Chewed Up and Spit Out: What Happens to Veterans When They Retire?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 31/03/2020 - 2:08am in

The phrase “military-industrial complex” is thrown around a lot. But the fact remains that the United States spends almost as much on war as the rest of the world combined. American troops are stationed in around 150 countries in around foreign 800 military bases; nobody seems to know the precise figure. Depending on the definition used, the United States has been at war for up to 227 of its 244-year history.

Endless war, of course, requires an endless torrent of warriors, sacrificing their liberty, safety and blood in the pursuit of empire. These soldiers are lauded as heroes, with constant parades and ceremonies across America to “honor” and “salute” servicemen. But once enlisted, for many, the profession does not seem so heroic. The brutality of the job – being sent around the world to kill – takes its toll. Only 17 percent of active duty members of the military stick around long enough to earn any pension whatsoever. And once they leave, often with terrible physical and emotional scars, they are frequently completely on their own to deal with it.

A consequence of permanent war is an ongoing epidemic in veterans’ suicides. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), 6-7,000 American veterans kill themselves every year – a rate of almost one every hour. More soldiers die from their own hands than in combat. Since its inception in 2007, the Veterans Crisis Line has answered nearly 4.4 million calls on the topic.

To understand the phenomenon, MintPress spoke to David Swanson, Executive Director of World Beyond War.

“Veterans disproportionately suffer from physical injuries, including brain injuries, and moral injury, PTSD, and lack of career prospects. All of these factors contribute to homelessness in a heartless capitalist society. All of them contribute to despair and misery. And they especially lead to suicide when combined with another thing veterans disproportionately have: access to and familiarity with guns,” he said.

Suicide with a firearm is far more likely to succeed than other methods like poisoning or suffocation. Figures from the VA show that fewer than half of non-veteran suicides are with guns, but well over two-thirds of veterans use a firearm to take their own life.

“What the VA, and other studies and research has shown, is that there is a direct link between combat and suicide in veterans and that issues of guilt, regret, shame, etc. occur over and over again in these studies of veterans. Links certainly exist between traumatic brain injury, PTSD and other mental health issues in suicide in combat veterans, but the primary indicator of suicidality in war veterans seems to be moral injury, i.e. guilt, shame, and regret” said Matthew Hoh, a veteran of both Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2009, he resigned his position with the State Department in protest over the escalation of the conflict in Afghanistan. Hoh has been open about struggling with suicidal thoughts since leaving.


A photo of Matthew Hoh, right, with a platoon commander in Haditha, Iraq, December 2006. Photo | Matthew Hoh

Killing does not come naturally to human beings. Even working in a slaughterhouse, where employees kill endless lines of animals, takes an extreme psychological toll, the job is linked to far higher rates of PTSD, domestic abuse and drug and alcohol issues. But no amount of military training can truly inoculate humans from the horror of killing other people. Data suggests the longer you spend in the military and the more time in war zones, the higher the likelihood that you will eventually take your own life. Like a virus, the longer you are exposed to battle, the more likely you are to succumb to the illness of depression, PTSD and suicide. There appears to be no sure cure, only prevention in the first place.

While male veterans are 50 percent more likely to take their own lives than men who have never served, female veterans are over five times more likely to commit suicide on average (the disparities between veterans and non-veterans used to be greater, but a steep rise in suicides across America has reduced the ratios). Hoh suggests a contributing factor could be the high rates of rape and sexual assault in the military. The figures are indeed startling: a Pentagon study found that 10 percent of active-duty women were raped, and a further 13 percent were subjected to other unwanted sexual contact. Those figures are consistent with a 2012 Defense Department survey that found nearly a quarter of servicewomen had been sexually assaulted at least once on the job.


The Walking Dead

The homeless vet has been a staple character in American life and society for over a century. Although the VA claim their numbers are decreasing, an estimated 37,085 veterans still experienced homelessness in January 2019, the last time the figure was counted. “I think the same issues that give rise to suicide in veterans also contribute to homelessness,” said Hoh, suggesting that many who thrive in a regimented, cohesive, team-driven environment like the military face huge problems to do with isolation and a lack of structure once demobilized. And having to deal with often-undiagnosed trauma alone can be devastating. Hoh was only diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury and a neurological-cognitive disorder in 2016, many years after leaving the armed forces.

“The military glorifies alcohol use, which may lead to later substance abuse, and, despite its recruiting propaganda, does a poor job of providing many people who join the military with a skill or trade that can be utilized upon leaving the military,” he told MintPress. “People who are mechanics or vehicle drivers in the military find that when they leave the military their qualifications and training in the military do not transition into civilian certifications, licenses or qualifications. This can have an impact on finding or holding employment,” he said, accusing the armed forces of intentionally making it difficult for former soldiers to transition into civilian professions to aid retention.


A war veteran sleeps on the sidewalk as his wife sits wrapped in blankets in Washington D.C. on July 29, 1932. Photo | AP

Disabilities also contribute to a lack of employment opportunities, further adding to the risk of homelessness. Overall, Hoh says, the military does a great job of shaping and disciplining young people of all races, teaching them skills and responsibility. “But the end result of it all is to kill people.” For that reason, he recommends young people with a thirst to prove themselves and a passion for adventure join the fire department or perhaps become a rescue swimmer for the Coast Guard.


Future Wars

Where will the next American war take place? If you could bet on such things, Iran might be the favorite. At a recent anti-war rally in Los Angeles, former U.S. army veteran Mike Prysner warned the crowd about his experiences:

My generation went through the Iraq War. What did they teach us that you need to know now? That number one: They will lie. They will lie about why we need to go to war, just like they did then. They will lie to you. And guess what? When that war starts going bad for them, as it inevitably will, and a lot of us start dying, what are they going to do? They are going to keep lying and they are going to send more of you to die, because they don’t want to take responsibility. But they’re not getting their legs blown off or have any kids on the battlefield, so they don’t care.”

He also cautioned those listening to what awaited veterans like him when they returned:

When you come home wounded, injured, traumatized, what are they going to do, are they going to help you? No. They’re going to punish you, ridicule you, kick you to the curb. These politicians have shown they don’t care if you hang yourself in your closet when you get back. They don’t care if you go out to the woods and shoot yourself. They don’t care if you end up on the streets right here in Skid Row. They have proven they do not care about our lives and they have no right to dictate any control over our lives.”

Mike Prysner arrest

Iraq war veteran Mike Prysner is arrested at an anti-war protest in D.C. Sept, 15 2017. Photo | Danny Hammontree

On January 3, Trump ordered the assassination of Iranian general and statesman Qassem Soleimani via drone strike. Iran responded by firing a number of ballistic missiles at U.S. forces in Iraq. Despite the Iraqi parliament passing a unanimous resolution demanding all American troops leave, backed by a demonstration of 2.5 million people in Baghdad, the U.S. announced it would send thousands of more troops to the region, building three new bases on the Iraq/Iran border. In the midst of the COVID–19 pandemic racking the Islamic Republic, Trump has announced new sanctions that further block Iran procuring life-saving medicines and medical supplies.

“The US, backed by the UK, Israel, Saudis and the other Gulf monarchies, will use any reason to launch attacks against Iran,” Hoh said. “The best thing the Iranians can do is wait for November. Don’t give Trump and the Republicans the war they can use to distract from COVID–19.” Swanson was equally condemnatory of his government’s actions. “The United States is behaving as the worst neighbor in the global neighborhood,” he said. “Perhaps the U.S. public, observing the Senatorial insider trading and presidential sociopathy, will gain some inkling into the true depths of the evil behind U.S. foreign policy.”

An enormous 22 million Americans have served in the armed forces. While the military is constantly glamorized in public life, the reality for many is that, once they are of no use to the military-industrial-complex, they are dumped like trash on a curb. With little support, once they leave, many, unable to deal with the realities of what they have had to endure, end up taking their own lives, chewed up and spat out by a relentless war machine, hungry for more blood, more war, and more profits.

Feature photo | Rain falls on statues at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, March 25, 2020. Patrick Semansky | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

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‘I’ Article on Allegations of British War Crimes in Iraq and Aghanistan

I put up a piece yesterday evening commenting on a trailer for the Beeb’s Panorama programme tonight, 18th November 2019, investigating allegations that British troops have committed war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is also the subject of an article in today’s I by Cahal Milmo, titled ‘Army and UK Government accused of cover-up in war crimes scandal’. This reads

The Government is facing demands to ensure an investigation into “deeply troubling” allegations that torture and murders – including the killing of children – by British soldiers were covered up by senior commanders and officials.

Leaked documents provided to an investigation by BBC Panorama and The Sunday Times detail claims that evidence of crimes committed by UK troops in Afghanistan and Iraq was not fully investigated.

Amnesty International said that rather than sweeping such claims “under the carpet”, Britain needs to ensure cases are “treated with the seriousness they deserve”.

The claims, which include an allegation that an SAS soldier murdered three children and a man in Afghanistan while drinking tea in their home in 2012, arose from two official investigations into alleged war crimes by British forces. The Iraq Historic Allegations Teams (IHAT) and Operation Northmoor, which investigated alleged incidents in Afghanistan, were wound down in 2017 after a solicitor – Phil Shiner _ was struck off for misconduct after bringing more than 1,000 to IHAT.

Neither IHAT nor Northmoor resulted in any prosecutions, a fact which the Government insists was based on “careful investigation”.

But military investigators told the BBC and The Sunday Times that other factors were responsible. One former IHAT detective said: “The Ministry of Defence had no intention of prosecuting any soldier of whatever rank he was unless it was absolutely necessary and they couldn’t wriggle their way out of it.”

The media investigation uncovered claims no action was taken after military prosecutors were asked to consider charges against a senior SAS commander for attempting to pervert the course of justice in relation to the Afghanistan incident. It also found evidence that allegations of beatings, torture and sexual abuse of detainees by members of the Black Watch regiment did not reach court.

The Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insisted all cases had been looked at and “the right balance” struck in terms of court action.

A spokesman for the MOD said “Allegations that the MoD interfered with investigations or prosecution decisions relating to the conduct of UK forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are untrue. The decisions of prosecutors and investigators have been independent of the MoD and involved external oversight and legal advice.”

Underneath the article is a statement in a box that reads Another investigator said ‘Key decisions were taken out of our hands. There was more and more pressure from the Ministry of Defence to get cases closed as quickly as possible.’

As I wrote yesterday, this is something that no-one really wants to hear. We’d love to believe our girls and boys are far better than this. But I’m afraid that for all their training and professionalism, they are just humans like everyone else, placed in positions of extreme fear and danger. Regarding the killing of children, it also has to be taken into account that the enemy in those areas has hidden behind children and tried to use them to kill allied soldiers. This has resulted in allied squaddies having been forced to shoot them to preserve their own lives.

Falling Off the Edge, a book which describes how neoliberalism is forcing millions into poverty worldwide and actually contributing to the rise in terrorism, begins with a description of a firefight between American soldiers and Daesh in Iraq. The Daesh fighters are losing, and one of them drops a Rocket Propelled Grenade in a house’s courtyard. The fighters then run inside, and throw out of the door two little boys. They boys try to grab the RPG despite the American troops screaming at them not to. One of them makes to pick it up, and is shot by an American trooper.

It’s an horrendous incident, but one in which the squaddie had no choice. It was either himself and his comrades, or the child. It’s a sickening decision that no-one should have to face, and I don’t doubt that it will scar this man psychologically for the rest of his life. One of the complaints Private Eye had about the lack of appropriate psychological care for returning servicemen and women suffering from PTSD was that they weren’t put in the hands of army doctors and medical professionals, who would understand the terrible choices they had to make. Instead many were put in civilian treatment groups, who were naturally shocked and horrified by their tales of killing children. It may well be that some of the accusations of the murder of children may be due to incidents like this. I also remember an al-Qaeda/ Taliban propaganda video from Afghanistan that the Beeb played during the Afghanistan invasion. This was intended for audiences elsewhere in the Middle East. In it, one of the fighters hands a gun to another small boy, who waves it around as if he can hardly hold it, and proudly declares that he will gun down the evil westerners. This seemed to show that the Taliban and al-Qaeda weren’t above using small children as soldiers. It’s evil, and banned under the UN Rights of the Child, I believe. But if the Taliban have been using boy soldiers, this might explain some of the murders.

Even so, these are very serious allegations. I blogged yesterday about how an American diplomat in Iraq was shocked at the conduct of US forces. The mess of one division was decorated with Nazi insignia, mercenaries were running drugs and prostitution rings, and shot Iraqi civilians for sport. And the American army was also supporting sectarian death squads. We need to know if there is similar lawlessness among British troops.

And I’m afraid I have no faith in the ability of the British army or the MoD to investigate these claims fairly. Nearly every fortnight Private Eye’s ‘In the Back’ section has yet more information from the Deep Cut Inquiry into the suicide of three squaddies at the barracks now well over a decade ago. There have been allegations that the initial investigation was appallingly inadequate, that detectives and doctors were taken off the investigation, or prevented from properly examining forensic evidence. And reading some of the depositions makes it appear that there may well have been a cover-up. And this also lends credibility to the allegations that the government and MoD are covering up atrocities here.

This needs to be very carefully investigated with complete transparency. And it also shows how profoundly morally wrong the invasion of Iraq was. It was a war crime, and the criminals responsible were Bush and Blair.


BBC Replaces Footage of Boris at Cenotaph with Ceremony from 2016 to Avoid Embarrassing Him?

Here’s another reason not to trust the BBC’s news coverage. Boris Johnson’s performance at the Cenotaph yesterday, when he formally laid the wreath to commemorate all those, who lost their lives fighting for this country, was shambolic. Our clown Prime Minister was caught looking around during the Two Minutes’ silence. He then walked out to the monument two earlier, and laid the wreath upside down. This was picked up by Royal Central and the Mail Online yesterday, which both commented on it, according to Zelo Street. But you could be fooled into believing that it didn’t happen by the media coverage. There’s no mention of it on the front pages of the papers. Instead, the rags concentrate on trying to claim that our economy is thriving under BoJob’s wise leadership and there is absolutely no mention of it in the Scum, which is just wall to wall Tory propaganda. Zelo Street comments

‘The Bozo Cenotaph shambles encapsulates the sheer venality of our free and fearless press. It is airbrushing of reality that would have made the editors of Pravda and Isvestiya blush. And it demonstrates the challenge for Labour in the upcoming General Election.

We have a press desperate to put an inept, philandering, mendacious, bigoted, uncaring clown into Downing Street. Because he’s one of theirs. I’ll just leave that one there.’


The comparison with the Soviet manipulation of the news is also appropriate when it comes to our state broadcaster. Mike posted up a piece earlier today about how the Beeb had decided to replace the real footage of BoJob laying the wreath with a clip from 2016. This was discovered very quickly by the good folks on Twitter, who were rightly massively unimpressed and wanted to know why the Beeb had done it. The Corporation tried to wriggle out of it by saying that it was a production error, for which they apologised. This, as our parents used to say, is a likely story. The peeps commenting on the switch weren’t convinced, and neither am I. Simon Maginn, who has put in an official complaint about the Jewish Chronicle’s latest smear of Corbyn being in breach of electoral law, spoke for very many when he said

You’re liars and we know you are. You lie about things big and small, but always to Tories’ advantage.
We don’t believe a word you broadcast, because we have no reason to.
You’re corrupt, rotten and dishonest, and everyone knows that now.
Labour will reform you.
Bring it on.

Others, who didn’t believe it either included the author and scriptwriter Stephen Gallagher, and the ex-Beeb/Sky/Reuters/ PA journo Julian Shea. Evolve Politics stated that it was very unlikely that it could have been a genuine mistake, as the Beeb would have had to look through their archives to find footage from that far back. They also pointed out that the 2016 footage had obviously been substituted, because it included appearances from politicos, who have since left government. Like the former Prime Minister, Tweezer.

One viewer, Gayle Letherby, sent a written complaint to the Beeb. This ran

“I cannot accept that this was a ‘production mistake’ not least because it is clear in the 2016 footage that Theresa May and not Boris Johnson was the Prime Minister. Additionally, it surely takes some ‘skill’ to mix up footage from yesterday with footage from three years ago. I, and I know many others, can only conclude that your intention was to present the PM as more statesmanlike, more respectful, than yesterday’s performance showed him to be.


Mike comments that he hopes everyone sending complaints to the Beeb like this will also post them to Ofcom, which is still investigating whether the Beeb breached its own rules on impartial coverage. He also watched Politics Live to see if they would cover this story and issue an apology. They didn’t, so he sent them this tweet to the editor, Rob Burl.

@RobBurl I was looking for the apology for BBC Remembrance Day coverage showing images from 2016 rather than yesterday, which someone clearly had to go and find, to use it instead of the shots of @BorisJohnson showing contempt for our veterans. Where is it please?

So far, he has received no reply, and thus concludes

The BBC has outed itself as a propaganda arm of the Conservative Party. Its election coverage – and other news output – should therefore be avoided on the basis of prejudice, and should be reported to Ofcom.

BBC digs out Remembrance Day clip from 2016 to avoid showing up Boris Johnson. What happened to impartiality?

Both Mike and Zelo Street compare this with the outrage the media tried to work up against Corbyn’s appearance at the Cenotaph, when they falsely accused him of wearing a blue coat to the ceremony.

But what makes this very obvious media bias to BoJob and the Tories is the complete lack of care he and they have for the real veterans. The Mirror covered the story of the death of  an 82-year old veteran, who had been evicted from his squat in Manchester along with 12 other ex-squaddies. Mike reports that they were just 13 out of the 13,000 former servicemen and women, who are now living on the streets. Mike points out that almost all of them suffer from PTSD, which often leads to drug and alcohol addiction. They receive no help from the government, which means that the Armed Forces Covenant – that those who serve or have served in the armed forces are treated fairly, which became law in 2011, is a sick joke. He quotes Chris Barwood, of the Salford Armed Forces Veterans Network, who said

 “We are turning our backs on our troops who have taken the Queen’s shilling, sworn the oath of allegiance and offered up their lives to keep us safe and yet in return we do nothing to ensure that they have a roof over their heads and food in their bellies for their remaining years.”

The only help these courageous people receive comes from charities.

Mike concludes

The crowning irony is that most members of the Armed Forces are ardent Conservatives.

I hope they reconsider that position.

Why should they vote for a party that throws them into pointless conflicts, then throws them onto the streets when they get PTSD, and whose leader shows nothing but contempt for those of their comrades who have died defending their country?


This problem comes round regularly, whenever the Tories get into government. I remember how, nearly 30 years ago, there were reports of homelessness, unemployment and poverty amongst ex-service personnel during John Major’s government following the first Gulf War. The army was being cut, and so thousands of squaddies were turned out onto the streets with no preparation or support for civilian life. Just as Maggie inflicted drastic cuts on the armed forces after the Falklands War. Spitting Image/Private Eye made a very bitter comment on the cynical use of British servicemen and women in their book Thatcha! The Real Maggie Memoirs, which spoofed the former Prime Minister’s own when they were published. This featured a parody of a boy’s war comic, whose hero is a Falklands veteran. Proud of serving his country until he’s shown the door, the strip ends with him gunning down a bus queue in rage and despair. This was also, obviously, a comment on the mass shootings that were just then appearing across the Atlantic and elsewhere.

I don’t know of any shootings like that, which have been done over here by former servicemen and women. I hope there hasn’t and will never be one.

But the Tories’ treatment of men and women, who have served their country with pride, honour and courage is utterly, utterly disgraceful. And Mike is quite right to ask members of the forces to reconsider their allegiance to a party that treats them so cynically.