Among the many things that get me the most are the ‘whats’ and ‘whys’ that make the story from this morning’s Washington Post the least possible. The report tells of an Army officer, 1st Lieutenant Elizabeth Whiteside, now a psychiatric outpatient, who is facing a courts marshal for attempting suicide and endangering the life of another soldier. That’s something that’s typical of one of the ‘whats.’
The ‘whys’ are an exact reflection of the attitudes of all the Steve-my-Palm-Springs-mail-carrier Republicans throughout the country. I know it’s with an extraordinarily broad brush that I’ve painted the population subset as a hypocritically, morally vile lot. But remember, casting a vote on behalf of those who are supporting a policy, good or ill, is affirmative evidence one also supports the policy. Doing so without full knowledge is not exculpatory. Indeed, not having sufficient knowledge concerning what one is endorsing via proxy may be even a more socially indictable offense.
When one is unwilling to bear the cudgel and face the perils, when one opts instead to sit on the sidelines, to don the swagger and machismo vicariously, the very definition of despicable rushes to the fore. What one is saying via such depravities are “Another’s life and wellbeing are of little consequence alongside my right to a sense of ‘tough;’ go and bear the tribulation that I might push my chest out proudly; go and face death and physical and emotional and psychological dismemberment in order that I might sit tall in my SUV or roam the malls head held high — you owe me that.”
And as the report below evidences, too often, if those who have borne the brunt of it do not bear up according to our romanticized depictions of what a warrior must always be, they are held in contempt. They let us down, and how dare they?
No! It is I who feel nothing but the most extreme gut-wrenching loathing for all the Steve-my-Palm-Springs-mail-carrier Republicans. And I demand to secure from them the answer to ‘How dare you?’
— Ed Tubbs
'A Soldier's Officer'
by Dana Priest and Anne Hull
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, December 2, 2007; A01
In a nondescript conference room at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, 1st Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside listened last week as an Army prosecutor outlined the criminal case against her in a preliminary hearing. The charges: attempting suicide and endangering the life of another soldier while serving in Iraq.
Her hands trembled as Maj. Stefan Wolfe, the prosecutor, argued that Whiteside, now a psychiatric outpatient at Walter Reed, should be court-martialed. After seven years of exemplary service, the 25-year-old Army reservist faces the possibility of life in prison if she is tried and convicted.
Military psychiatrists at Walter Reed who examined Whiteside after she recovered from her self-inflicted gunshot wound diagnosed her with a severe mental disorder, possibly triggered by the stresses of a war zone. But Whiteside's superiors considered her mental illness "an excuse" for criminal conduct, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.
At the hearing, Wolfe, who had already warned Whiteside's lawyer of the risk of using a "psychobabble" defense, pressed a senior psychiatrist at Walter Reed to justify his diagnosis.
"I'm not here to play legal games," Col. George Brandt responded angrily, according to a recording of the hearing. "I am here out of the genuine concern for a human being that's breaking and that is broken. She has a severe and significant illness. Let's treat her as a human being, for Christ's sake!"
In recent months, prodded by outrage over poor conditions at Walter Reed, the Army has made a highly publicized effort to improve treatment of Iraq veterans and change a culture that stigmatizes mental illness. The Pentagon has allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to new research and to care for soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder, and on Friday it announced that it had opened a new center for psychological health in Rosslyn.
But outside the Pentagon, the military still largely deals with mental health issues in an ad hoc way, often relying on the judgment of combat-hardened commanders whose understanding of mental illness is vague or misinformed. The stigma around psychological wounds can still be seen in the smallest of Army policies. While family members of soldiers recovering at Walter Reed from physical injuries are provided free lodging and a per diem to care for their loved ones, families of psychiatric outpatients usually have to pay their own way.
"It's a disgrace," said Tom Whiteside, a former Marine and retired federal law enforcement officer who lost his free housing after his daughter's physical wounds had healed enough that she could be moved to the psychiatric ward. A charity organization, the Yellow Ribbon Fund, provides him with an apartment near Walter Reed so he can be near his daughter.