Fighting for Wounded Warriors:
Because Not Every Combat Wound Is Physical
In Cooperation with the Supportive Services for Veteran Families and other agencies, Oregon Veterans Legal Services has focused a large part of our work on advocating for Service Members who bear the deepest scars of war -- psychic wounds.
In 2013, 18% of serving Army Soldiers are on psychotropic medicine. After more than a decade of war, our brave Warriors suffer extraordinary levels of PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury. Recent scholarship shows that PTSD is often being "passed" to family members when their loved ones return from war. Ironically, wounds that would have killed our Service Members in prior wars are now survivable; but sometimes the cost of that survival if high.
Although organizations like the Wounded Warrior Project have generated tremendous awareness for the 50,357 Service Members who officially bear "wounds" from their combat experiences, there are millions more who bear silent and often unacknowledged wounds. Moreover, our physically wounded warriors are an "easy sell" in terms of fundraising. But what of those whose invisible wounds cause them to act out, often irrationally and sometimes criminally?
Whether we say that our brave Warriors suffer "psychological damage" or that their souls have been bruised, we know that those who have killed in our name and seen friends and innocents die in the terrible crucible of battle are marked forever, as are those who love them. Commiting ourselves to rehabilitation (and then investing in it) is the only way to bring these brave Warriors truly home and to honor the sacrifices so many of them have made. The investment is a wise one, because combat-related trauma robs many of our Warrior Heroes of the ability to contribute as productive and law-abiding members of society for decades after the guns have fallen silent. We have only to think of the Vietnam vets -- dissheveled and disoriented to time and place -- pushing shopping carts down the street to see examples of those who never truly came home. These men and women are not "common criminals"; they are the silent and ignored casualties of wars they had no desire to fight and death they had no desire to inflict.
If we do nothing, we sentence too many of these men and women to a downward spiral of mental illness, lawbreaking, substance abuse, and misery -- a bitter reward for those who fought in our name. Sadly, the military and the VA use processes built up over peacetime to judge Service Members for trauma suffered in war. The safety and comfort of a stateside waiting room is a poor place to find answers for actions that sometimes have no logical explanation and require skillful and dedicated advocacy to full explore.
Oregon Veterans Legal Services stands shoulder-to-shoulder with our partner organizations to advocate for reform of our military justice system in light of allegations of crime stemming from combat service. We believe we can do no less. We have joined the fight for civilian Veteran's Courts, which acknowledge the unique contributing factor that combat has in precipitating unlawful behavior after our warriors leave military service; and we also have pressed for reform in military management of allegations of combat-related misconduct through advoacy for policy changes, as well as support of individual cases and service members.
By keeping faith with our Wounded Warriors, Oregon Veteran Legal Services seeks to live up to its missions "to help Oregon's Veterans and their Families who struggle with homelessness" and "to encourage and assist the use of Veterans Court to administer justice in appropriate cases for Oregon's Veterans."