By U.S. Army Pfc. Edwin Quinones August 15, 2012 | ISSUE 48•33
Ever since I was a kid I dreamed of joining the Army. So as soon as I could, I went down to my local recruiter and enlisted, knowing full well that I’d probably be sent to Afghanistan. Now, with my first deployment less than a week away, there’s only one thing on my mind: how incredibly proud I’ll be to fight for my country, experience crippling psychological trauma, wait indefinitely for the proper health care, and then eventually become so depressed and mentally ill that I commit suicide.
It’s what I’ve always known I was born to do.
It’s a matter of principle, really. From a young age I was taught that throughout our history, Americans have had to stand up and fight for the freedoms we enjoy. I always knew that when the time came, I would serve with honor and nobly suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder until my only recourse was to end my own life. So it’s with eager anticipation that I head off to the battlefield to defend, be ignored by, and then—left all alone, with my personal demons closing in—kill myself for the land I love so dearly.
Honestly, it would be my distinct pleasure and privilege to not get the medical help I need for injuries suffered while risking my life for my country.
That’s why we take the oath, isn’t it? To do our jobs with humility and valor, and to come home haunted by visions of our commanding officer, who promised he’d bring everyone back alive, being blown to bits by a cleverly disguised roadside bomb? In my mind it doesn’t matter what unspeakable horrors I witness, I’ll just be grateful for the privilege of having to wait at least six months to see a VA psychologist and in the interim turn toward alcoholism and drug addiction until I decide the only path to relief is putting a bullet in my head.
I know no greater honor than relying on an agency with a backlog of more than half a million claims that can’t get its shit together enough to transfer its paper files to a central computer.
I’m reminded of all the patriotic men and women who came before me. Those who had the chance to accidentally breathe Agent Orange in Vietnam and never get a proper diagnosis, only to become estranged from society, spiral downward into homelessness, and eventually freeze to death in an alley alone. And let’s not forget the thousands who nobly returned from Desert Storm with a mysterious illness the Army never fully admitted or identified the cause of, a syndrome resulting in chronic pain that prevented so many from ever being able to hold down a steady job.
Knowing about the care they deserved but didn’t receive fills me with great pride for my country. And it would be a true honor—this soldier’s duty, really—to follow in their footsteps.
But let’s remember that behind every soldier are the loved ones whose sacrifices are no less important. You’d better believe I’m looking forward to coming back from war and having to drink a fifth of Jack Daniel’s every night just to fall asleep, and even then having nightmares so powerful my wife has to shake me awake. Lying in bed racked with anxiety, she’ll no doubt see her husband as a hero whose untreated illness puts her at constant risk of being physically harmed.
And to see the look on my child’s face as he watches his own father, fresh off the battlefield, crying in a fetal position in the corner of his living room because he can’t get the help he needs, even though he’s been calling doctors for three straight months—tell me, is there any feeling greater than that? I don’t think there is.
So when I finally can’t take it any longer and decide to check into a hotel to end my own life, please know that I have but one simple request: My agonizing struggle and tragically preventable death should be the last thing on anyone’s mind. Because the only thing that’s important for someone like me, who will be dedicating his life to serving his country, is that my government lets me waste away until I become a shell of my former self.
That’s what being an American soldier is all about