US female veterans suffering and forgotten
First, they are heroes – the millions of US soldiers that have marched off to war on a government whim. Then, on their return – they are abandoned souls.
“They come home, and see the truth about what they’ve been asked to do. And this current glorification of the troops can’t hide the reality of what happens when these young kids, women and men, come home. And they are the real truth tellers,” said clinical law professor Bernardine Dohrn.
It is often an unexpected truth. Many US veterans come from simple places – often, not the best-off neighborhoods. Some are following a dream; others are lured in by promises of a better life. But there are also those that sometimes join the military because they have no other economic choice. What many people do not realize is that American women also fall into that category.
Women like Chiquita – a mother of two – homeless, disabled, and her children lost in a custody battle – she served in the US military for three years.
“They tell you in the beginning that it’s going to be so glamorous. The money is not as great as they say it’s going to be, it’s not any more than what I’m making now, and when you get out, it’s kind of difficult,” she said.
In a glimmer of hope amidst a daily fight for survival, she is moving into a temporary home provided by a local shelter.
To Chiquita, America’s wars are not worth the pain they cause.
“A lot of lives were lost for no reason. In the beginning, it was weapons of mass destruction, but there were no weapons of mass destruction. A lot of lives could have been saved. A lot of people could still be here,” Chiquita sighed.
Women make up 14 percent of America’s armed forces. Officially banned from direct combat, they increasingly end up in it – playing a more active role in US warfare than ever before. More than 230,000 women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last ten years, with few welcome mats set to receive them on return.
While veterans like Chiquita suffer neglect and physical disability, others are tormented by demons.
Like Jessica Goodell who spent eight months in Iraq collecting, and sending home, the bodies of fallen US Marines.
“I couldn’t leave my apartment. I didn’t have friends, I didn’t talk to anybody. A lot of it you can’t deal with it, you don’t deal with it. You keep pushing it back,” she said.
Alcoholism, drug abuse, and depression are widespread. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects the overwhelming majority of today’s veterans.
“There are estimates of hundreds of thousands; I actually think it’s much more than that. Anyone who has set foot in Iraq or Afghanistan, somewhere around 90 percent are suffering from PTSD,” said Jake Diliberto, co-founder of Veterans for Rethinking Afghanistan.
“Do you think, that if Chelsea Clinton, if Alexandra Pelosi, had their arms or legs blown off in war, that they would be doing more for the veterans? Do you think there would be better treatment? Of course there would” remarked Gerald Celente, director of the Trends Research Institute.
Instead there are an estimated one hundred thousand veterans homeless on any given night – one third to one fifth of the homeless population in America. A minority are female at five percent. They often keep their plight to themselves.
“The military is trained to have a very – what they call – a tough mentality. We’ve been taught, at least what I was taught, was that, what we experience, we should keep it to ourselves and it’s no one else’s problems, and that we need to bare it,” said Goodell.
But how much is too much? Obama has vowed to eliminate veteran homelessness by 2015 – but…
“I don’t see him doing any more than President Bush really did, to be honest,” said Chiquita.
Anything but an end to wars would be a band-aid on a wound that requires a tourniquet to stop bleeding.
Derrick Crowe, the political director at the Brave New Foundation said veterans, once they return home from war, are often forgotten – both men and women.
“Once these people come home they’re all too often forgotten,” he said “The unemployment rate for returning veterans is a 2 percentage point increase over the unemployment rate for non-veterans. It’s even worse among those who are 18-24. They have a 1 in 5 unemployment rate.”
The skills veterans gain in the military are often unmarketable in the civilian job market, especially when the job market is severely depressed.
Crowe explained that billions of US dollars are spent on wars, but much less is spent on caring for military veterans when they return home. The costs continually rise for war, especially when you need to pay for wounded soldiers.
“Many of them have PTSD that have to deal with, many of them have life altering injuries, and their families sometimes loose work because they have to stay home to take care of them,” he said. “When you come home your injuries are not going to affect just your economic life, but those of your family.”
The cost for caring for veterans must be included in war costs, Crowe argued. The priorities are off base as the US continues to fund conflict, but fails to care for its soldiers.
Most Americans favor spending more to care for veterans. He explained that while many are seeking cuts to government spending and funds used at war, most do not want to leave veterans without proper care.