Beth Walton's article on soldier suicides on the surface was disturbing (3/26/08). Most Americans not only want our soldiers to get the best care available upon return from combat duty, but assume they are getting this care. But a more careful examination of the numbers paints a quite different picture. Over the last six years, we have seen a 400 percent increase in soldiers with self-inflicted wounds consistent with suicide. The increase correlates with the increased deployment into a combat zone, often for periods of time that are greater than in other foreign wars.
But why haven't we seen anything close to a 400 percent increase in suicides? The answer is simple. Many soldiers are using depression and suicidal tendencies as a ticket out of their poor decision to join the military. The stat does not suggest the military has a depression problem, it suggests it has a recruiting problem and a problem with stays that are being extended. You would expect in any prolonged war, especially one that often lacks clarity, to see increased attempts to leave the service early. The article cited a 20 percent increase in actual suicides from 2006. This means an increase in deaths of about 20 of our soldiers. This is of great concern, but given the threefold increase in soldiers that have seen combat since 2002, this is hardly an epidemic and it is not something that can be blamed on the VA.
I found the stories of returning soldiers sad, but I couldn't help but wonder, where were the families in all of this? If my son or daughter were unable to get into a VA hospital for PTSD, I certainly would seek psychological help elsewhere until a slot could be opened. In a couple of the examples given, even the families were surprised by the apparent depth of the depression. How can we expect VA screeners to pick up on such things if families can't? The statement that the government was somehow at fault in all of this seems a bit overstated. A few weeks' wait for an opening is hardly negligent.
Considering the volume of new soldiers seeing combat, it certainly looks to me like the VA is doing an exceptional job. Certainly we can do more for our soldiers; some of it may involve increased staffing in times of combat, but some of it is training to recognize the worst cases. We may also want to look to use the private sector more often when patients overcrowd our government systems. As a country we need to look for new ways to serve those returning as they served us in protecting us against terror. But the numbers are not indicating a problem that is out of control, only one that needs a little more focus. Also, I would suggest to any family dealing with these issues to remain persistent, to monitor their loved one's mental condition very closely upon return, and to seek a second opinion from the VA or from the private sector if the first answer they get doesn't ring true.
Jim Nelson Eagan
Whatever happened to personal responsibility?
My goodness, but shell shock sure has come a long way in less than a hundred years. "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder" certainly does sound more serious, doesn't it? I wonder how much government funding went into coming up with that wonderfully grandiose (and nebulous) moniker. And isn't it comforting to live in an era in which handy "disorders" abound to absolve whatever aberrant behavior we might care to exhibit? While it certainly is unfortunate that our enemies seem interested neither in fighting fair nor in trying to understand the delicate nature of the American psyche, I find it difficult to empathize with young men and presumably women (although none were referenced in your story) who volunteer for military service for sound financial and educational reasons, only to be "traumatized" when they discover that they actually have to fight. And let's have a hearty and healthy congratulations to any and all involved in this class action suit against the VA, because if there's one thing we want to continue to teach our young people, it's that we should never be held accountable for our own actions.
Michael L. Alcorn, U.S. Navy veteran Richfield
War service doesn't justify drunk driving
This article has got to be the epitome of irresponsible and one-sided journalism ("Crime and PTSD," 3/26/08). Not only is the article based on the claims of Klecker's defense attorney but it also uses false claims that trivialize Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder by naming this particular individual as a "poster boy." It's quite hard to believe that Klecker can remember details of his highly stressful time in combat, yet forget to mail the letters he supposedly wrote expressing his sorrow to the victim's family. Either the author did not do her research, simply decided to report a story with half-truths to glamorize the effects of PTSD, or maybe all the letters Klecker wrote were just lost in the mail.
Jennifer Geiselhart Eagan
The other side of the Klecker story
I was disappointed in Beth Walton's ability as a journalist. After reading the article, it appeared that she spoke only with Klecker's defense attorney. I would think that a good journalist would investigate all avenues and present a well-rounded article.
Nothing of Klecker's alcohol and drug use before he joined the military was mentioned. Nothing of his getting suspended from high school when he brought a knife to school was mentioned. Remember, all of this occurred before Klecker was in the military. Why did Walton only mention Klecker's behavior after he joined the military?
If Walton had talked with the prosecutor, she would have learned that Klecker had made numerous appointments with the VA Hospital for treatment but he canceled them. Why didn't Walton talk with the prosecutor?
Walton mentioned that Klecker wrote "several letters" to the victim's family. Well, he may have written them, but no one in the victim's family has received anything from Klecker. Who told Walton that Klecker sent letters to the victim's family?
Klecker was involved in two altercations with other veterans when he was at a VA Hospital, and in one of the altercations he had a knife. Klecker admitted this in court. Why did Walton mention only one altercation and call it "an argument" when he had a weapon?
Walton stated that Klecker was "not required to seek treatment upon completion of his sentence," and my response is, he was already required to attend treatment for alcohol/drugs and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Klecker got into trouble at the treatment facility and was kicked out for the safety of the other veterans. Lastly, why does Klecker need to be required to attend treatment? When Klecker is done serving his sentence for killing a young woman at the age of 16 whose name is Deanna, he can check himself into the VA Hospital and get more help.
I am very proud of our returning soldiers and I thank them for their service. I thank Klecker for his service, but I do not appreciate him blaming his choices and behavior on the military. Why doesn't Klecker take responsibility for his actions? Klecker has an alcohol problem and may be self-medicating, but he chose to drive with a blood alcohol level almost four times over the legal limit. There is no excuse for any person to get behind the wheel and drive impaired.
Catherine Casey Inver Grove Heights