Just an angle presented in discussion during the commander's appearance which is of some interest.
Excellent post. I have a friend who is a mental health worker for the VA. Their caseload is 2400 veterans per counselor. 2400:1
This is unacceptable.
Dirigo. Comment? I am wishing, and trying, to shush.
There was a local Williamsport, Maryland, sailor resident
who was killed on the USS Cole. I attended the sad funeral.
My heavy sigh. And sad thoughts trouble my heart very sorely.
I gave my medals back to the government a long time ago. Sigh.
On February 10th, 1970, I was blown-away. John Baca flopped
his body on the grenade to shield me and others from the blast.
John Baca is still alive to tell his war-story and lives in San Diego.
There is no day that passes that I don't remember the horrible lie.
John Baca is a heart of proverbial gold. I still see his a-tummy guts.
Nixon gave Baca (pot-flopper, huh, respectfully) a Medal of Valor.
The same metal from a steel Army steel pot-hat sliced my flesh, and human artery-veins.
It don't mean Nothn'.
It's a code phrase tho.
The grief always hurts.
A human heart gets sore.
I thank you. I share. I ache.
Others is a-stateside do too.
Snap. Thanks. I honestly wish to no comment.
But, I worked in the Veterans Outreach Center
in Martinsburg, West Virginia. I had it? Then:`
I speny two months in Yien Vien, a village that
was bombed in Nixson/Kissingers Christmas's
aerial bombardment. In 1990 I was Guest of the
People Committee and twelve veterans rebuilt a
Health Clinic that was destroyed in 1972. It's called
Yien Vinh Frienship Clinic. It's six km. outside Hanoi.

I know. It don't mean nothin'.

But, it does.
Dirigo! That's it! It is the irony of ironies.
Or, a soldier in combat will snap. How can
one look over the others shoulder? I agree!
We had to use battle-field-lingo. And other,
not just in wartime, rapes, verbal putdowns,
and other stateside, vicarious identification
with other who experienced-Pain, abuse, ETC.,
that is outside the realm of normal the human.
All obscenities, be it in war, or, anywhere. It is to Be.
To have been face-to-face with incarnations of Evils.
That's it. Yes! METANOIA.
I have struggled all my life.
It does mean everything. Yes!
We folk are here to speak truth!
If not, if one is put on a Squelch?
Well, in my opine ~ You kill a voice.
Oh. I could ramble on and on. Oy! No! Speak.
near and dear to my heart- Thank you.
Excellent. Thought provoking. Dead on. Thanks for this.
"Melissa Sterry's job [in the first Gulf War] was to clean [tanks] and ready them for storage. She'd climb inside the tanks and, with a simple dust pan and broom, sweep out the Iraqi sand and the rubbish left behind by the tank operators.

"Sterry was sweeping something else too, something too small to see: dust from depleted uranium, a radioactive substance the military uses to make ammunition [for] armor-piercing and bunker-busting. For months, Sherry cleaned these tanks without protective gear, kicking depleted uranium airborne and into her lungs.

"Today, Sterry is a medical train wreck. The 46-year old Gulf War veteran takes 11 kinds of medication ... and suffers from chronic headaches, upper respiratory disease, bronchitis and a host of other ailments.

"Like most Gulf War vets, the federal Veterans Administration refuses to test Sterry for exposure to depleted uranium or other chemical toxins she was exposed to in the Middle East.

"So Sterry turned to the state government, and in 2005, helped Connecticut become the first state in the nation to craft a law to test returning combat troops for exposure to battlefield health hazards, including depleted uranium. The law would also establish a veterans health registry to catalog mysterious symptoms crippling war vets, similar to the Connecticut Tumor Registry, which tracks cancer patterns in the state. The data could be used as leverage to pressure the federal government to accept disabilities as service-related and therefore to treat them.

"But the state has turned its back on Sterry and the more than 30,000 Connecticut troops who have deployed to combat zones in the Middle East and the Balkans since 1990. The "Advocate" (New Mass Media Inc.) has learned that Gov. Jody Rell, through her budget office, quietly killed funding funding for the veterans health registry without telling the lawmakers who sponsored the program, nor the veterans whom it would serve.


"The Rell administration wiped out $165,000 set aside to pay for a research analyst to establish and manage the veterans health registry, and to pay for operating it through at least its first year. State law allows the governor to cut up to five percent of the state budget without legislative approval, which partly explains how this cut flew under the radar.

"If the registry isn't restored, hundreds of Connecticut-based troops could go undiagnosed and uncatalogued. The state has sent 16,000 troops to the war since Sept. 11, 2001, and another 75 Guardsmen and women shipped off to southwest Asia last week, their second deployment to the war zone.


"The state's official reason for de-funding the registry: because the program hadn't started yet, and eliminating unfilled positions is better than laying off existing employees.

"The state Department of Veterans Affairs has an annual budget of $35 million, most of that coming from federal grants. The amount needed to launch the registry, $165,000, was less than one half of one percent of the department's total budget.


" ... the funding was eliminated last June during Gov. Rell's first round of state budget cuts.

"In fact, after four years of hearings, debates, and lobbying, the program was just days away from receiving the money it needed to hire staff and begin testing. Funding was set for release on July 1, 2008. The governor's office announced the cut on June 24.

"State Rep. Ted Graziani says the state's message to veterans amounts to: 'We'll only take care of you if there's a surplus.'


"Connecticut was the first to outline such a program, and was quickly copied by Louisiana, Texas, and other states.

(Some Connecticut state officials. like Milford Democratic State Sen. Gayle Slossberg said) the "hope was to link up state registries to create a multi-state database. Slossberg got news from (the state veterans commissioner) two months ago that the registry was dead.

" 'What a registry does is, it allows us to go to the federal government and say this is a service-connected disability,' Slossberg explains. 'That is their standard. If it is service-connected, they take care of you. If it is not, they don't.'

"However one feels about the war, Slossberg adds, 'We owe them proper health care when they come back to this country.'

--- from "Cut and Run: The Rell Administration Quietly Kills A Program To Track The Health Of Sick War Veterans"
--- By Andy Bromage
--- The Advocate
--- New Mass Media Inc., 2009
My son is currently serving in Iraq. I worry about PTSD more than injury and/or death. Thanks for an excellent post.
The problem with this is that it is not as visible as, well, visible injuries. You have people taught to be tough and not complain, and probably no easy way of determining on discharge that this person is even fucked up until it is too late and comes out 6 months after being released into the public.
Your writing this is just wonderful.
I do understand the PTSD. I cant imagine going to war and not coming back with a mental/physical problem.
PTSD has been around too long to be ignored any longer.
The problem here, in one word: chickenhawks.
Thank you for posting this. Thank you for your title. Thank you for writing so honestly and thoroughly about a subject which many would like to sweep under the carpet. Just, thank you.
"A report delivered Nov. 17 by a congressionally mandated committee of scientists and veterans has determined that Gulf War illness is a very real disease caused by exposure to toxic chemicals, including pesticides and a drug given to protect servicemembers from nerve gas.

"The Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses ... says the disease has no effective treatments and has urged that Congress appropriate $60 million a year to study and develop new, effective medical care.


"Gulf War illness is a combination of memory and concentration problems, persistent headaches, unexplained fatigue, and widespread pain. It may also include chronic digestive problems, respiratory symptoms and skin rashes.

"The report estimates that at least one in four of the 697,000 veterans of the 1991 Gulf War suffer from the illness, which it primarily attributes to the drug pyridostigmine bromide, given to troops to protect against nerve gas and pesticides widely used during the Gulf War.

"The committee also found associations between Gulf War illnesses and low-level exposure to nerve agents, smoke from oil well fires, large numbers of vaccines, and other toxins.

"Veterans with questions about Gulf War illness should call their local National Service Office for information."

--- from "Study Finds: Gulf War Illness Is Real"
--- DAV (The Magazine of Disabled Veterans)
--- Jan/Feb 2009
Thanks for the information. This is truly well thought-out and accurate. I will visit that site.
Makes me wonder if anything was in the stimulus package included anything for vets. I know they threw family planning under the bus. Any ideas?
Your most recent examples of cutting of funds to vets is infuriating. I suppose people living in these states can demand accountability.
More as I drink more coffee and formulate some thoughts.
My questions about caring for veterans have to do with funding the VA hospitals and reforming the disability process. These two things seem fundamental to me.

I hasten to add I am not attacking VA. I use it and have successfully negotiated the disability process. I'm grateful for the care I get, and I've been treated with respect at all times.

To me, considering what is coming down the pike with the needs of today's vets, the nation simply has to come to grips with the new obligations and the costs. It's going to be huge.

The stories I posted about Gulf War vets is en example of how long it's taking to help this group of veterans. The one from Connecticut and the one from the DAV magazine just fit together.

As for the current stimulus package, it may be possible now to see what the bill looks like since the Senate seems to be in agreement and may vote next week. Still, the bill has to be reconciled
(sorry, I hit the send button)

Still, the bill hast to be reconciled between Senate and House negotiators.

The White House site may have more hard information on spending proposals for VA now; I'm not sure though.

I just hope people reading this post do more than say nice things about vets, or cry, or whatever.

People have to stand up and help the veterans. Period.
I have just written a second post on this topic. It is about a program in Britain that works with PTSD vets. I'm wondering what people think about it?
Great post and comments. When I see a post which attracts Dirigo's attention, I know it is substantive and interesting.
Of equal concern to PTSD is Truamatic Brain Injury (TBI) from concussion which causes personality changes and other bad symptoms.
I do hope the VA will be getting an infusion of money. In my program which involves rehabilitation counseling, many in my class are there because they want to serve the troops. The will is there, hope the money arrives also.
Excellent point. I wonder if those with TBI are getting more help than those with PTSD? Perhaps the difference between what's perceived as physical versus psychological? Do you know?
No expert here but I think both entities (PTSD & TBI) are difficult to diagnose esp when the person who has it goes through some denial. It is notable that Vietnam vets are present in the system after they have seen their lives crumble with violence, divorce, etc and come to see that they have been harmed in some essential way.
Often, TBI is diagnosed by family members who see the changes.
Anyone who has been near a bomb blast can have TBI.
Additionally, Military Sexual Trauma (MST) is estimated at 15% but is probably much higher. All VA centers now have a sexual health unit and screen for MST. The folks working in the system want to help but it is like running through knee-deep mud.
Also all the advances in Rehab have followed wars, so--as a people-- we do care about our vets. Love to see this be such a public debate and rejoiced when we had the huge scandel about VA facilities.
Brava. going on to post #2....
You are SO right. The military must stop treating victims as if it was some kind of personal weakness. I read recently that the Army is starting to get really concerned about the number of suicides. There were six in one month. We can't afford to lose these young men and women.
FLW: This is a very thoughtful, provocative and well argued post. The legitimate righteous indignation seals your case. I just hope that some serious reform of the classification system for deciding who and how people get proper treatment is seriously considered by the new Administration; and that consideration results in action and not more talk.