January 10, 2013
By Col. Steve Strobridge, USAF (Ret)
Some years ago, as a commuter to the Pentagon, I spent the end of many duty days waiting in line for the bus home.
One evening, an older man collapsed on the bus steps, clutching his chest. Several people rushed to help him while someone called 911.
As boarding stalled, the commuter waiting in line behind me sighed, “Why do these things always happen to me?”
That incongruous lack of perspective was brought home again last month upon reading the headline, “Report chronicles the rising burden of military mental health care.”
Was this a report about the suffering of returning servicemembers, or maybe their families?
It was about the “excess mental health care burden” to the military health care system as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — 6 million ambulatory visits, 42,000 hospitalizations, and 300,000 hospital bed days between October 2001 and June 2012.
Other reports have cited the “burden to the nation” of footing current and future bills for military and VA health and disability needs of wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers and their families and caregivers.
Poor system. Poor nation. Are you kidding me?
This isn’t just quibbling over word choices.
People get treated badly in the health care system and essential budgets get cut on a regular basis.
And it happens precisely because program administrators and accountants and budget analysts and staffers — and leaders — lose all sense of perspective about who is bearing what level of burden for whom.
Pentagon, White House, and congressional leaders made conscious decisions to embark on two long-term wars and ardently resisted needed force-level increases for years — which meant the same people had to be sent back into combat time after time after time, knowing their chances of coming back as changed people rose with every deployment.
I don’t care whether it’s slugs in the bus line or slugs in government, in the media, or anywhere else.
I don’t care whether you think government leaders’ wartime decisions were right or wrong.
Anyone with so little perspective as to describe any level of needed care for servicemembers and their families suffering the terrible consequences of those decisions as a “burden to the system or the taxpayer” needs some sense slapped into them.
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