American Veterans in Crisis
When young American men and women sign up to serve in our military, the government makes them a basic promise: If they are wounded in the line of duty, they will get the care they need. But for far too many, that’s a promise that only exists on paper—even months after the news emerged about American vets’ shameful treatment at U.S. military facilities.
On Feb. 18, 2007, the headline “Soldiers Face Neglect, Frustration at Army’s Top Medical Facility” was splashed across the front page of one of the nation’s top newspapers, the Washington Post. The article, which described unsafe conditions and substandard care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, began with the story of Army Specialist Jeremy Duncan, who was airlifted out of Iraq in February 2006 with a broken neck and a shredded left ear, “nearly dead from blood loss.”
“Behind the door of Army Spec. Jeremy Duncan’s room, part of the wall is torn and hangs in the air, weighted down with black mold,” the article read. “When the wounded combat engineer stands in his shower and looks up, he can see the bathtub on the floor above through a rotted hole. The entire building, constructed between the world wars, often smells like greasy carry-out. Signs of neglect are everywhere: mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses.”
The Washington Post’s coverage of the scandal at Walter Reed sparked outrage and finger-pointing around Washington’s official circles, but the controversy did not solve the problem of substandard care. Eight months later, in September, Sergeant GJ Cassidy died while receiving treatment for blast injuries at Fort Knox. A GAO report released at the time of his death showed half of the military’s Warrior Transition Units had “significant shortfalls” of doctors, nurses and other caregivers to treat wounded soldiers.
It’s not known how many other soldiers have died the way GJ Cassidy did—alone while allegedly seeking medical care from his government. But we do know that veterans of the Iraq war are taking their own lives as the Pentagon and the VA fail to provide adequate medical care.
A CBS News investigation in November found that 120 veterans kill themselves every week, adding up to over 6,000 per year. CBS asked all 50 states for their suicide data, based on death records for veterans and non-veterans, and found that veterans were twice as likely to commit suicide [as] those who had not gone to war. Among those taking their own lives was Sergeant Brian Jason Rand, who served two tours in Iraq. On February 20, 2007, the Clarksville, Tennessee, police department found his body lying face down under an entertainment pavilion on the banks of the Cumberland River, a shotgun lying beside it.