Saturday, December 29, 2007

Why Pakistan Matters as Much as Iraq (or More)

Why Pakistan Matters

You may have heard recently that the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated on December 27th in Pakistan after eight years of self-imposed exile from the country. Bhutto’s assassination has garnered a lot of media coverage and stimulated a great deal of international discussion. You may be wondering why.

What you need to know about Pakistan:

1. Pakistan borders Afghanistan.

2. Pakistan is home to known Islamic extremists, including members of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. It is even believed that Osama bin Laden is living somewhere among these self-ruling tribal areas.

3. Pakistan is estimated to have anywhere from 24 to 48 nuclear warheads but claims to have 80 to 120.

4. There is a great deal of social and political unrest in Pakistan. Despite international condemnation, President Musharraf imposed emergency law from Nov. 3 to Dec. 15, 2007, and postponed national elections. 2007 in Pakistan has been a year of riots, protests, and violence.

5. The U.S. was relying on Bhutto’s return to Pakistan (as she was in self-imposed exile for eight years) and the projected success of her party (and her) in the upcoming election to help stabilize Pakistan.

6. Although he chose to be an “ally” to the U.S. after 9/11, he has been greatly criticized for not removing the terrorist groups operating in Pakistan.

7. Pakistan is one of four countries in the world that did not sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

8. Pakistan and India have a relationship similar to the Soviet-US Cold War era relationship, except their hatred is more deep-seated, long-standing, and contentious. In fact, since their independence from Great Britian in 1947, they have fought three separate wars against each other.

9. India is believed to have 30 to 35 nuclear warheads (and is one of the other countries that refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty).

10. Our concerns, as a nation, are two-fold. First, we want to prevent the nuclear warheads in Pakistan from falling into the hands of terrorists, such as al-Qaeda. Second, we want to avoid the use of nuclear weapons between India and Pakistan, which could quickly escalate into a global nuclear disaster.


If you go to the page, there are links for almost every point above. You can learn a great deal about this issue. If there is an uprising against Musharraf, we do not have the manpower to protect the regime or the weapons. This is a very, very scary development.

This is going to be an electoral issue for the 2008 Election Center as well.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

This “War” on Terror Doesn’t Feel Very Global…

“Hope the members of Congress enjoy their holiday break. I intend to enjoy mine.”

So said the President during his “year-end” press conference on the 20th of December.

Well, that is what I read he said. I was not able to actually watch the press conference, so I read the transcript.

And then I read it again.

President Bush spoke of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan briefly, saying that “[t]hese brave men and women are risking their lives to protect us and they deserve the full support of the U.S. government.”

He followed that with two other statements expressing that he was grateful and/or “glad” that Congress funded OIF/OEF (without artificial timetables for withdrawals). Apparently, everything the President had to say about our troops at the end of 2007 could be said in 3 very short and—technically—redundant sentences.

Then the President proceeded to go into his priorities for 2008: “not raising taxes.” In fact, he talked about not raising taxes nine times, using the word “tax” (or some variation thereof) 29 times.

“You know, the argument that you've got to raise taxes make sure your children
don't pay debt only works if the government doesn't follow suit and spend
that money you raise on new programs. My view is that, given more money the
government will find new ways to spend it…”

With all due respect, Mr. President, that’s the idea behind taxation: the government spends the money it collects from the citizens for their collective benefit.

For example, we could use those tax dollars to fund our troops in theater, to care for our wounded warriors, or to recruit and train new troops for future needs. These are not unreasonable expenditures by our government, especially if Americans want to continue to rely upon an all volunteer force for our military, defense, and natural disaster needs. Essentially, what appears to be “taking care” of a small segment of Americans in the short term is really taking care of all Americans in the long term.

Yet, these are the first wars our country has entered into and maintained without raising taxes. Instead, we have accumulated several hundred billion dollars of debt and we shown no interest in cutting up the nation’s ‘credit card’ anytime soon... probably because that would mean we would have to resort to raising taxes. Raising taxes would require a little sacrifice by most Americans, instead of the current situation, which is defined by the tremendous sacrifice of a few Americans.

Meanwhile, the Department of Defense freely admits the need for a significant increase in mental health care providers for service members and wounded warriors. Physicians for Social Responsibility estimate the cost of care for our wounded warriors from OEF/OIF will equal or surpass the cost of the wars themselves. And as long as we embrace the VA system, we will need to improve and expand our VA health care facilities to accommodate the 700,000 OEF/OIF veterans expected to seek care at them.

Nonetheless, at the year-end press conference, President Bush said he hoped that Congress would enjoy their holiday break as he planned to enjoy his (before returning to the business of ensuring that no taxes were raised, although those taxes could fund essential programs to care for our troops; troops who evidently did not warrant a call to action on the part of the American public for whom they have sacrificed their families, their holidays, their safety, and in some cases, their sanity and/or their lives).

In fact, of the 4,351 fatalities to date, 320 died during a December month. For every fatality, there are 8 to 16 wounded (the latter figure encompasses mental and physical injuries that develop or occur in the combat theater but were not necessarily the direct result of “hostile” action). This means that, on average, two service members a day are killed and anywhere from 16 to 32 service members are physically and/or psychologically injured.

Personally, my holiday thoughts and prayers are with our service men and women. I don’t just want them to “enjoy” the holidays in Iraq and Afghanistan, I want them to survive the holidays.

Statistically speaking, however, not all of them will. And while I understand the political reasons that elected officials (from both partied) have for wanting to "spare" civilians (i.e. 95% of Americans) from the "burdens" of war, I neither agree with nor respect doing it:

Supporting our troops is not just something you say, it is something you DO.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Mission. Soldier. FAMILY. Team.

Mission. Soldier. Family. Team.

Carissa Picard | December 13, 2007

"Mission. Soldier. Family. Team."

This is the motto of the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Texas. In four words, 4th ID has identified the essential elements upon which the strength and stability of the Division is based. The soldier, the family, the unit, and the mission are all interconnected and interdependent. What impacts one, impacts the other. Now the Army needs to recognize this as well.

The Army's problems with recruitment and retention are very much a reflection of its failure to truly appreciate this interdependence. When it comes to decreased morale and retention, our prolonged presence in Iraq has become the scapegoat, masking a larger problem within the military: a reluctance to value the family as much as the service member does and a resistance to allocate funds accordingly.

No matter how high the bonuses are many soldiers, particularly those with families, believe that the benefits fail to outweigh the hardships of service. Too much has been asked of too few for too long--families and soldiers alike.

Of course, reducing combat tours from 15 to 12 months would certainly help soldiers and military families, but it is important to understand that it is not combat tours alone that are keeping soldiers from staying in the Army. It is the lack of support for the soldier and his/her family before, during, and after those tours.

Whether a soldier is deployed for 9 months, 12 months, or 15 months, the fact remains that while he (or she) is gone, the spouse has few resources to compensate for the long-term absence of the second parent under conditions of high stress and isolation. During deployments the incidents of child abuse and neglect, alcohol and drug use, and post-partum depression all increase. Meanwhile, the divorce rate for Army officers nearly tripled and for its enlisted soldiers nearly doubled (between 2001 and 2005). Even without deployments, frequent moves disrupt career aspirations, educational goals, and community ties for families.

Understandably, the Director of Defense Capabilities and Management testified before the Senate (in 2002): "a significant body of research by the military services shows that family satisfaction with military life can significantly influence a service members decision to stay in the military or leave." More recently, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Pace testified that family satisfaction and support played a key role in soldier morale and retention. In light of this, one would expect the Army to expand family benefits and support services much more significantly than it has to date.

For example, the Army could increase the number of daycare providers (especially for evening and weekend hours), expand non-cosmetic dental and vision benefits, provide on post front lawn care for the families of deployed soldiers, allow educational benefits to be transferable to the spouse or child, force Tricare to provide Prime coverage to active duty families who move home during deployments, and/or relocate families to places where they will have support during a deployment that is twelve months or longer.

Of course, while I write this, officials have announced they want to increase the permanent Army by 20,000 to 30,000 troops. (Although the White House initially wanted to increase the number of troops by 65,000.)

You have to admire their moxie. In 2005, the Army failed to meet its annual recruiting goal by eight percent. Despite recruitment bonuses as high as $40,000, the Army again failed to meet its recruiting goals in May and June (usually its best recruiting months) of 2007. The propensity to serve is in the military is its lowest in 20 years, desertion is its highest in 20 years, and junior officers and NCOs are running (not walking) from Uncle Sam.

To meet their post-9/11 recruiting goals they have already increased the maximum enlisting age, granted "moral" waivers for criminal convictions (12% were granted this year), lowered educational standards, and offered bonuses up to $40,000.

Benjamin Franklin said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. If the Army wants to accomplish its mission of recruiting and retaining troops, it needs to take care of its soldiers. To take care of its soldiers, it needs to take care of its soldiers' families. That means higher salaries and improved benefits and family support services. Period.

To preserve manpower and protect the integrity of the overall force, the Army needs to recognize that an investment in the family IS an investment in the soldier.

Taking care of military families isn't just a moral imperative - it is a troop multiplier.

Copyright 2007 Carissa Picard. All opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of


If you go to the actual op-ed at, there are eight hyper-links in the text that take you to the sources used to write this piece.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Blaming the Victim

In 2006, Congress ordered the Secretary of Defense to assess the mental health needs of the Armed Forces and the ability of the DoD to meet those needs. As a result, the DoD created a "Mental Health Task Force" which concluded:

the system of care for the psychological health that has evolved over recent decades is insufficient to meet the needs of today's armed forces and their beneficiaries, and will not be sufficient to meet their needs in the future.

The unmet mental healthcare needs of the men and women we send to wage war in other countries are causing them to wage their own wars, within themselves and with others, in this one.

For example, 1st Lt. Whiteside faces criminal prosecution for trying to kill herself while serving in Iraq. Granted, when she had her psychological breakdown, she waved a gun around at her fellow soldiers to keep them away so she could successfully shoot HERSELF (TWICE) in the stomach. She did not, however, actually harm anyone else.

Research by CBS news revealed that an average of 120 veterans committed suicide every week in 2005. SEVENTEEN VETERANS COMMITTED SUICIDE EVERY DAY THAT YEAR.

I wonder how many service members and veterans attempted to kill themselves the day that Lt. Whiteside tried to kill herself? I wonder how many succeeded?

Iliona Meagher has been compiling data on PTSD-related incidents around the United States since 2005 for ePluribusMedia. PTSD that is undiagnosed, mismanaged, or untreated can, in its most extreme form, manifest itself as violence towards one's self and/or towards others. We don't keep official records of these casualties.

Americans like to keep the ugliness of war contained so as to maintain an illusion of civility. This illusion is hard to maintain when the people we send away to fight these wars actually come back; living testaments to what our country has instructed them to do in its name.

In short, we have evolved enough as a species to feel shame about engaging in acts of war but we haven't evolved enough to avoid these acts in the first place. When we SEE the men and women who have been broken, physically or psychologically, by combat, the degree to which we have failed to be civilized is hard to accept.

In the book, "Just and Unjust Wars," the author wrote, "what we often think of as inhumanity is really just humanity under pressure." Our wounded warriors reflect the side of human nature in general, and America in particular, that Americans do not want to think about.

So rather than take responsibility for sending these men and women to another country to do something that is really quite brutal and inhumane (if necessary), we ignore, minimize, or villify the men and women who, in a very normal fashion, were traumatized by what we told them to do or made them witness. The more our institutions make their problems about THEM, the less uncivilized and inhumane and unreasonable WE are.

Hence the appeal of the refrain, "he volunteered to join the Army." Which is kind of like saying that a woman asked to be ganged raped because she went to a guy's apartment after a movie. Maybe she did go to his apartment thinking about maybe having sex with her date, that doesn't mean that she wanted five of his friends to have sex with her too. She TRUSTED her date to keep the evening between the two of them only.

Well, a service member likewise joins with the very honorable intention of protecting our country and defending our constitution. There is TRUST that you will not be EXPLOITED or ABUSED when you join.

Perhaps you should be thinking that for these men and women, their trust has been violated, and if you feel betrayed, imagine how they (and their families) feel after five years and multiple deployments?

My point is this: our discomfort with our wounded warriors makes us even less civilized, not more. The very people whose wounds make us feel the least amount of pride individually are giving us an opportunity to do something to feel the most pride collectively. By tending to the wounds of those who remind us of our inhumanity, we become more humane. That means we have to do more than just bring our troops home, we have to take care of them when they are here.

Pretending we don't see them, or trying not to think about them, does not make them go away; it just makes it easier not to care.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Personality Disorder Discharges at Christmas


Military Spouses for Change (MSC) has successfully fought for one of our soldiers. Nancy is a member of MSC. Her husband, David, has been in the Army for 10 years. He has served a year in Kosovo and two combat tours in Iraq. Unfortunately, he is suffering from PTSD.

Wednesday morning, November 28 2007, David received a packet by his Platoon Sargeant. He was given a "Personality Disorder" discharge (AR 635-200 Chapter 5 Paragraph 5-13) and was ordered to clear his unit and be off post BY DECEMBER 7.

For TEN YEARS OF SERVICE, with no misconduct, David was being kicked out of the Army in TEN DAYS.

According to the Inspector General, the only recourse for David was getting the Colonel who signed these discharge papers to change his mind.

Nancy contacted us.
David was supporting his wife and four children as an enlisted soldier in the Army. Christmas is just weeks away.

MSC's leadership immediately began reaching out to our partners, other advocacy and veteran organizations, to get help for David, seeking advice and/or contacts. (The larger we become as an organization, the more organizations we can work with and the more resources we will have access to. That is why telling others about us and joining as an actual member of MSC through our website is so important!) We also have board members who were able to work with David based upon their expertise with the military review board process. We spent two days and nights, nearly around the clock, rattling cages.

By Friday afternoon, November 30th, one Congressperson and two Generals had contacted Darnall Army Medical Center as well as David's chain of command, demanding to know why he had been discharged instead of transfered to the Warrior Transition Unit for evaluation and, if necessary, treatment for PTSD.

By the morning of Saturday, December 1st, David signed into his new unit, the Warrior Transition Unit. These Generals are good men and great leaders. The speed in which they corrected this situation is a testament to their awareness of the seriousness of the situation and their sensitivity to the anxiety of David's family.

What David experienced was a failure of leadership within his personal chain of command. His Chain of Command should have taken steps to proactively evaluate him for his COMBAT-RELATED INJURIES, which PTSD is. Even IF David had a personality disorder, what leader (whose job is to inspire trust and confidence in his/her troops) gives a soldier (with a family no less) ten days to get out during the month of Christmas? Service members committing crimes get more time than that to transition out of the military. This was just egregious to the extreme.

There is another soldier at Fort Lewis, Washington, who is facing the possibility of a personality disorder discharge. MSC has not been in contact with him personally, but according to Joshua Kors, Spc. Lengeman has been in the Army for ten years, served a combat tour in Iraq, is struggling with PTSD, and has recently learned that he has been diagnosed with a personality disorder instead of PTSD. Please contact us ASAP if you think you can help.


Unfortunately, one's experience with the military is very much defined by one's unit. A good unit can make the experience as good as you could imagine and a bad unit can nearly ruin your life. The lack of consistency between units due to this human variable means we have to have some level of protection for our servicemembers, some default upon which they can rely when the leadership within their particular chain of command fails them. In this case, there should be some regulation in place providing for steps that must be taken when a personality disorder is being alleged and a service member has returned from a combat tour.

Between 2001 and 2006, 22,000 service members have been discharged under this "personality disorder" diagnosis ( Most of them AFTER serving in a combat zone and seeking mental health care. Rather than diagnosing these service members with PTSD, some units are declaring that these service members had a PRE-EXISTING mental health condition and therefore the military is not responsible for their mental health care. They are given a general discharge and, in most cases, billed for any bonuses they may have received for enlisting or re-enlisting.

In July, both the House (HR3167) and the Senate (S1817) introduced bills that would temporarily stop these personality disorder discharges until the DoD could establish some mechanism for reviewing these cases and ensuring that it is not being abused by the military. Both Houses referred these bills to their respective committees and nothing has happened since.

Sen. Kit Bond is asking the President to set up a Special Panel to review the 22,000 cases who have already been kicked out for personality disorders. ( ·

We are sharing this with you because we hope you will share it with others. Many wonder why we created MSC and what MSC does. MSC is an organization comprised primarily of men and women inside the military community and/institutions. Our goal is to educate, empower, and help one another in a way that is sensitive to the position that we are in as members of the military community. We are committed to maintaining a strong military but we believe that requires taking care of our service members and their families. When you compromise the integrity of your human force, you compromise the integrity of your total force.

Our troops need to be able to perform their duties knowing that they will be taken care if something were to happen to them. They cannot fight these battles as well. ANd they shouldn't have to.

Last week it was Nancy's husband. Whose spouse will it be next week?

Become informed.

Become involved.

Become inspired!

Become a Military Spouse for Change. (Or join as a friend of MSC!)


MSC would like to give special thanks to U.S. Representative Tom Davis and Marcie Roth and the National Spinal Cord Injury Association. We also received great information from Amy Fairweather of San Francisco's Swords to Plowshares, Paul Sullivan at Veterans for Common Sense, and Andrew Pagony at Veterans for America.