GREENWICH, Conn. When retired Maj. Gen. John Batiste was in backcountry Greenwich on Tuesday morning, he saw a brass plaque inscribed with the name Kevin Zimmerman, his death date of December 2005 and the words Semper Fi, the motto of the U.S. Marine Corps.
That young man died in Iraq or Afghanistan. But as I stood there, I wondered how many of his comrades who survived that attack and are also suffering, who are now dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder outside of the Marine Corps, Batiste said. It gave me pause and passion to keep doing this.
Batiste was elected president of the board of the Greenwich-based Stand for the Troops , an educational foundation that works to provide front-line troops those at the tip of the spear with the best available leadership, training and equipment. Its most vital mission now is to raise money for programs to help veterans manage post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
Batiste, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who served for more than 30 years, led troops into two war zones, including Iraq. In all my experience in the first Gulf War, in Bosnia, in Kosovo, and in Iraq, Ive ordered soldiers to do some incredible things. Never did they once say, No sir, I wont do that, he said. But in the back of their mind, they think that when theyre no longer wearing the uniform that the nation will be there for them, and thats sadly, simply not the case.
In 2005, as a two-star general, he refused to accept his third star, which would have promoted him to the second-highest ranking military officer in Iraq. Instead, he resigned out of protest of the Iraq War. He made headlines in 2006 when he and six other senior retired generals went public with their condemnation of the war in Iraq and called for the immediate firing of then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
The whole problem I had was the lack of foresight and strategy to balance the ends, ways and the means. It simply wasnt done then, and it hasnt been done now, said Batiste. We dont have the right resources years later to take care of the veterans who fought in those wars.
On average, 18 veterans commit suicide every day, and about 25 percent of the homeless in the United States are veterans, according to the foundation. Veterans also encompass much of the unemployed population. PTSD, Batiste says, contributes to all of these factors. Its trying to make sense out of the battlefield after its all said and done. These youngsters, for the most part, are all doing exactly what they signed up to do, and its honorable when they come out of it. But many need professional help.
Stand for the Troops is raising funds for programs such as Warrior Salute, based in Rochester, N.Y. The program identifies veterans dealing with PTSD who may also be addicted to drugs and alcohol. The veterans are taken to Rochester and given housing, treatment and job placement, all at no cost.
After a few months, theyre done and they can have their feet on the ground, says Batiste. We want to identify these programs and help them be all they can be. The Veterans Affairs program exists, but many of the men and women who come into the program say theyre just a number, that they see a different doctor every time, and are prescribed huge amounts of drugs. We believe there are other ways to do it.
To learn more about Stand for the Troops and to donate, visit the foundations website here.
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