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Ask a Vet
Author: TriSec    Date: 11/17/2015 11:08:52

Good Morning.

Despite the temptation to do so, we're not starting the day in Paris. Instead, let's borrow a line from the good Dr. Maddow. "Now you have to go to prison."


We've written about the many issues faced by returning veterans here before. Among them are a lack of support and medical resources for PTSD. What used to be called 'shellshock" long ago is a recognized medical condition, but over the decades the Pentagon has done little to address it.

Unfortunately, it's turned out that there are consequences to ignoring the issue. A recent report indicates that about 300 inmates on Death Row here in the United States, or about 10% of all condemned murderers, may be veterans. (These are not just Iraq/Afghanistan veterans, as the report looked at ALL veterans.)


During Courtney Lockhart's capital murder trial, the jury heard testimony that he had returned from a bloody 16-month deployment to Ramadi, Iraq, a changed man.

His sweet nature was replaced by anger and paranoia, his ex-fiancee said. He hid in the closet at night, started living out of his car, drank too much and once put a gun to his own head.

The defense argued that Lockhart, who was dishonorably discharged, was suffering from untreated PTSD and wasn't in his right mind when he abducted, robbed and fatally shot college student Lauren Burk in 2008.

The Alabama jury rejected the prosecution's call for the death penalty and sentenced him to life. But in a rare move, a judge overrode the panel's decision and put him on death row.

The case of Lockhart — whose brigade had a dozen other men charged with murder or attempted murder after coming home from Iraq — is highlighted in a new report by the Death Penalty Information Center, a group that opposes capital punishment.

"At a time in which the death penalty is being imposed less and less, it is disturbing that so many veterans who were mentally and emotionally scarred while serving their country are now facing execution," said Robert Dunham, the center's executive director.

About 300 veterans are on death row nationwide, about 10 percent of all those condemned to die, the group estimates.

It's unclear how many have been diagnosed with PTSD or have symptoms, but Dunham says that in too many cases, a veteran's mental scars are not examined closely enough by defense lawyers, prosecutors, judges, juries and governors who can commute death sentences.



So, as we often do, we'll quickly change gears here and go right to good news. A significant portion of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan coincided with the great recession. I myself had a friend that gave up trying to find a job during that time and re-enlisted and went back to war. Veterans suffered disproportionately during the recession, as finding work for everyone was difficult, and for veterans even more so. But a recent report states that the era of high unemployment for veterans seems to be over. We'll see if it lasts.


An era of high unemployment for those who served during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars appears to be over, according to federal statistics showing jobless rates for those veterans are now on par with civilians.

The unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans was lower in October — at 4.6% — than the national average of 5%, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. That percentage was the lowest for the group since October 2007, when it was at 4.4% two months before the recession began.

There were 1.5 million veterans of the two wars in 2007. Today, there are 3.8 million.

"They've certainly come out of the kind of hangover of the post-recession period, and they now seem to be improving on par with the rest of the workers in the country," said James Borbely, an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics who studies veteran data. "It's improvement in employment. It's not the case where they're dropping out of the labor force."

Monthly jobless rates for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans climbed as high as 15% in 2010 and 2011, according to the data. For those between the ages of 18 and 24, it was even higher. Federal jobs data show periods when as many as one in three veterans in the younger age group was without work. That rate was more than double compared to civilians of the same age.

Last month, the jobless rate for veterans in that age group was 10.4%, nearly identical to the 10.1% unemployment figure for civilians in the same bracket.


Alas, there is talk of war - so we'll have to take a look at Paris after all. Since the attacks, the rhetoric has accelerated. Most Republican candidates are calling for boots on the ground, which the President has wisely resisted. But neither candidate nor sitting president actually has the power to do that - it really sits within the halls of Congress under the War Powers Act. Congress, for its part, is completely ignoring the issue and has ceded those powers to the Oval Office, for good or ill. (I do note this story came out a few days before the Paris attacks - but the issue raised is still valid.)


WASHINGTON -- In the fight against the Islamic State group, members of Congress talk tough against extremism, but many want to run for cover when it comes to voting on new war powers to fight the militants, preferring to let the president own the battle.

They might not be able to run for long.

The U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Syria is creeping forward, putting more pressure on Congress to vote on a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force. It would be the first war vote in Congress in 13 years.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., a leading force in the Senate for a new authorization, said the reluctance to vote runs deep and that many in Congress prefer to criticize President Barack Obama's policy in Iraq and Syria without either authorizing or stopping the fight.

"There is sort of this belief that if we do not vote, we cannot be held politically accountable. We can just blame the president," Kaine said.

"We are forcing people to be deployed far from home in a theater of war, and risking their lives and losing their lives and members of Congress are like 'I'm afraid of this vote because somebody might try to hold me accountable for it.'"

The vote in 2002 to authorize the invasion of Iraq was politically perilous for many lawmakers -- and is shadowing 2016 presidential candidates today.

"I know lawmakers who still go over to Arlington Cemetery -- to the gravesites of folks killed in the Iraq War and wonder 'Why did I vote for this?'" Kaine said.

Fellow Democrat Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut agreed, saying crafting a plan to fight IS isn't easy. "It's very convenient for Congress just to force the president to do it and blame him if it fails," Murphy said. "If we pass an AUMF, then we own the strategy."

To fight IS, Obama has relied on congressional authorizations given to President George W. Bush for the war on al-Qaida and the invasion of Iraq. Critics say the White House's use of post-9/11 congressional authorizations is a legal stretch at best. And they note that the battle has grown exponentially.

Since August 2014, the U.S.-led coalition has conducted nearly 8,000 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. There are 3,400 U.S. military personnel currently deployed to Iraq. More than $4.7 billion has been spent so far in fighting IS. The exodus of refugees from Syria has intensified and Russia has entered the conflict.

"I think we are seeing an example of mission creep right now," said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., who signed the letter calling for a new AUMF. "I think we should go ahead. We are gradually ceding over our war-making authority to the president. Big mistake. No matter which side you are on, you ought to want Congress to do this. And you ought to be able to hold your member accountable for how they ultimately vote."


I suppose we should declare war, if this is to be a serious conflict, but against who? ISIS isn't a state, but they exist in places that are states. Our alliances in the region are complex and convoluted, and heading down that path will probably lead to WWIII. Ah well, I guess as long as big business makes a profit, what's the big deal?

10 comments (Latest Comment: 11/17/2015 20:34:59 by Scoopster)
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