Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey: Iraq Veterans Share First Hand Accounts of Iraq War During Forum on Capitol Hill

May 15, 2008
1:47 PM

CONTACT: Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey
Julie Nixon (Lee) 202-225-6221

Iraq Veterans Share First Hand Accounts of Iraq War During Forum on Capitol Hill -
Progressive Caucus Forum Invites Veterans To Share Their Experiences with Members of Congress
WASHINGTON, DC - May 15 - At a forum this morning organized by the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), ten veterans of the Iraq War provided gripping first person accounts of their time spent serving in combat operations. The veterans, who had served in the National Guard, the Army, and the Marines, shared their experiences on the ground at various stages of the occupation and throughout the country. They testified regarding violence against civilians, the destruction of civilian property, rules of engagement, the inadequate training that they received prior to deploying, and the personal struggles with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that many of the testifiers faced upon their return from combat.

“This morning’s event was an opportunity to hear not from the military’s top brass, but directly from the very soldiers who put their lives on the line to carry out President Bush’s failed policies in Iraq,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Co-Chair of the CPC.

“These first-hand accounts really highlight some of the tragic costs and horrific consequences of this Administration’s utterly failed policies in Iraq,” said CPC Co-Chair Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). “We must redouble our efforts to end the occupation and to truly honor our troops by bringing them home.”

The veterans were members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), a non-profit organization created in 2004 to organize and represent the growing number of active duty service members, and veterans, who have turned against the occupation of Iraq, but continue to face pressure to remain silent.

One of the morning’s most gripping testimonies came from Kristofer Goldsmith, a former Army Sergeant from Long Island, New York, who spoke about his own psychological struggles following a stop-loss order that kept him from returning home after serving in Iraq.

“As we were preparing to leave Iraq, we were given a mental screening test, which was supposed to identify possible mental ailments,” Goldsmith said in his written statement. “But we were warned by the medical staff issuing the test that ‘should you come up positive for mental problems, you could be forced to stay in [Iraq] for three to four more months before you can go home.’ Most lied while completing the test because they wanted to get home as soon as possible. No one was held in Iraq any longer due to this test, but in hindsight, it is clear that verbal warning was used to prevent the inconvenience to the Army of having Soldiers that needed medical attention.”

The psychological struggles of returning veterans was a consistent theme that emerged throughout the morning, and other testifiers spoke of the strain that PTSD put on their relationships with families and friends.

“The majority of my platoon went through divorces and or separations many of the time with children involved,” said Vincent Emanuele, a Marine machine gunner who served in Iraq near the Syrian border. Emanuele also spoke of the pressure that he faced when dealing with his PTSD, “the idea being that ‘REAL’ Marines do not complain when coming home from combat they suck it up and do the job we are tasked to do,” Emanuele said referring to how he and other veterans were treated like outcasts when they sought help. “This resulted in many of the Marines I served with, including myself turning to alcohol and drugs to cope with the horrors of this bloody occupation.”

The forum was a follow-up to an event that IVAW organized earlier this year at the National Labor College in Silver Spring Maryland. Dubbed ‘Winter Soldiers,’ and modeled on a similar campaign during the Vietnam War, dozens of veterans shared their personal stories, and testified over three days on their own experiences on the ground in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Your testimony this morning should serve as a reminder to every Member of this body that the occupation of Iraq is not something that we can simply discuss and debate in the abstract,” Woolsey told the veterans. “You speak today not just for yourselves, but for countless others who have served in Iraq. You are doing all of us a great honor by sharing your stories and unique perspectives.”