I usually don’t read Time , but my wife has a subscription and I happened to notice and read a cover story in a recent issue discussing the profligate prescription of drugs (especially, anti-depressants) to active-duty soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was not surprised by the story, for two reasons.
First, as you probably know from reading earlier blog entries, a large number of soldiers who are serving in Iraq suffer from neurological and psychiatric disorders, with their numbers increased by repeated tours of duty in the war zone. Their doctors have argued that many of them should not be re-deployed, but manpower is short and decisions about service have been taken out of the hands of doctors and given to commanders. Moreover, many of these wounded individuals feel obligated to return to the war in support of their comrades and their mission, and would argue that their return to Iraq or Afghanistan should be THEIR decision (not their doctors’), in any event. So they go back, in large numbers, even when, from the perspective of their brain health, they often should not.
Second, I have attended several meetings sponsored by agencies in the Department of Defense discussing scientific issues related to the welfare of American troops, or the training of American military personnel. My participation stems in part from a membership in the National Academy of Sciences, and in part from my record as a scientist concerned about brain fitness and performance training. One of our duties as members of the National Academy is to advise the Congress and governmental agencies (including the Department of Defense) on issues of science related to the public weal.
Contractors supported by the Department of Defense participate in these meetings, and on several occasions have formally described (and privately talked about) the pharmacological strategies that are being developed and applied to increase the alertness and overall effectiveness of our active duty personnel. Their arguments can become surreal, as they consider a soldier or marine or sailor or airman in terms of their military effectiveness as an instrument of war –- and not as the very human, precious, fragile, complex, citizen-soldiers (with a lifetime ahead of them) that, at the same time, they certainly are. There is no denying that being bright-eyed, on-the-ball, and continuously “amped” can justify (in the soldier’s and their commanders’ eyes) anti-depressant meds and more than a little amphetamine and other stimulants in the fact of constant threats to life and limb for the individual soldier, and for their unit.
I would bet a lot of money that the average soldier in the war zone abhors athletes who take “performance-enhancing drugs”, even while many of them eat them like candy, as a routine aspect of their military service. Is it “good” for them? Are they being well served, by their employers (you and me), in their generous service to our country? Are we increasing the probability that they’ll have difficulties in returning back to American society?
The very least we can do it to provide them with all necessary medical help and assistance, when their military service is ended. Alas, we’re not yet doing a great job at that, either. Wake up, America. These are your sons and daughters. They’ve earned our respect…..and, damnit, they deserve our full attention and assistance when they are finally able to come back home, to come down from their “high” to live with us again.