In the December issue of Men’s Health, writer Laura Beil dives deep into the tragic case of Eddie Routh, the Marine Corps vet who shot to death American Sniper hero Chris Kyle, who tried to help him with his PTSD (Routh killed Chad Littlefield, a friend of Kyle’s, too). The story is not on the magazine’s website yet; I bought the Kindle Single version, The Enemy Within, for $1.99, and I’m glad I did. What a terrible tale it tells, and what an urgent problem that our politicians ought to be working hard to solve. But it’s a problem that is going to be extremely hard to solve because, well, here’s Beil:
Each day, on average, 22 returning soldiers commit suicide, according to a VA report issues dearly this year. But here is the paradox: The government is in fact pouring record funding into treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — $432 million projected this year, up 40 percent just from 2009. To help explain why a disturbing number of veterans still fall through the cracks, some experts offer and explanation as unpopular as it is politically radioactive: Clinics are clogged with too many veterans who don’t need to be there, siphoning resources from those, like Eddie, who do.
One VA physician testified that some of her patients are only marginally ill, but because there’s nowhere else in the mental health system for them to go, they’re stuck with the VA. More:
Others may not have a motivation to improves because their income depends on staying sick, says Michael Archuleta, M.D., J.D., a physician who now works as an attorney in Austin. He makes his living off the VA’s failings, suing on behalf of injured and neglected veterans. “When you’re getting paid to have a disability, that disability is less likely to be going away.” He says the VA is striving to bring mental health care to everyone who needs it. But when the philosophy “incentivizes sickness,” as he calls it, the patients who should be getting better, or shouldn’t be there at all, put the entire system at risk of becoming jaundiced and unable to serve the ones who need it most.
The Eddies become buried, it seems. The Routh family makes no excuses for murder, but cope with anger, grief, and profound helplessness over all that has been lost.
I hope you’ll read the whole 8,000-word story The Enemy Within on Kindle Single. There’s no doubt that Eddie Routh killed Chris Kyle. Beil explores everything that led to the shooting, and how Routh came back from his Marine combat service — and service doing disaster relief in Haiti, which messed with his head even worse — a shell of his former self. His long descent into insanity as his family stood by flailing, trying to figure out how to help him, is heartbreaking and infuriating. Chris Kyle got involved at the request of a desperate Mrs. Routh, who didn’t know where else to turn to get her son well.
But: do you want to be the Congressman or Senator who calls on the VA to turn veterans away for being malingerers who are using up resources that ought to be going to worse cases? Do you want to be the one telling some veterans to suck it up and move on so others in greater need can get the help they need under the limitations that exist? Beil points out that the government is spending far more treating vets than it has, but there just aren’t enough specialists to respond to the need.