Every so often, I’ll Google James Blake Miller and hope he has risen above his personal demons. He’s largely faded from the public view, but the image of a young and exhausted soldier who took a smoke break after prolonged firefight in Fallujah found itself on the front page of most newspapers and the cover of Time. Miller, who appeared as an anonymous everyman covered with mud, blood, and exhaustion, became a metaphor for every American in daily combat.
Just as quickly, James Blake Miller became another type of metaphor. After returning home to his family, it became clear he was suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the subsequent stories chronicled a downward tailspin. A storybook marriage to his high school sweetheart quickly imploded and there several incidents which later resulted in a medical discharge from the armed forces. Living on disability, he joined a motorcycle club that law enforcement felt was suspicious. When the LA Times photographer who took the iconic photograph intervened to get him admitted into a long-term counseling program for veterans, Miller soon left and was last heard of living alone, a far different person from when he shipped out.
The IAVA’s founder, Paul Rieckhoff, joined The Luncheon Society for his fourth gathering; our last luncheon took place in San Francisco in 2010. For Manhattan , our old friend and therapist Shari Foos moderated. Rieckhoff, who founded the IAVA when he returned from the theater of operations in 2004 from his apartment in Greenwich Village, is now focused on the next phase of his mission. With the general drawdown in both theaters, combat deaths and injuries will fade to the background to be replaced by The Next Big Story that dominates Basic Cable. The IAVA will have its hands full making sure that the needs of vets do not fall between the cracks.
James Blake Miller is not alone. Today’s returning veterans face higher unemployment, greater numbers of homelessness, and epidemic levels of undiagnosed PTSD. A vet with PTSD will have three times the chance of an alcohol problem, four times the chance of ending up with a serious drug addiction, and worse, six times the chance of suicide than the average American. While PTSD has been following soldiers home since antiquity, the epidemic levels among returning combat soldiers is not getting the attention it deserved from the VA.
Their mission is to ensure that every soldier who returns from the combat theater has the tools to reintegrate into civilian society. Their website states, “IAVA is the country’s first and largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With more than 200,000 Member Veterans and civilian supporters nationwide, IAVA is building the next greatest generation with a three-pronged model based on advocacy, awareness, and assistance. IAVA programs empower our community online and offline, and include Smart Job Fairs, our signature New GI Bill calculator and Community of Veterans, a veteran’s only social network.” Continue reading