Tuesday, October 2, 2012
SHOCKING NEW REPORT ON YOUNG VETERAN DEATHS IN TEXAS
I'm very grateful to have been given the opportunity to chronicle the triumphs, and tragedies, of America's veterans for the past two decades. Call me biased, but I believe we all share a responsibility to assure that our wounded warriors are given the type of care they deserve.
In 2007, I helped initiate and report the groundbreaking Failing Our Wounded Newsweek cover story, which exposed the poor care and red tape at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
I've also had the pleasure of meeting and writing about people such as Marissa Strock, a remarkably courageous Army veteran who lost both her legs in an IED blast in Iraq.
And I continue to cover veterans issues for Newsweek/The Daily Beast, including this recent story in which I address what a Mitt Romney presidency may mean for veterans; this piece that takes another look at how we treat our veterans; and this story which ran on Friday about an unidentified Republican senator who placed a hold on a cost-of-living benefit increase for disabled veterans.
In my view, American journalists aren't paying enough attention to these kinds of stories in 2012. Maybe it's because of cutbacks and layoffs at newspapers and magazines, or because the war in Afghanistan, though the longest in American history, has not had a direct impact on as many American families as past wars because we now have an all-volunteer force.
Thankfully, there are some very notable exceptions, including an amazing new three-part series of informative and truly shocking reports about young veteran deaths in Texas by the Austin American-Statesman daily.
The Pulitzer Prize-worthy series was written by investigative journalist Jeremy Schwartz and a team of four other dedicated journalists, who in their stories cite as one of their primary sources Paul Sullivan, a Gulf War veteran and tireless advocate for veterans who works for Bergmann & Moore, a Maryland law firm that focuses solely on veteran disability law.
Sullivan has been an invaluable source for many of my stories as well over the years.
The American-Statesman series, which is the culmination of an exhaustive six-month investigation, documents a very troubling number of deaths of younger veterans in Texas attributable to suicide, motor vehicle accidents, and drug abuse/overdose.
Of the veterans deaths they examined, more than one out of three died from drug overdoses, combinations of drugs, or suicide. The median age of death was 28. And veterans diagnosed with PTSD are at risk: fully 80 percent died of overdose, suicide or single car crashes.
"My question is... how many of our recently deceased war veterans were waiting for VA disability benefits when they completed suicide?" Sullivan asked in an email. "I am personally aware of a few in Austin who considered suicide while waiting endlessly, including facing foreclosure, eviction, and even an inability to put food on the table for themselves and their families."
Hopefully this series will prompt action that will ultimately answer Sullivan's question. These veterans obviously need more attention and better care. VA, are you listening?
It's good to know there are still journalists like Schwartz and others at the Austin American-Statesman covering these issues, and impassioned and informed advocates like Paul Sullivan who are helping reporters understand the real and sometimes complicated issues facing our veterans.