The response from readers to the special report "Mentally Unfit, Forced To Fight" has been quite positive. A couple of readers grumbled that the newspaper was twisting the truth to fit an agenda, but most of the dozen or so comments sent to me have been from readers appreciative of the reporting.
An Old Lyme reader wrote: "To the authors on the article on Military mental illness & Iraq: Thanks for bringing this issue to light. My estranged wife was deployed with the 141st medical company battalion / CT National Guard from OCT 04 to OCT 05 and was on a strong anti-depressant for years for diagnosed depression. She went over there with a year's supply of the medication and made a suicide attempt, and came back not the same person. We're currently going through a divorce and have a five-year-old son. During the screening process for deployment, from what my spouse shared with me, the military screeners expressed very limited concern toward her depression and medication needed for it.
"Thank you Hartford Courant reporters for, again, bringing this to light, and making me realize I'm not alone in the Pentagon's negligence toward soldiers who mentally really shouldn't be subjected to a combat zone like Iraq."
An East Haddam reader wrote: "I'm proud of my hometown paper for printing this story."
An Enterprise, Ala., reader wrote: "We are a military family and my husband is on Zoloft although he has not been sent back to Iraq yet on it. I also spoke with your reporter so our work is done there. Just wanted to say thank you for serving your nation as you guys are. Really doing journalism work and collecting all the data and stories. You are a shining example of America's Press hard at work and not waiting for someone to create the news for them right in front of them so that it can be filmed and reported and then it's five o'clock and time for everybody to go home."
An Allentown, Pa., reader wrote: "In reference to the article, 'Mentally Unfit, Forced To Fight.' I have a suggestion. Make it mandatory that EVERY soldier gets mental health counseling BEFORE they go into the service and MOST IMPORTANTLY, when they are discharged from the service. This will alleviate any apprehensions that some soldiers may feel if they seek out mental health treatment. If the soldier does not need treatment then that is fine, but if the soldier needs treatment then he/she will get help. When someone enters the hospital for mental health issues, they should be treated just as well as someone who enters the hospital for a broken leg or other injury. We all know that this is not so. Insurance companies do not cover for mental health issues like they cover for a broken leg. Yes, it is 2006 and the insurance companies still cannot get it right!
"P.S. These servicemen and women are asked to protect our country and other countries and when they get home THEY DESERVE THE BEST MEDICAL CARE."
A Benicia, Calif., reader wrote: "I found a link to this story on a blog. You folks are awesome. What is the matter with the rest of the so-called free press? Thank you so much! Bless you!"
A Beckley, W.Va., reader wrote: "The military has been ignoring mental illness for quite awhile now. I am seeing veterans weekly who have reinforced what was stated in the article. What you have reported on are the known or reported statistics. Many more mentally scarred veterans are not reporting their illness due the stigma attached to it. I understand unfortunately that war produces casualties but to knowingly send men back into combat diagnosed with PTSD loaded with medication and little or no psychological monitoring is a travesty. It didn't work in the Civil War and it won't work now. I know, I am a combat veteran of the Viet Nam War and a counseling therapist for the past 21 years with the Dept. of Veterans Affairs Out Reach Program, which focuses on psycho-social readjustment of all veterans."
Franklin, Tenn., reader wrote: "Please pass this on to LISA CHEDEKEL and MATTHEW KAUFFMAN: I read your report with a great deal of interest. Those troops returning from Iraq with PTSD and related emotional illnesses have been a concern of mine for a long time.
"I believe that since most of the fighting has been in towns and cities, a considerably larger percentage of them are/will be returning with PTSD than those returning from Vietnam.
"I am not at all convinced that the VA has/will be giving them the necessary diagnosis and care. With this in mind, have been searching for successful private organizations which specifically help returning troops who have PTSD and related emotional problems. Should you be aware of any, I'd appreciate you letting me know so we could provide them some support.
"The particular article I read in the Nashville Tennessean was different from that which appears on the Courant's Web site.
"In it you mention a Dr. Arthur S. Blank, a psychiatrist, who helped to get PTSD recognized as a diagnosis after the Vietnam War. It occurred to me that he might know of some of these organizations, if they exist, as well. If you have it, I'd appreciate you providing me his e-mail address or other contact information.
"You both performed a valuable service with this report."
A Boise, Idaho, reader wrote: "As a USAF, disabled veteran of service during the Vietnam War, I wish to thank [The Courant] for [its] steadfast support of our Active Duty troops and the exposures of the wrongs our government is doing them! Specifically, the series of articles on the problem of the failure of the DOD to properly assess the mental health of all troops to be transferred into action is outstanding!
"There is another embarrassment and ongoing violation of law relating to both Veterans and returning active duty troops that you might find worth an investigatory expose! One in which our congress persons have and are 'crowing' about their timely assistance - when in actuality the laws they have parsed are not being enforced!
"This is the rapidly growing national embarrassment of homeless men and women Veterans in the USA!
"A quick synopsis:
"1) Homeless veterans are not made homeless (as is publicly believed) by abuse of drugs and alcohol, they are made homeless by VA medically untreated mental illness - largely PTSD!
"2) The prevalent abuse of drugs and alcohol by homeless veterans usually arises after homelessness, as a self-medication method to deal with the depression and emotional pain!
"3) Though there is a high failure rate of homeless veterans to successful reintegrate with society - when the rare opportunity surfaces, the success rate of those homeless veterans who try a second or third time to reintegrate is very high!
"4) The failure rate of homeless veterans reintegration is found to be highest because the rare, existing programs do not treat the veterans as a group of veterans, rather; as a group of citizens. It is well-known and medical fact that veterans do better at recovery when treated with group sessions and immersed in life with other recovering veterans. The much simplified explanation is that veterans have an esprit d' corps unknown to civilians which emerges when they are grouped together, raising the general feeling amongst them, 'If my brother/sister veteran over there can stick with this program and do better, then so can I' and 'If a brother/sister veterans is faltering, I will place my shoulder against theirs and help them through - because they are I!'
"5) In the 1999 Veterans Millennium Bill Act, the 2001, 2003, and 2005 Veterans Care Improvement acts - FOUR separate acts which became law - Congress has mandated funding and the growing existence of numbers of, non-VA, non-profit veterans service organization created, stable housing and reintegration programs to provide homeless veterans with reintegration opportunity.
"6) Since the enactment of the first of those laws - not to mention the THREE subsequent enactments of law - not one combination housing and reintegration program has been begun or funded under these laws!
"7) The IRS illegally denies the necessary 501(c) letters of recognition that such non-profit orgs need to apply for the HUD and VA grants to produce such programs.
"8) Such an illegal IRS denial was issued to Upward Vets, Inc. http://upwardveterans.tripod.com of which I am a founder and serve as its Treasurer/Webmaster. Upward Vets, Inc. is an all VOLUNTEER non-profit organization dedicated to creating homeless men and women veterans domiciliary and reintegration programs.
"9) Congress persons who are vocal and 'active' in support of active duty troops and veterans issues - including the very vocally supportive, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who promptly 'brushed off' the request for her direct intervention.
"The real 'meat' of the issue:
"2003: DOD & VA release a report on homeless veterans stating that there then exists an estimated 280,000 homeless men and women veterans in the United States of America and there exists NO programs to assist them back into society. The report goes on to make conservative projections which shock congress and the nation.
"Those projections were: that if the problem is left unattended, and directly due to the current war efforts, the population of homeless veterans in the USA would rise from the current 280,000 to at least 800,000 by the year 2010.
"As of 2005, (in just two years) the conservatively estimated population had almost doubled, rising to over 500,000 homeless men and women Veterans in the USA!
"Now, ask yourselves, where did that 'new' - over 200,000 homeless veterans come from? Vietnam era? Korean War, WWII, WWI eras?
"No folks, they came directly off from our recent/current battlefields in Gulf Storm, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Global War on Terrorism!
"The very heroes who have responded to the call to Patriotic duty in defense of our nation and the world - are coming home to VA failure to administer meaningful medical and life assistance and becoming homeless by the hundreds of thousands!
"Worse, during the next four years, 300,000 to 500,000 more of them are officially PROJECTED to become homeless!
"Yet, even with existing laws mandating and funding the creation of assistance programs by non-profit organizations -
"Congress does nothing to enforce VA, HUD and IRS mandatory legal support of the efforts!
"Want to increase your circulation, sponsors,and advertisers?
"The tell your readership what is happening to their returning military heroes, as those heroes become homeless due to Congress's REFUSAL to enforce the existing laws they themselves passed!
"DEMAND Congressional intervention and enforcement of the existing laws!
"DEMAND the proper authorization and legal recognition of the organizations arising to fulfill the need of these homeless Veterans - such as Upward Vets, Inc."
A Manchester reader wrote: "This story is the most offensive piece The Courant has ever put on the front page of our paper.
"1st: It fails to point out that this is an all volunteer military.
"2ND: On enlisting, these medical problems are discussed. The applicant can fudge the answers to medical questions, but it requires a letter from his doctor to validate what is said. Like those with mental illness want the public to understand, if the medicine works, they are OK!
"3rd: The percentage of these situations in the military, as opposed to the general public, is not mentioned. I won't go into the safety nets that are available to stop the Army from sending someone back to a war zone."
Another reader wrote: "'The Hartford Courant, citing records obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act and more than 100 interviews of families and military personnel, reported numerous cases in which the military failed to follow its own regulations in screening, treating and evacuating mentally unfit troops from Iraq.'
"I don't think sick, truth-twisting leftist lackeys want to go there. You know you are taking it all out context and painting the worst picture possible. Surely you low-life leftist lemmings will pay dearly."