This Film Shows How The Government Fails Vets On Mental Health

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Screenshot from "Thank You For Your Service" trailer.

It’s no secret that our newest generation of warfighters has been plagued with a slew of mental health issues over the past decade and a half. Though suicide statistics are somewhat difficult to come by, there's no doubt that diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues affect significant numbers of post-9/11 vets. Who, if anyone, is to blame for this disgrace? And what can be done about it? These are the questions Tom Donahue brilliantly shines a light on in “Thank You For Your Service” — an important documentary for anyone wanting to understand the impact of mental health problems on our veterans.


The film follows four service members to make sense of their actions in war, but does more as well. The film shares a lot of appalling statistics that help contextualize the severity and complexity of the problem while providing a foundation to understand how today’s situation was allowed to happen in the first place.

Donahue draws on more than 200 interviews to share the insight of experts in their field such as Karl Marlantes, who wrote a book on what it’s like to go to war. The film explains what warfighters experience in combat. It also shows high-ranking officials who did their best to address systemic failures from the beginning of our most recent wars, like Dr. Mark Russell. Despite Russell and others sounding the alarm to officials as high as the Veterans Affairs secretary, the VA and other organizations failed early on to prepare for the mental health needs of returning troops.

It would be one thing if military leadership didn’t know about the issues. However, as retired Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton explains, back in 2003 they knew, but they “weren’t allowed to discuss the invisible wounds.” The film gives numerous examples that demonstrate despite the problems being understood and anticipated, they were ignored by some of the highest ranking leaders at the time — leaving countless service members and veterans alone and in pain with little or no options for care. And those who bravely sought to overcome the stigma of seeking psychological help between 2001 and 2012 were often on the receiving end of a 259% increase in narcotic prescriptions from the VA, despite there being only a 29% increase in patients during the same time.

The statistics, stories, and visuals hit close to home for me as a veteran who has struggled with mental health issues. However, arguably the film’s most important accomplishment is to highlight the resilience of our service members and the incredible people that continue to serve them. Experts in the film discuss ways to eliminate stigmas and other barriers to seeking care. Donahue highlights how organizations like Save a Warrior and Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue use time-tested methods to help vets process their wartime experiences and live their lives to the best of their abilities.

One of the film’s most thought-provoking ideas is to advocate for the creation of a behavioral health corps — an idea originally brought up after World War II. Because behavioral health is generally the lowest priority within the Medical Corps, a standalone corps would alleviate the bureaucratic red tape that prevents the behavioral health of every warfighter from being the priority it deserves to be. Regardless of whether you think this would work or not, the most important thing this gripping documentary does is provide context as to how these mental health problems became so rampant, which will hopefully spark the much needed conversation to address these issues.

“Thank You For Your Service” open theatrically in D.C. on Friday, Oct. 21 for a week run at the Landmark West End and in New York City on Oct. 28 for a week long run at AMC Empire on 42nd Street. Learn how you can also host your own screening of the film.

(U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith)

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Marine Maj. Jose J. Anzaldua Jr. spent more than three years during the height of the Vietnam War. Now, more than 45 years after his release, Sig Sauer is paying tribute to his service with a special gift.

Sig Sauer on Friday unveiled a unique 1911 pistol engraved with Anzaldua's name, the details of his imprisonment in Vietnam, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" accompanied by the POW-MIA flag on the grip to commemorate POW-MIA Recognition Day.

The gunmaker also released a short documentary entitled "Once A Marine, Always A Marine" — a fitting title given Anzaldua's courageous actions in the line of duty

Marine Maj. Jose Anzaldua's commemorative 1911 pistol

(Sig Sauer)

Born in Texas in 1950, Anzaldua enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1968 and deployed to Vietnam as an intelligence scout assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

On Jan. 23, 1970, he was captured during a foot patrol and spent 1,160 days in captivity in various locations across North Vietnam — including he infamous Hỏa Lò Prison known among American POWs as the "Hanoi Hilton" — before he was freed during Operation Homecoming on March 27, 1973.

Anzaldua may have been a prisoner, but he never stopped fighting. After his release, he received two Bronze Stars with combat "V" valor devices and a Prisoner of War Medal for displaying "extraordinary leadership and devotion to his companions" during his time in captivity. From one of his Bronze Star citations:

Using his knowledge of the Vietnamese language, he was diligent, resourceful, and invaluable as a collector of intelligence information for the senior officer interned in the prison camp.

In addition, while performing as interpreter for other United States prisoners making known their needs to their captors, [Anzaldua] regularly, at the grave risk of sever retaliation to himself, delivered and received messages for the senior officer.

On one occasion, when detected, he refused to implicate any of his fellow prisoners, even though severe punitive action was expected.

Anzaldua also received a Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroism in December 1969, when he entered the flaming wreckage of a U.S. helicopter that crashed nearr his battalion command post in the country's Quang Nam Province and rescued the crew chief and a Vietnamese civilian "although painfully burned himself," according to his citation.

After a brief stay at Camp Pendleton following his 1973 release, Anzaldua attended Officer Candidate School at MCB Quantico, Virginia, earning his commission in 1974. He retired from the Corps in 1992 after 24 years of service.

Sig Sauer presented the commemorative 1911 pistol to Anzaldua in a private ceremony at the gunmaker's headquarters in Newington, New Hampshire. The pistol's unique features include:

  • 1911 Pistol: the 1911 pistol was carried by U.S. forces throughout the Vietnam War, and by Major Anzaldua throughout his service. The commemorative 1911 POW pistol features a high-polish DLC finish on both the frame and slide, and is chambered in.45 AUTO with an SAO trigger. All pistol engravings are done in 24k gold;
  • Right Slide Engraving: the Prisoner of War ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor and "Major Jose Anzaldua" engravings;
  • Top Slide Engraving: engraved oak leaf insignia representing the Major's rank at the time of retirement and a pair of dog tags inscribed with the date, latitude and longitude of the location where Major Anzaldua was taken as a prisoner, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" taken from the POW-MIA flag;
  • Left Side Engraving: the Vietnam War service ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor engraving;
  • Pistol Grips: anodized aluminum grips with POW-MIA flag.

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