DALLAS, June 25, 2013 - On June 10, 2013, Daniel Somers, 30, a seasoned veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom wrote a chilling, heartbreaking address to his family before ending his life. His last words swept the Internet this week. Every American, particularly those that supported the wars of the last decade, should read it. According to Gawker, Somers operated in over 400 combat missions. He worked with Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) where he ran the Northern Iraq Intelligence Center as a senior analyst. Daniel suffered greatly from Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress.
In the full letter, Somers explains that his self-termination was “a mercy killing” to free him from a tortured soul and broken body. Emotionally catatonic, joy and sorrow was not possible for him. He longed for the freedom and peace death offered.
This government, which he says asked more of him than it had a right to demand, later abandoned him in his time of need. Insufficient care for his crippling illnesses amplified his suffering, as it does hundreds of thousands of veterans nationwide.
“Is it any wonder then that the latest figures show 22 veterans killing themselves each day? That is more veterans than children killed at Sandy Hook, every single day. Where are the huge policy initiatives? Why isn’t the president standing with those families at the state of the union? Perhaps because we were not killed by a single lunatic, but rather by his own system of dehumanization, neglect, and indifference,” he said.
He also criticized the government’s failure to expend effort in understanding Traumatic Brain Injury, a condition that haunts even the most well-adjusted soldiers and Marines.
“It leaves us to where all we have to look forward to is constant pain, misery, poverty, and dishonor. I assure you that, when the numbers do finally drop, it will merely be because those who were pushed the farthest are all already dead.”
He felt “too trapped in a war to be at peace, too damaged to be at war”, abandoned by those taking the “easy route” and a burden to those “sticking it out” and deserve better. “So you see, not only am I better off dead, but the world is better without me in it.”
For anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide, Somers’s heart-wrenching justifications are painful, but important, to read. These are the struggles of countless silent warriors neglected by the very people and institutions that sent them to war.
While Somers was correct to criticize our government, he was wrong to assign singular blame to corrupt bureaucrats. The real blame lies with the American citizen who fails to pressure the political machine for reform of veteran’s resources or resist new calls for war. We allow the vicious cycle of neglect to continue unchecked. For that, we should be ashamed.
The Department of Veteran’s Affairs is a diseased bureaucracy rife with corruption and waste, one that can only be reformed by citizen pressure. Though President Obama has no qualms about exploiting veterans for fundraising, the VA’s claim-processing capabilities have collapsed under his reign.
Thousands wait approximately 273 days for crucial services. Veterans filing new claims languish for approximately 327 days. In larger cities, wait times are nearly double. After years of creeping deadlines, broken promises and billions wasted to simply digitize and streamline this process, the consistently incompetent and scandal-ridden VA has failed.
Though private industries could have implemented such mission critical procedures in 12-24 months, seven years and $600 million later, they’ve requested an additional $11 billion and delayed completion until 2018. One million veterans will suffer through the backlog this year.
Imagine the public outcry if regular civilians had to wait 619 days for unemployment, food stamps, social security, and Medicare or Medicaid payments. Washington’s culture of corruption trusts in our veteran’s silent suffering and our laziness. We do not disappoint. Despite our patriotic romanticism, we do little to pressure reform.
“Because citizens don’t care, accountability dwindles,” says a former employee for the Dallas VA. “Where are the millions that cheered the invasion of Afghanistan or Iraq and decorated their SUV’s with pretty yellow ribbons? They’re not protesting or writing angry letters, I can tell you that. They’re as bad as the politicians for sending these young people to war only to disregard them as human trash.”
We have forgotten the tragedies of Vietnam and these are the results of reckless, arrogant foreign policy. War hawks call for sending our sons and daughters into Iran, Syria and Libya for profit. They cry for no-fly zones and for arming our enemies, air strikes and Patriot missiles. Though their imperialism failed at great cost, they persuade us more pre-emptive war and intervention are necessary.
We are still in Iraq, Afghanistan and dozens of other countries and we will be in Syria soon. If we give them time, they will take us to war with Iran. We vote them back into office year after year.
It is not difficult to see why desperate veterans give up after enduring so much pain, disappointment, betrayal and shame. We, as a people, do not take ownership of the total consequences of wars we support or act to make amends. We repeat the same actions and expect different results while profiteers laugh all the way to the bank.
If we take away anything from Somers’s last words, let it be more than fleeting sympathy. 70% of Americans, regardless of their politics, say they are proud of our military. Talk is cheap. The troops don’t want our thanks or handshakes, they need our help. If those last words matter, choose action.
We can mark our calendars and send a weekly email or phone call to our legislators. We can investigate volunteering opportunities or donate to veteran’s charities. Organizations like IAVA and Wounded Warrior Project can’t reform this system alone. Support them.
If you value our troops, honor them by demanding an end to the dehumanization, neglect, and indifference. No more bonuses for incompetent VA bureaucrats until the backlog is resolved, no more multi-million dollar conferences and no more creeping deadlines. No more fruitless foreign interventions. No more Daniel Somers.