Activists protest the ongoing toll in Iraq

Four years later
By STEVEN STYCOS  |  March 14, 2007
As peace activists from Newport to Providence mark the fourth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, 20 people gathered in Bristol to discuss what will happen when the soldiers come home.
 
The East Bay Citizens for Peace presented a panel on Sunday, March 11, at St. Michael’s Church to discuss the war’s psychological toll on veterans. A March 2006 Journal of the American Medical Association study indicated that 35 percent of soldiers seek mental health services within a year of returning from Iraq, and a June 2006 Veterans Health Administration report found that nearly 30,000 Iraq war veterans have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
 
The Bristol panel included retired obstetrician Michael Gold of Barrington, who was diagnosed with PTSD 10 years ago, a half-century after Russian troops freed him from a German POW camp at the end of World War II. Gold gives the Providence Veterans Administration hospital “high marks” for its services, but he adds, “The only caveat is you wait.”
 
Other panelists expect this problem to worsen. “The system is overwhelmed by the need for services,” commented Providence College professor Keith Morton. Therapist Bettine Fitzgerald-Costa of Barrington agreed, saying, “They don’t have nearly enough people to treat the people they’re going to get.”
 
For most of his life, Gold accepted as normal his nightmares, temper tantrums and aggressive behavior, but a VA therapist helped him to understand how these things were caused by his 16 months in a Nazi prison. Even though his diagnosis took 50 years, Gold worries that Iraq veterans may have more difficulty readjusting than he did.
 
World War II veterans fought the so-called “good war,” he says, but the Iraq war has far less public support, making soldiers’ return to civilian life more difficult. And with the debunking of President George W. Bush’s reasons for war, Iraq veterans may become disillusioned, as many Vietnam veterans did.
 
Audience member Helen Hawkinson of Warren, who has worked as a VA counselor, recalls being impressed by the strong distrust of the government among Vietnam veterans. Another audience member, Vietnam veteran Les Costa of Barrington, agreed, adding that while most soldiers in Vietnam were single 19- or 20-year-olds who thought they were invincible, many Iraq veterans are parents whose stress includes trying to contend with family issues via e-mail and cell phone while serving in the conflict zone.
 
East Bay Citizens for Peace is one of several local groups calling for a quick withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. The Rhode Island Community Coalition for Peace is sponsoring an anti-war march on Sunday, March 18, starting at 1:30 pm, from Providence’s Central High School to the Beneficent Church.
 
On that same afternoon, the Rhode Island Progressive League will hold a peace rally at noon in Newport’s Washington Square, and the East Bay Citizens for Democracy will hold a forum on the war at 2:30 pm at the Barrington Congregational Church. On Monday, March 19, at 1:45 pm, the fourth anniversary of the invasion, the Brown chapter of Students for a Democratic Society is slated to stage a “die-in” at the Providence offices of Textron Inc. The company manufactures Cobra attack helicopters, cluster bombs, guided missiles, and drone aircraft.
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