God, country, and PTSD

GOD, COUNTRY, AND PTSD…. Tara McKelvey has a fascinating item in Boston Review on diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of particular interest was an anecdote from Paul Sullivan, an analyst in the VA’s Veterans Benefits Administration.

Sullivan was working as an analyst at the Veterans Benefits Administration in Washington in early 2005 when he was called to a meeting with a top political appointee at the VA, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Michael McLendon. McLendon, an intensely focused man in a neatly pressed suit, kept a Bible on his desk at the office. Sullivan explained to McLendon and the other attendees that the rise in benefits claims the VA was noticing was caused partly by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who were suffering from PTSD. “That’s too many,” McLendon said, then hit his hand on the table. “They are too young” to be filing claims, and they are doing it “too soon.” He hit the table again. The claims, he said, are “costing us too much money,” and if the veterans “believed in God and country . . . they would not come home with PTSD.” At that point, he slammed his palm against the table a final time, making a loud smack. Everyone in the room fell silent.

“I was a little bit surprised,” Sullivan said, recalling the incident. “In that one comment, he appeared to be a religious fundamentalist.” For Sullivan, McLendon’s remarks reflected the views of many political appointees in the VA and revealed what was behind their efforts to reduce costs by restricting claims. The backlog of claims was immense, and veterans, often suffering extreme psychological stress, had to wait an average of five months for decisions on their requests.

McLendon denied the incident took place, but nevertheless told McKelvey that he believes PTSD is “a made-up term,” which has “taken on a life of its own.” She added that McLendon, in talking about the issue, “pounded the table with the side of his hand more than ten times, hitting it so hard that the wooden surface shook.”

As Atrios put it, “It’s like the job recruitment process [in the Bush administration] involved advertising for ‘the worst people ever born in the history of the universe.'”

It’s disheartening to think that the Bush administration put some of these people in key positions of authority and responsibility in the first place.