This Is Such Crap!
An article from the San Diego Union-Tribune, provocatively titled "Some troops headed back to Iraq are mentally ill", provides another example of how it's OK in the press to use inferences and broad generalizations when applying labels to those in the military culture that would never be allowed if speaking of other cultures. From the lede:
"Besides bringing antibiotics and painkillers, military personnel nationwide are heading back to Iraq with a cache of antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications.
"The psychotropic drugs are a bow to a little-discussed truth fraught with implications: Mentally ill service members are being returned to combat."
The article goes on to discuss how 200,000 prescriptions for SSRIs (used to treat depression and such, and marketed under brand names like Paxil) have been given out for the military and dependents. Note that no breakdown is provided between active duty and dependents. Is the article trying to say that everyone who takes anti-depressants is mentally ill? Is the San Diego Union Tribune trying to imply that?
"But medical officers for the Army and Marine Corps acknowledge that medicated service members – and those suffering combat-induced psychological problems – are returning to war. And anecdotal evidence, bolstered by the government's own studies, suggest that the number could be significant.
"A 2004 Army report found that up to 17 percent of combat-seasoned infantrymen experienced major depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder after one combat tour to Iraq. Less than 40 percent of them had sought mental-health care.
"A Pentagon survey released last month found that 35 percent of the troops returning from Iraq had received psychological counseling during their first year home.
"That survey echoed statistics collected by the San Diego Veterans Affairs Healthcare System. The system has found that about 33 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from schizophrenia, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder."
I'd be interested to see the evidence for the last number. Is it possible that, rather than 33% of Iraq and Afghan vets suffering from mental conditions, it's actually 33% of those who got out, and went for services at the VA, that had such complaints? That's not quite a random sample, since it would consist entirely of people who had medical complaints, ignoring completely those who didn't seek out care.
The article goes on to quote such unbiased sources (yes, that was sarcastic) as Senator Boxer and the National Gulf War Resource Center (known mostly for their frantic screaming about Depleted Uranium).
I realize that articles like this are part of the political debate, and journalists have a right to support one side or the other while pretending to be neutral. What torques me is how the net effect of articles like this could cause hiring managers to start thinking, "Oh, Iraq War vet... probably mentally ill" when these heroes start looking for jobs when they get out. Yes, there are people coming back who have mental health issues, but the kind of broad-brush labeling we see in this article isn't helpful at all to solving the problem -- only in providing ammunition to those who "support the troops" but never seem to be able to say anything nice about them and really mean it.