We have finished reading All Quiet on the Western Front and our last conversation in class about the book became a passionate discussion about how war seems to be such an absurd way of settling conflicts, especially in light of the scarring impact it has on those who fight. Of course, the students also recognized that some wars may be inevitable and that really what was important was making sure that there were resources and support for the soldiers when they return home. The students were intensely serious in this conversation.
Usually at the conclusion of a book, the students write an essay or respond to a variety of quotes I cull from the reading. Somehow, after this discussion, something more was called for. The students and I collaborated to put this assignment together for the closure of this book. They will write their letters tomorrow in class. In fact, the students suggested we put a fresh copy of All Quiet on the Western Front in the packet with our letters to General Shinseki.
All Quiet on the Western Front: Letter to General Shinseki
In a utopia, perhaps we can conceive an end to all wars– that settling disputes between peoples and nations could one day be peacefully negotiated and discussed. However, we are far from any form of utopia. It is hoped that books like All Quiet on the Western Front can, nevertheless, remind us of the seriousness of a decision to go to war and that war always impacts those who fight it in very long-lasting and painful ways.
In fact, if nothing else, All Quiet reminds us that if the decision is made to go to war, we must make sure that the resources exist to help support soldiers to not only integrate back into society, but also to deal with the traumatic consequences of war like PTSD, as well as other physical and mental injuries.
In light of the following statistics, write a letter to General Shinseki (presently the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs) using what you have learned in All Quiet. Show how the war has changed Paul, using text as evidence, from the beginning of the book to its end.
Convince the General that though All Quiet is about World War I, all wars can negatively impact those who fight and that resources must be in place for those who sacrifice so much.
18 veterans commit suicide each day, 126 each week, 6,552 each year.
Soldiers contemplating suicide were more likely to suffer from symptoms of PTSD, depression and alcohol abuse.
At least 63% of attempted Army suicides were associated with drug or alcohol overdose.
Soldiers who had higher rates of exposure to the threat of death/injury were significantly more likely to screen positive for alcohol misuse.
Only half of those who seek help receive even “minimally adequate” treatment.
200,000 veterans go homeless each night. 45% suffer from PTSD or mental illness.
Many women suffer from PTSD, but fewer receive help because they weren’t in “direct combat”.
Female service members also experience PTSD from sexual trauma while in service.
Many soldiers with PTSD don’t seek help because they fear it may hurt their careers.
(the above statistics from Expedition Balance, an independent non-profit organization committed to helping combat veterans who return home with emotional trauma regain their lives.)
Approximately one-third of homeless adults are veterans, although veterans represent only 11% of the civilian population.
50% of PTSD sufferers have been arrested or in jail at least once
11.5% of these have been convicted of a felony
140,000 Vietnam vets were held in State and Federal prisons in 2009
1 in 3 Iraq veterans will face a serious psychological injury, such as depression or PTSD.
1.5 million people have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Up to 500,000 are returning with combat-related psychological wounds – & multiple tours and inadequate time between deployments increase rates of combat stress by 50%.
300,000 troops have been deployed at least three times.
In 2006, the VA recorded 17,827 cases of returning veterans in need of mental health care. Sadly, the number is probably much higher since many vets did not seek care because of the stigma attached mental health issues.
Less than 40% of troops with psychological wounds are getting treated – due to faulty evaluation systems and extremely limited access to care.
40,000 Iraq and Afghanistan vets have been treated for drug abuse – this doesn’t count the thousands who have avoided treatment or relied on private programs.
The number of homeless female veterans has more than doubled from 1,380 to 3,328 between FY 2006 to 2010, according to a December 2011 U.S. GAO report.
The risk of women veterans becoming homeless is four times greater than for male veterans.
PTSD and co-occurring with substance abuse is more common in women.
(the above statistics from the Veterans Healing Initiative)