Coming Home: Iraq Veterans

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The recent media coverage of Walter Reed Army Hospital is a reminder of the battle that veterans have to fight when they return home. Getting lost in the hospital’s bureaucratic wasteland, or treated in a mold and vermin infested facility is hardly an ideal homecoming and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. For many, life after war means getting fit for a prosthetic limb, or having to relearn the alphabet, or navigating the world with a guide dog or cane. And those are just the physical consequences. The emotional calamities of war can lead to substance abuse, ruined families, homelessness or suicide. And underlying all of this is often post-traumatic stress. During this hour we’ll be talking with Iraq veterans about how the experience of war reverberates in their everyday worlds.

You may be surprised that my thoughts often turn toward violence when I write of leaving Iraq, and of peace. Who, I ask you, wants peace more than the warrior who has seen battle? Yet I still turn toward murderous ideas and bloodletting. Reflecting on what I have seen is most of what occupies those darker areas of my psyche…the time I lived for 10 days with a dead body next to me, some of the soldiers called the dead Iraqi “Fred,” and would talk to him while on guard duty (hey Fred, how are you today”). Or at times I will focus on some person and imagine how I would stop him from hurting my family (often ending up close and personal…of the most violent nature). I have never acted on any of these thoughts but I wonder how many others find themselves thinking them.

Zachary Scott-Singley, A Soldier’s Thoughts, July 21, 2006

photo of veteran

Life after war [culturesubculture / Flickr]

Of the nearly 600,000 veterans of the Global war on Terror, one in every eight veterans has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, so take Zach Scott-Sigley’s situation and multiply that by 75,000. This figure doesn’t even include the soldiers who continue to be redeployed even though they’ve been diagnosed with PTSD.

For many veterans, the road to recovery is paved with stumbling blocks. What obstacles do they face when reentering the civilian world? What is the government doing right? What is the government failing to do? How should we support our troops? How do the consequences of this war differ from all other wars? At what point does endless exposure to such unimaginable violence become the soldiers’ universal experience — from the boy in Sierra Leone to the woman in Fallujah?

Have you, your relatives, neighbors or friends experienced war? What are your stories of veterans returning home?

Tammy Duckworth

Director, Illinois Department of Veteran affairs,

US Army Major, IRaq War veteran,

Paul Rieckhoff

Executive Director and Founder, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

Author, Chasing Ghosts

Tim McLaughlin

Captain in the Marine Corps, Student, Boston College Law School

Andrew Sapp

Army National Guardsman, Teacher of English, Concord-Carlisle Regional Highschool

Extra Credit Reading

The Watson Institute for International Studies, Public Panel/Live Video Stream: Exploring Anthropologists’ Role as Military Advisors

Alexandra Marks, Back from Iraq – and suddenly out on the streets, The Christian Science Monitor, February 8, 2005: “On returning from Iraq, Herold Noel faced the challenges of finding a home and tending to his family. He moved to New York with his wife and children, then became homeless.”

Zachary Scott-Singley, Thoughts, A Soldier’s Thoughts, July 21, 2006: “Who I ask you, wants peace more than the warrior who has seen battle? Yet I still turn toward murderous ideas and bloodletting.”

David Goodman, Breaking Ranks, Mother Jones, October 11, 2004: “Massey got a job as a furniture salesman, then lost it after speaking at an antiwar rally. Two or three times a week, he puts on his Marine uniform and takes a long walk around the nearby town of Asheville carrying a sign that reads: ‘I killed innocent civilians for our government.’”

Dana Priest and Anne Hull, Soldiers Face Neglect, Frustration At Army’s Top Medical Facility, The Washington Post, February 18, 2007: “Almost 700 [soldiers and marines] have been released from hospital beds but still need treatment or are awaiting bureaucratic decisions before being discharged or returned to active duty.”

Deployed Mama, Home again home again… jig-a-dee-jig….!!!!, Diary of a Deployed Mama, February 26, 2007: “I’m looking out the [airplane] window and there was a large plume of smoke. I lost it. 4 months of junk came flooding in on me. The poor stewardess didn’t know what to do.”

Ian Hester, Home, Pinwheels and Orange Peels, March 3, 2007: “I’ve been home about a month now, and the reintegration process is still going pretty smoothly . . . The job there is so vital and the work so rewarding that I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.”

Harvey Tharp, Describing my experience with PTSD, Harvey Tharp’s PTSD and Bipolar Recovery Blog, February 9, 2007: “But here’s the kicker, the VA refuses to recognize that I have PTSD at all, and here’s why. I’m rated at 50% disabled for Bipolar Disorder . . . but if they gave me any rating at all for PTSD, even a 10% disabling rating, I’d be over 50% disabled and considered “Unemployable,” which means the VA would have to pay me more than double what I get from them now.”

Dan Lohaus, Trailer, When I Came Home, 2006:


came home in the spring of 2004, and I think I had a bit of a tough time readjusting, to be honest with you. I felt like I was in Baghdad one week and in Brooklyn the next, and I felt like a giant, exposed nerve. Noises, crowds, any type of shifting sights really kind of overwhelmed me. It was tough to adjust, and the more I talked to other soldiers, the guys in my unit and beyond, I found out I wasn’t alone, and this is really a similar experience to a lot of folks coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Paul Rieckhoff


When I came back from Iraq, the biggest story in the news was Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction at the Super bowl. And it kind of rattled me, because I looked around and said, “is this what America is paying attention to?” And I think that’s a common experience for veterans coming home, because such a small percentage of the American population is immediately affected . . . So there’s a real disconnect, a profound disconnect, from the personal side of this war.

Paul Rieckhoff


I never really expected to be sent off to a war like Iraq. I went in right after Vietnam, and the overriding feeling within the military at that time, in the late 1970s, was that we would never allow another Vietnam to happen to the military. This was within the military itself. Vietnam damaged the military internally and externally to a great extent, and so my military career has been couched in the belief that we would only be mobilized, we would only be sent off to war, for national defense. So, when I was mobilized in 2004, I had some real reservations about what we were doing, but this was what I had agreed to do, this is what I swore an oath to do, and so I deployed with my unit.

Andrew Sapp


Sitting on a bridge in Basra, probably on March 23, 2003, is the best of my memory, watching motor rounds fall—through a times-ten magnifying scope—watching motor rounds fall on a man trying to ride a bike over the bridge, and then having his dog explode in front of him. That’s something that people don’t talk about, it’s something that people have never seen in this country, and it’s absolutely real, and when you send these young men and women over there to do this, that is the experience they have, whether its motor rounds falling on a guy trying to ride a bike, a city exploding in an artillery barrage, watching people die in your times-ten magnifying scope on the tank, or putting the front sight post of an M16 on somebody’s head and pulling the trigger. Those are things that are impossible to understand, and affect people to a huge degree . . . Seen them all firsthand.

Tim McLaughlin


If they knew? If they knew I would say they would have to have . . . If they knew, they wouldn’t do it. That’s the short answer. If people knew what war was about, war would stop. We would have to get the enemy on board with that theory too, but war is the most awful and cruel thing you can imagine. And if my parents knew, if you knew, if people on the street, my classmates . . . it would stop. Because the goal of a war is to make it so god-awful on your enemy that he just doesn’t want to fight anymore. And his goal is to impose that same feeling on us. And if the people at home knew, it would stop. And it would continue where it needs to continue, and when you’re dealing with questions of national security, there are certainly times that wars need to happen. But if people knew, they would be a lot more cautious in determining when a war has to happen.

Tim McLaughlin


It’s the same families, over and over again. We have the same families who have multiple members of their family who serve, and then we have entire portions of this country who have never served. So I’m afraid there’s going to be that same basic lack of understanding ten, fifteen years from now.

Tammy Duckworth

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