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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans On Edge?

"And forget the notion that there really are millions of young men and women that believe in service, sacrifice, and mission. If some of us are a little "on the edge" these days, it's not because of the war but because of the assault on our reputations."
Those are the words of LTC Steve Russell, US Army, (Ret.), a central player in the hunt for and capture of Saddam Hussein, is the founder and chairman of Vets for Victory. He is a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, via the Weekly Standard.

He says he has learned quite a bit about himself recently, being a veteran that has fought in Iraq, not from personal experience, not from his own emotions and not from his own mental state, but from the media telling him that he is more likely to kill his wife or neighbors or himself.

He says that if that wasn't depressing enough, he also understands from a piece in Men's Health Magazine, that the "hundreds of thousands of veterans who have served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan," are not considered heroes but it is those that go AWOL, the ones "jeopardizing fellow soldiers by deserting their units in wartime," are those that are considered nowadays by factions of our country to be the true heroes.

As I have pondered these grotesque assaults on Iraq and Afghan war veterans and wartime civilian contractors in recent months, the picture has become quite clear. If our successes in battle cannot be argued against, then the subtle undermining of our honor and integrity seems to be the next best thing. It really is the oldest political game in the book. Muddy the facts. The fact that an American civilian is five to six times more likely to murder you than a returning vet does not matter. Don't bother with the data that shows an increase in domestic suicide since 2000 that exceeds the military rates in the six-year period following. And forget the notion that there really are millions of young men and women that believe in service, sacrifice, and mission. If some of us are a little "on the edge" these days, it's not because of the war but because of the assault on our reputations.

What he references is a study reported by our mainstream media about veterans murdering and committing suicide at a higher rate, and the fact that the original story got massive attention, while the truth of the matter, received almost none.

The Times documentation of 121 potential killings out of more than 1.5 million veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq) and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), divided by 6 years of conflict results in a murder rate of just 1.34 incidents per 100,000 veterans per year.***

That murder rate is far lower than the murder rate for the general population, demonstrating that the experiences of military service – including having served in Iraq and Afghanistan – actually made it less likely for returning veterans to commit murder once they returned home, than the general population.

Given a census-estimated population of the United States of 300,000,000 persons in this country as of October 2006, and FBI-compiled statistics of 17,399 homicide offenders for 2006, the murder rate of the general population was 5.80 offenders per 100,000 on average – and a rate of approximately 7.67 per 100,000 for men.

Even the New York Times Public Editor, Clark Hoyt, which is the readers representative, while calling the Times front page piece a "worthy story" criticized the statistical calculations used by the paper's own reporters. He called the statistics used by the reporters "questionable" and said that "Sometimes, trying to turn such stories into data — with implications of statistical proof and that old journalistic convention, the trend — harms rather than helps."

On page one of Hoyt's analysis he also admits that the reporters attempted statistical analysis using squishy numbers as well as pointing out examples that the Times used that didn't even qualify for the story they were trying to portray.

Finally, while many of the 121 cases found by The Times appeared clearly linked to wartime stresses, others seemed questionable. One involved a Navy Seabee accused of arranging her ex-husband’s murder during a bitter child custody battle, and another involved a soldier who was acquitted of reckless homicide in a car crash after a jury concluded that his blood alcohol level was below the legal limit and that many other accidents had happened on the same stretch of road.

I would have to agree with LTC Russell when he says that it is time "to treat the 1.5 million veterans of this war as the honorable Americans," they really are and stop providing only partial information that casts our veterans in a bad light without showing the comparative studies that show that in relation to the general population they are, indeed, less likely to commit murder or suicide than the average citizen.

Smearing the troops in this manner has become a pass time for many and it is time to say enough.

They are heroes. They are many and from the day they join the military they are saying "I will give my life for you".

Perhaps we should start showing our appreciation instead of our contempt to those that fight, bleed and die for their country.

When the media attempts to write a story on the very real problems that face our veterans upon returning home from combat, they should make sure to provide the proper comparisons.

As George Lisicki, National Commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars says so eloquently "This is irresponsible journalism."