(Note: I wrote this yesterday, but am reposting it with an update about where our mental injured vets eventually end up if they don’t recieve treatment. Read below the original post. Thanks.)

Remember the picture? This rugged icon dubbed the “Marlboro Man” became the early face of our brave troops in Iraq. But that was then and this is now.

The man does have a name, and it’s James Blake Miller. He now struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder brought about by combat conditions. And with all of the talk of the external wounds our men and women come back from Iraq with, we often neglect some of the more lasting and painful scars they recieve.

Unfortunately, it also appears as if the military is pushing the mentally wounded out of their ranks on purpose. NPR has more about this post-war trend:

Soldier Tyler Jennings says that when he came home from Iraq last year, he felt so depressed and desperate that he decided to kill himself. Late one night in the middle of May, his wife was out of town, and he felt more scared than he’d felt in gunfights in Iraq. Jennings says he opened the window, tied a noose around his neck and started drinking vodka, “trying to get drunk enough to either slip or just make that decision.”

Five months before, Jennings had gone to the medical center at Ft. Carson, where a staff member typed up his symptoms: “Crying spells… hopelessness… helplessness… worthlessness.” Jennings says that when the sergeants who ran his platoon found out he was having a breakdown and taking drugs, they started to haze him. He decided to attempt suicide when they said that they would eject him from the Army.

Heartbreaking stuff. We simply don’t respect mental illnesses even though they’re likely to be the most common conditions that keep Americans from leading happy, productive lives.

And if you want to read more about the aforementioned Marlboro Man, take a look at SF Gate’s story from Jan 2006.

A friend of mine, who’s a probate lawyer for Jackson County (KCMO), says that many of its wards (people who can’t take care of themselves because of mental illness, etc.) were in the military during Vietnam.

These people came home, and either couldn’t get or didn’t know to get help for their war-related mental illnesses, like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In fact, they self-medicated and eventually developed much more severe mental disorders. And now they’re locked up in institutions, their lives ruined and they’re never getting out. They’ll die there because their just too sick.

And for the ones who aren’t in institutions, just look to the streets. Many of our homeless vets weren’t lucky enough to capture the attention of the county, and will meet their ends on the streets.

Personal responsibility? Sure…but when you have a mental illness and either nobody will listen… whose responsibility is it? My vote is places the honus on the government, who said they’d take care of their vets, but continually shun many whose wounds aren’t external.

Sad stuff people. We can do more.

Politics It’s All In Their Heads