18 Vets Kill Themselves a Day: We Hail Them As Heroes Then Treat Them Like Garbage
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When he returned from the war
they called him a killer.
He was not a murderer.
He befriended a child, gathered
the limbs of his fellow soldier
who was blown up beside him,
lost some of his hearing from the blast,
obeyed his colonel’s orders to gun down
a man driving into the Green Zone
who turned out to be a physician.
When he came home, the weight
of his guilt, displacement and pain
was invisible. He didn’t come home.
He was still in Iraq. The people
in his town couldn’t hear the nightmares
that haunted him or his heart
pounding at sudden noises.
They couldn’t understand how he left his house
to protect his parents and sisters
from his anger, closed the door of his apartment
to release his sorrow. Then one night
he drove to the mine dumps
near his favorite fishing spot
wrote "Freedom isn’t Free"
on the dashboard of his truck
beside the nine medals of honor
closing yet another door
to liberate his own life.
AMY GOODMAN: That was the poem that you wrote about Noah Charles Pierce. We’re talking to Marguerite Guzmán Bouvard, the author of The Invisible Wounds of War. I want to address a controversy earlier this summer involving Major General Dana Pittard. Dana Pittard, a commander at Fort Bliss, in May, he wrote on his blog, quote, "I am personally fed up with soldiers who are choosing to take their own lives so that others can clean up their mess. Be an adult, act like an adult, and deal with your real-life problems like the rest of us," he said. The posting was retracted, but Pittard never apologized. He still commands one of the Army’s largest units. Marguerite, your response?
MARGUERITE GUZMÁN BOUVARD: Well, my response is that there’s a military culture and a civilian culture, and there’s a gap between them. And in the military culture, you’re supposed to be strong, brave, nothing bothers you. If you need help, you’re looked on as a wimp, as weak. And it takes a long time for soldiers to feel that it’s OK not to be OK. That’s a different culture. That’s another culture. It’s not the military culture. And so, they really don’t provide the help that these soldiers need when they return.
They come back from Iraq, they’re still in Iraq. For instance, they’re driving down the street—where there used to be IEDs buried—they see a can, they get panicked, they say, "This is going to blow up." They hear a noise, they get startled and upset. And most of us have good and bad memories. We can put our bad memories aside. Our soldiers can’t. They dream about them. They hallucinate. All of the veterans I’ve interviewed, they close their door. They sleep with a gun under their pillow. They’re still at risk. They work 24/seven in a group that is like a family. A unit is like a family. And when one of them dies, it’s like losing a member of your family. And, in fact, so many of them die that one veteran told me, when I interviewed him, he said, "There were—we had maybe 40 to 50 RPGs, rocket-propelled grenades, come over our base a day. The silence was eerie." He said, the trailer where he lived, "My bunk was damaged. Suppose I had been in that bunk." In other words, you come back, you’re still in Iraq. You feel more alien than if you had come from Mars.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to end with a comment of Aaron Glantz, author of The War Comes Home: Washington’s Battle Against America’s Veterans, talking about why rates of suicide are so high.