Less Than Honorable: Understanding the sociocultural of military life in which sexual trauma takes place is crucial in advocating for survivors who receive "bad paper"
Dwight Stirling and Laura Riley
Los Angeles Lawyer September 2016, pp 32-38
Jonathan Shay, M.D., Ph.D.
In this strikingly original and groundbreaking book, Dr. Shay examines the psychological devastation of war by comparing the soldiers of Homer’s Iliad with Vietnam veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Although the Iliad was written twenty-seven centuries ago it has much to teach about combat trauma, as do the more recent, compelling voices and experiences of Vietnam vets.
Jonathan Shay, M.D., Ph.D.
In this ambitious follow-up to Achilles in Vietnam, Dr. Jonathan Shay uses the Odyssey, the story of a soldier’s homecoming, to illuminate the pitfalls that trap many veterans on the road back to civilian life. Seamlessly combining important psychological work and brilliant literary interpretation with an impassioned plea to renovate American military institutions, Shay deepens our understanding of both the combat veteran’s experience and one of the world’s greatest classics.
Since October 2001, approximately 1.64 million U.S. troops have been deployed for Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) in Afghanistan and Iraq. Early evidence suggests that the psychological toll of these deployments — many involving prolonged exposure to combat-related stress over multiple rotations — may be disproportionately high compared with the physical injuries of combat. In the face of mounting public concern over post-deployment health care issues confronting OEF/OIF veterans, several task forces, independent review groups, and a Presidential Commission have been convened to examine the care of the war wounded and make recommendations. Concerns have been most recently centered on two combat-related injuries in particular: post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. With the increasing incidence of suicide and suicide attempts among returning veterans, concern about depression is also on the rise.
The study discussed in this monograph focuses on post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, and traumatic brain injury, not only because of current high-level policy interest but also because, unlike the physical wounds of war, these conditions are often invisible to the eye, remaining invisible to other servicemembers, family members, and society in general. All three conditions affect mood, thoughts, and behavior; yet these wounds often go unrecognized and unacknowledged. The effect of traumatic brain injury is still poorly understood, leaving a large gap in knowledge related to how extensive the problem is or how to address it.
RAND conducted a comprehensive study of the post-deployment health-related needs associated with these three conditions among OEF/OIF veterans, the health care system in place to meet those needs, gaps in the care system, and the costs associated with these conditions and with providing quality health care to all those in need. This monograph presents the results of our study, which should be of interest to mental health treatment providers; health policymakers, particularly those charged with caring for our nation’s veterans; and U.S. service men and women, their families, and the concerned public. All the research products from this study are available at http://veterans.rand.org.
Data collection for this study began in April 2007 and concluded in January 2008. Specific activities included a critical review of the extant literature on the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, and traumatic brain injury and their short- and long-term consequences; a population-based survey of servicemembers and veterans who served in Afghanistan or Iraq to assess health status and symptoms, as well as utilization of and barriers to care; a review of existing programs to treat servicemembers and veterans with the three conditions; focus groups with military servicemembers and their spouses; and the development of a microsimulation model to forecast the economic costs of these conditions over time.
Among our recommendations is that effective treatments documented in the scientific literature — evidence-based care — are available for PTSD and major depression. Delivery of such care to all veterans with PTSD or major depression would pay for itself within two years, or even save money, by improving productivity and reducing medical and mortality costs. Such care may also be a cost-effective way to retain a ready and healthy military force for the future. However, to ensure that this care is delivered requires system-level changes across the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the U.S. health care system.
Eds. Brockton D. Hunter, Esq. and Ryan C. Else, Esq.
For as long as warriors have returned from battle, some have brought their war home with them, bearing invisible wounds that haunt in the present. These echoes of war—manifested in self-destructive, reckless, and violent behavior—reverberate through society, destroying not only the lives of these heroes, but their families and communities.
A new generation of warriors is now returning home and there is good reason to believe more of them will bring their war home with them than ever before. Unlike previous generations of warriors, this one is relatively small, yet it will have fought the two longest wars in our country’s history—simultaneously. Without the draft we relied on in past wars, the burden of the fighting falls on fewer shoulders, with many veterans of this generation serving multiple combat tours. We have also called on them to fight in the most hostile of environments—from the sweltering streets of Iraq, to the hostile high mountains of Afghanistan—facing fanatical enemies prepared to die for their cause. Many of this generation will have survived combat injuries that would have killed them in the past, but will nonetheless bear the psychological scars of their brush with death. Their modern combat training and conditioning ensured that they killed when called on to do so, yet did little to prepare them for the emotional and psychological costs of taking human life.
While this generation of returning veterans has been called on to serve and sacrifice like none before them, our society has never been asked to serve—or sacrifice—less. Most Americans no longer follow news of the war in Afghanistan. Even at the height of the war in Iraq, when media coverage was ubiquitous, we were allowed only, as one of our veteran clients refers to it, “a Clorox bleached version of the war,” carefully sanitized of all of its horror. We were not even allowed to see images of flag-draped coffins unloaded from planes in the early years of the conflicts, out of concern it would impact our support for their continuance. It worked.
This disconnect between our society and our wars was best symbolized by a piece of graffiti left by an anonymous Marine on a concrete blast wall in Ramadi, Iraq at the height of that war:
AMERICA IS NOT AT WAR
THE US MARINE CORPS IS AT WAR
AMERICA IS AT THE MALL
Our veteran clients commonly echo this sentiment, reporting to us that no one knows what they have seen—what they have done—and no one cares, too absorbed in our everyday lives to even begin to understand. Whereas returning Vietnam veterans were notoriously spit on and called “baby killers,” this generation is largely invisible – feeding their isolation and hastening a downward spiral for many.
The gulf between society and this generation of veterans will be increasingly dangerous in the coming years unless we find ways to bridge it. But where do we start? Author, Karl Marlantes, a Rhodes Scholar, who served as a Marine infantry officer in Vietnam and earned the Navy Cross, among many other medals, provides us with hard-won wisdom here:
"There is a correct way to welcome your warriors back. Returning veterans don’t need ticker-tape parades or yellow ribbons stretching clear across Texas. Cheering is inappropriate and immature. Combat veterans, more than anyone else, know how much pain and evil have been wrought. To cheer them for what they’ve just done would be like cheering the surgeon when he amputates a leg to save someone’s life. It’s childish, and it’s demeaning to those who have fallen on both sides. A quiet grateful handshake is what you give the surgeon, while you mourn the lost leg. There should be parades, but they should be solemn processionals, rifles upside down, symbol of the sword sheathed once again. They should be conducted with all the dignity of a military funeral, mourning for those lost on both sides, giving thanks for those returned…Veterans just need to be received back into their community, reintegrated with those they love, and thanked by the people who sent them." (fn 1)
The whole community must come together to bridge the gulf and properly welcome this generation of veterans. When they stumble and fall into the criminal justice system, as we know many of them will, we in the defense bar have a additional, solemn role to play, in helping them up and bringing them the rest of the way home.
As we prepare to defend those who defended us, we must first recognize that we in the criminal defense bar share much in common with our veteran clients. Like soldiers, our job is often gritty and thankless, our mission misunderstood by the general public. Like soldiers, ours is a proud warrior culture, a tight and insular community with an esprit de corps not found in many other professions or areas of the law. Above all, we, like our veteran clients, swore a sacred oath to defend the rights and freedoms that make our system of government so special.
As criminal defense lawyers and military veterans, Ryan Else and I set out to create a text that would empower our legal colleagues to passionately and skillfully defend our fellow veterans in criminal court. To do so, we sought out some of the top experts from a wide range of disciplines to each contribute a chapter on their particular area of expertise. The resulting 24 chapters are divided into four major sections. Section I, Combat Trauma and Criminality: the Historical and Sociological Connection, provides the big picture view and serves as the contextual foundation upon which the rest of the book is built. Section II: Understanding Invisible Injuries: PTSD, TBI, and Related Substance Abuse, provides an overview of the current state of the rapidly evolving medical and psychological science on combat trauma. Section III: Special Considerations in the Attorney-Veteran Client Relationship provides military cultural competency to better understand your client and document his or her military service. Section IV: Defending the Combat Veteran in Criminal Court applies the historical, medical, and cultural content of the three preceding sections and translates it into concrete legal strategies, from case preparation to plea negotiation, trial, sentencing, and appeal. The Appendix contains a wealth of practical resources, guides, chronologies, questionnaires, and samples.
With proper preparation and execution, defending veterans can be among the most rewarding experiences a defense attorney can have. We can simultaneously help repay our nation’s debt to these heroes for their service and sacrifice, uphold the special protections now afforded them in our justice system, and benefit society by helping turn them back into assets, not threats, to their communities.