Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Rep. Bob Filner wants members of the armed forces returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom to prove they are fit to remain in the military.

Mr. Filner wants servicemen and women to be put through a “de-boot camp” to determine if they are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. “I have been trying to get the DoD and the VA to do a mandatory post-war or post service screening or a de-boot camp,” Mr. Filner said Nov. 18 in a meeting with editors and reporters of The Washington Times. “You have to go through a boot camp and evaluations to ensure that you are fit to serve. When they leave, they should be screened to ensure they have not had a significant brain injury or other mental illness. The percentage of diagnosis is so high, I think, for me personally, you have to prove to me that you are not injured.”

Mr. Filner’s rhetoric is troubling because his concern about Iraq war vets stems from a Vietnam-era argument: that veterans are shellshocked and killing themselves and their families. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vietnam Experience Study, which was first released in 1987, showed that “during the first 5 years after discharge, Vietnam veterans had a mortality rate 1.5 times higher than non-Vietnam veterans” of the Korean War and those who served in Germany during World War II. After that period, the chances of Vietnam veterans committing suicide as a result of mental instability were “essentially” the same as all other veterans.

Men and women returning from war should undergo routine evaluation, but many refuse to be evaluated for PTSD and other disorders. “It’s often a personal decision because a diagnosis could hurt their career in the military and possibly whatever work they are seeking afterwards,” a spokesman for former VA Secretary Max Cleland, a former Vietnam War veteran and senator, told us yesterday.

The Department of Veterans Affairs already has shown a propensity for using veterans as guinea pigs (as a series of articles by The Washington Times on the anti-smoking drug Chantix proved). Foisting a mandatory “de-boot camp” upon an ill-prepared VA bureaucracy and military hospital system could bode ill for all parties. Mr. Filner seemingly has the best interests of the fighting men and women at heart. He should think long and hard before pushing for policies that have the potential to do more harm than good.

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