By Vladimir Gladkov
This Monday is Memorial Day in the US, a holiday observed in the US every year since the Civil War to remember American soldiers who died in the line of duty. Today, however, US servicemen continue to suffer as a result of incompetence and lawlessness on the part of the authorities. A raft of high-profile incidents of late demonstrates that the country’s military elite, while ever ready to use the memory of the dead for their own time-serving purposes, tend to forget about the living.
The unprofessionalism and incompetence of the US military leadership and state-run organizations responsible for the maintenance of US soldiers has led to many a scandal recently. The report that triggered a particularly wide-ranging outcry said that the US army had been saving for years on servicemen who suffered from psychic disorders.
A journalistic inquiry revealed that military doctors intentionally refused to diagnose soldiers with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in order to avoid paying compensation and pensions. Information leaked to the press that the medical leadership urged doctors to ignore the disorder in order to “save taxpayer money”.
This budgetary money saving policy led to a tragedy. A US army soldier, Robert Bales, who was suffering from post-traumatic stress, killed 17 civilians in southern Afghanistan. The incident exacerbated the US’ relations with Afghanistan, a key NATO ally in the struggle against global terrorism. Bales had repeatedly complained of health problems caused by a head injury in Iraq. Nevertheless, he was dispatched to Afghanistan and as it happens, was not the only victim of the money saving program. It turned out that doctors at the Lewis-McChord base to which Bales was assigned had canceled the diagnosis of a psychic disorder for 40 percent of servicemen thereby contributing to the dispatch of mentally ill people to conflict zones.
American war veterans have been affected by this arbitrariness as well. US veteran unions have been expressing concern over an alarming percentage of suicides among servicemen who return from hot spots. In the opinion of war veterans and human rights campaigners, the main reason behind the increasing number of suicides is dereliction of duty on the part of public service employees. And in most cases, the US Veterans Department, a state-run institution created to support servicemen who return from conflict zones, is at the center of disputes.
According to veteran organizations, the Department is bogged down in bureaucracy, doesn’t react to phone calls from police and relatives, and ignores regular duties. Its employees refuse to hospitalize veterans suffering from psychic disorders. One of the most outrageous instances of that was the death of William Hamilton, a 26-year veteran of the Iraq war who was suffering from regular hallucinations in the form of visits by a demonic woman and the man he killed during combat operations. Despite Hamilton’s deteriorating condition, the Department’s officials doggedly refused to provide him with treatment. As a result, the man committed suicide throwing himself under a train.
The US authorities haven’t got the slightest idea as to where all this could lead to. As the public discontent continues to increase, the government manages to turn a blind eye on the problem. The recent incident in which war veteran Scott Olsen received a grave head injury during a police raid on the participants in the Occupy march in California, is equally unlikely to contribute to the myth that the government is taking good care of people who risked their lives putting the US government’s plans into practice. A steady rise in public protests demonstrates that Americans are getting more and more reluctant to play dubious games.