The Atlantic just published a lengthy article entitled “The Drugs That Built a Super Soldier” describing how Vietnam military personnel were provided drugs to enhance performance or mask pain and injury. The author, Lukasz Kamienski, reports that:
The conflict was distinct in another way, too—over time, it came to be known as the first “pharmacological war,” so called because the level of consumption of psychoactive substances by military personnel was unprecedented in American history. The British philosopher Nick Land aptly described the Vietnam War as “a decisive point of intersection between pharmacology and the technology of violence.”
In 1971, a report by the House Select Committee on Crime revealed that from 1966 to 1969, the armed forces had used 225 million tablets of stimulants, mostly Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine), an amphetamine derivative that is nearly twice as strong as the Benzedrine used in the Second World War. The annual consumption of Dexedrine per person was 21.1 pills in the navy, 17.5 in the air force, and 13.8 in the army.
Research has found that 3.2 percent of soldiers arriving in Vietnam were heavy amphetamine users; however, after one year of deployment, this rate rose to 5.2 percent. In short, the administration of stimulants by the military contributed to the spread of drug habits that sometimes had tragic consequences—because amphetamine, as many veterans claimed, increased aggression as well as alertness. Some remembered that when the effect of speed faded away, they were so irritated that they felt like shooting “children in the streets.”
Sadly, drugs have long been in the arsenal of the military to keep warriors alert and focused on the mission at hand or, more recently, over-medicating warriors with prescription drugs to cope with the symptoms of PTSD.
Mind you, drugs alone are not enough for the military brass and its lobbyist buddies to maximize the performance of our warriors. The U.S. Army is now experimenting with the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program. This $125 million experimental program is designed to improve “Soldier performance and readiness. Build confidence to lead, courage to stand up for one’s beliefs and compassion to help others. Comprehensive Soldier Fitness is about maximizing one’s potential.”
While is seems sacrilegious to criticize our military leadership, there are simply far too many examples of Ill-advised programs and the promotion of sycophant officers who endorse shoddy equipment procurement practices, yet deny our brave fighting men and women the equipment and support they require to accomplish their mission and receive the medical treatment they deserve following deployment.
The Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) repeatedly takes to task the VA on how it treats Veterans. Recently, the GAO cited that 63% of the cases of Veteran suicides were “inaccurately processed.”
One suspects that this situation – and many other heart-wrenching reports from the GAO on the incompetence of the VA – would trigger outrage by the public and Congressional leaders. If so, it is difficult to discern the noise of this outrage. The media seems more preoccupied with “topical crises” largely of their own making. Perhaps, “real outrage” doesn’t sell much advertisement to trigger an overhaul of the VA.
Fortunately, many concerned individuals and charitable organizations have stepped in to privately provide the support our Veterans deserve. While this “private” support may not be as comprehensive as the services available at the VA, it does provide Veterans with caring and inclusive therapy.
SFTT remains hopeful that the VA will seize the opportunity to reform itself. There are far too many well-intentioned employees within the VA to allow our Veterans to dangle perilously because of incompetent leadership.