US soldiers "are at their breaking point," declared Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday, citing the impact of multiple deployments over more than a decade of continuous US war beginning in 2001.
Though some veterans welcome the acknowledgement, they disagree with Hagel's "solution"—focused on beefing up the military—insisting that this problem can only be addressed by ending the wars responsible for this trauma.
Speaking at the Veterans of Foreign Wars annual conference in Louisville on Monday, Hagel shared the stories of service members who have faced five or more consecutive deployments that compound their mental traumas and make them freeze up in battle. "When you push human beings this hard, they break," he stated.
Yet, Hagel—who has been a key force behind the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan responsible for these mental health problems—insisted that the solution lies in 'strengthening readiness' for further deployments while "address[ing] unsustainable growth in personnel costs, which represent half of the department’s budget and crowds out vital spending on training and modernization."
Veterans and service members have been arguing for years that the real solution to the mental health epidemic plaguing the military is to end US-led wars.
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"We have been saying troops are at their breaking point for a long time," said Matt Howard, Iraq Veteran with the Marine Corps and staffer with Iraq Veterans Against the War.
"Building up the military to get folks ready to go to the next conflict is a flawed logic," he continued. "The solution is we give troops the mental and medical healthcare [they] need. The solution is we stop deploying people."
"If they want to rehabilitate troops, they can pull them out of Afghanistan and stop putting us in a position where folks are deploying multiple times and not getting the mental and physical healthcare they need," declared Howard.
Since 2010, IVAW has been organizing to address the traumas to soldiers that have resulted from over 12 years of war, as well as to civilians in war zones. US veterans and service members are joining with Iraqi organizations, including the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, to demand redress from the US government for the toxic and traumatizing mental and physical legacies of the US-led war in Iraq.