The tragic story of the young American soldier caught in the vice of injustice, in his own words, written with his own hand, admits his wrongdoings and affirms that he should be held accountable for his actions. But what he did not share in his letter are the dramatic events that occurred prior to his crime, which set the stage for his poor decision-making.
TJ wanted to join the Army for as long as he could remember. His father served in Vietnam and his grandfather in World War II. He was raised with a profound respect for military service. After 9/11, like many other patriotic and courageous young Americans, he enlisted in the Army. While serving in Iraq, he was forced to take the lives of innocent people. During that mission, he saw things that boot camp did not prepare him to cope with. When he returned to his base, he could not sleep. He became more and more depressed. There was no mental health support readily available. He was clearly suffering from posttraumatic stress. He probably should have been relieved from his duties, but he was not.
He made a series of bad choices that were motivated to relieve emotional pain and stress. After two suicide attempts, he was still not given the proper medical care. It is unconscionable that his wife was not notified of his whereabouts or his human circumstance for three days.
What TJ did was clearly wrong, but he was allegedly treated worse than a convicted murderer. He is serving our nation, risking his life to protect the human rights of those in a foreign country and his own human rights have been violated and disregarded. It is reprehensible to think that the military police "dragged him down the street and beat him" and that the prosecution lost key documents that have caused a very sick soldier to be stuck on a military base in confinement with no hope of any kind of mental health treatment in the future.
To add further scandal to this already tragic story, TJ's wife, a former American soldier from Iraq, has tried on her own to get support for her husband. Her intention has never been to minimize or excuse his crimes or his deserved punishment, but rather to get him the appropriate mental health treatment he needs. So when he does come home, he might have a life to live.
TJ's wife's has reached out to all of our local and federal officials. Unfortunately, her cries for help have fallen on deaf ears. The one or two aides that did respond basically copped out and offered her no direction or hope.
I have tried to give voice to her plight, because I know that her cry is not just about her husband, but also about a growing number of young men and women who are ill-prepared, psychologically and emotionally, to face the horrors of this war. When pressed, the military will acknowledge that they are short-staffed with psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and chaplains.
Over a year ago, I wrote a proposal to respond to the lack of chaplains/mental health professionals, specifically for our young men and women deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. A number of families expressed concern that their sons and daughters deployed in the Middle East did not have sufficient spiritual support. When they inquired, they were told that there were not enough chaplains to adequately meet the spiritual needs of all of our military personnel.
With this apparent need, I decided to reach out to my colleagues in the clergy who were also trained in mental health to see if they were willing to volunteer a block of time, specifically around the holiday season, to minister to and support our young men and women specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan. This need gave birth to the Isaiah Project. Myself and a number of clergy from other denominations volunteered to support this spiritual and mental health initiative on behalf of our troops.
A senior congressman from our larger community offered to shepherd this proposal within the bureaucracy. He personally delivered it to the appropriate authorities in the Pentagon. Unfortunately, the Pentagon rejected the proposal, and did so because the clergy in question were not military personnel! Needless to say, that response was very disappointing. The pointed question to be raised is, what is the military doing to meet the serious spiritual needs of our men and women in uniform service, especially those deployed in a war zone? Also, what is our military leadership doing to support the mental health of our men and women in battle and when they come home from battle?
TJ's story is probably only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to military personnel suffering because of the horrors of war. We must demand that all of our young men and women who elect to serve our nation in uniform service be given the proper training to navigate the atrocities that will inevitably touch their lives. If they don't, then these courageous, generous young men and women will become additional casualties of this unfortunate human conflict that is polarizing our nation.
As we approach the November elections and also prepare for the election of a new president, shame on our political leadership for not caring enough for young men and women in uniform service. Shame on them for not taking the time to respond to this desperate wife of a suicidal soldier who is stuck in a bureaucracy that is ill-equipped to care for him.
Everyday we hear another story about our servicemen and women in Iraq and Afghanistan who have been traumatized in the field. As these stories are told, one begins to question how are our young men and women being prepared for the complex task of modern day war. Is their psychological and emotional preparation adequate enough to endure the human traumas of this war?
What provisions are in place to respond to those soldiers who have been traumatically damaged because of what they saw and by what they had to do on the battlefield? War is never easy, no matter where it is waged! Modern day warfare is even more complicated and destructive. Our troops need our unconditional support, whether we are for or against the war in Iraq. They also need the unconditional support of our military. They need to know when they go out to battle, if they are lucky enough to come back, that there will be support for them on every level.
No matter how one looks at war, it is always humanly destructive. Our troops need well-equipped and well-trained mental health professionals to support them on the battlefield. Their psychological well-being must be a priority and not an afterthought!
As a concerned community, we must hold our government and military leadership accountable for treating our men and women in uniform service with respect and dignity. We should spare no expense to protect their quality of life. It is unconscionable to think that those in power would cut corners and put our young soldiers in jeopardy and at risk.
What real provisions are being made for our returning GI's? What job opportunities do they have? Even more importantly, what kind of mental health support is available to those men and women who desperately need it?
If we value our soldiers and all that they do for our nation, then we must guarantee them support upon their return. They should have access to immediate mental and physical health care. We should not allow them and their needs to be buried in our inept social bureaucracy.
All of our soldiers, no matter what they have done or have failed to do, need to be given our utmost respect and support. We should do everything humanly possible to make their transition back to civilian life as stress free as possible!