Voices of Veterans:
Stories from Returning Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan
Shani Aviram: In the 1960s and 1970s, the Bay Area was a center for activism against the war in Vietnam. Many returning veterans joined in those protests. But today, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan near their decade mark, voices of opposition among returning veterans are few. While some want to put the war behind them, some veterans want to tell civilians about their experiences. Shani Aviram profiles one veteran who is speaking out against the wars.
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Ani Chavez:Imagine you’re fighting in a war. Now, imagine you’re fighting a war that’s not even for your own country. According to the Center for Naval Analysis, eight thousand non-citizens enlist in the US Armed Forces every year. Many join hoping to gain citizenship for themselves and their families. They’re often called “green card soldiers.” Ani Chavez has a profile of one woman who enlisted, but found the military was a lot different than her recruiter lead her to believe.
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Lilah Crews-Pless: Experts estimate that about 20% of new veterans are returning home with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Some symptoms of PTSD include erratic driving behaviors, substance abuse, and violence—all actions that can land vets in jail. With the recent influx of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, this number is likely to be higher. And that’s the concern: that many new vets will be swept up into the criminal justice system.In San Bruno, the San Francisco County Jail has partnered with the non-profit Swords to Plowshares to create a wing dedicated solely to veterans. It may be the first in the country. As Lilah Crews-Pless reports, the mostly volunteer staff connects vets to resources, turning their incarceration into rehabilitation.
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The program you just heard about is one of the first of its kind to have a special wing for veterans in jail. The program was created because advocates say veterans with untreated post-traumatic stress disorder are more likely to wind up in the criminal justice system. So another pilot program is helping train law enforcement officers to identify distressed veterans and help them diffuse a situation before it escalates to crisis and the criminal justice system. In the second part of this series, Lilah Crews-Pless takes us to a “combat to community” training near Sacramento.
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Laura Flynn: In his 2009 announcement, President Obama said that the GI Bill would get $78 billion more funding to help post-9/11 veterans go back to school.
“Today we honor the service of an extraordinary generation and look to America that they will help build tomorrow with the post-9/11 GI Bill. We can give our veterans the chance to reach their dreams, unleash their talents, and tap their creativity and be guided by their sense of responsibility to their fellow citizens and this country we love so much." It’s the most significant expansion since the GI Bill was first introduced in 1944. As veterans return to school to take advantage of the new GI Bill, many have found that campuses often aren’t ready to handle the administrative demands from an influx of former soldiers returning to school. As Laura Flynn reports, many veterans are taking things into their own hands.
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Rashida Harmon: Women now make up about 15% percent of the armed forces and serve in almost all facets of military life. This includes serving in combat zones such as Afghanistan and Iraq. With so many women on active duty, an underreported phenomenon is becoming increasingly common. According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, about a quarter of women seen at VA hospitals have experienced Military Sexual Trauma (MST). MST is a term which includes both physical and emotional forms of sexual abuse. And the Department of Defense says only about 10% of sexual assaults in the military are even reported.
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Lindsey Lee Keel: This piece is about love in a time of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Twenty-one year old Carolin Kunze and her fiancé Matt Fuller (who is serving in the US Army), had only just begun their life together when Matt’s PTSD symptoms became a challenge in their relationship. Between his two deployments in Afghanistan they discovered that their struggles were different than those facing most new couples.
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Vilmarys Pichardo: The US military is changing. The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy has been repealed, and the structure of miltary families is changing. Over 700,000 US children now have a parent who is deployed in the military, and the Department of Defense estimates that there are more than 70,000 single parents on active duty. They are still only about 5% of service members, but the consequences of their deployment are complicated.
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Priscilla Yuki Wilson: 2010 ended with a significant change in the US military: the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy was repealed. This meant that soon gays and lesbians could come out-or go in-without the fear of losing their careers. For many, the battle to allow gay and lesbian soldiers to serve openly was the end of a long journey and a huge victory for civil rights.
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