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The first time I met Spc. Shane Parham, his face was wrinkled with sadness. Beads of sweat met Iraqi dust and curved down his sunburned skin like the swampy Alcovy River in his native Georgia.
He was in the checkout line at Baghdad's Camp Striker commissary, only two months into his Iraq tour. But already, he'd witnessed war's brutality.
I thought of that first meeting recently as I peered at Parham through a 2-inch thick slab of glass in a prison visitation booth. The cinder-block walls, drab like the Iraqi desert, closed in on him.
Gone was his Army uniform. Instead, he wore tan prison garb, his hands bound in cuffs. His nails were long, his beard scraggly. He was not allowed to trim or shave for fear he might turn sharp instruments against himself, though he had once been chosen to man an M203 grenade launcher.
Tears trickled out of his tired blue eyes, no longer bright and full of promise.
He was a hero, honored by the governor of Georgia. Now the former sheriff's deputy was sharing quarters with thieves, addicts, even murderers.
On a winter's day, Wendy Parham drove her husband from a Georgia military hospital back home to Social Circle, Georgia. He stared out the window at the tall pines that line Interstate 20 -- and cried.
Wendy thought he was overwhelmed by the greenery after so many months in the Iraqi dust. He kept searching the road, watching for other cars. He cringed when they hit a bump or saw dead animals, which were used as booby traps in Iraq.
At home, he couldn't sleep through the night. Sleeping meant his guard was down. And that meant nightmares.
Sometimes, he encountered dead insurgents in his dreams. But when he pulled the scarves off their heads, he peered into the faces of his fallen friends.
Thousands of other veterans were struggling with post-combat stress issues. Spc. Shane Parham was not alone, but he felt that way.
He had left behind the battlegrounds of Iraq, but the war at home was just beginning.
SAN FRANCISCO — Noting that an average of 18 veterans a day commit suicide, a federal appeals court on Tuesday ordered the Department of Veterans Affairs to dramatically overhaul its mental health care system.
In the strongly worded ruling, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it takes the department an average of four years to fully provide the mental health benefits owed veterans.
The court also said it often takes weeks for a suicidal vet to get a first appointment.
The "unchecked incompetence" in handling the flood of post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health claims is unconstitutional, the court said.
(Newser) – Further confirmation of a bad trend: More than half of military veterans treated at VA hospitals since 2002 have been diagnosed as having some kind of mental health problem, a newly released survey shows. When the advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense first began tracking the numbers in 2004, 20% of Iraqi and Afghanistan vets has such diagnoses, reports Pro Publica.
The war hero's reputation fell hard around parts of Georgia.
Disorderly conduct. Obstruction of an officer. DUI. Since his return from Iraq, the former sheriff's deputy had found himself time and again on the other side of the law.
He was accused of taking a 12-pack of beer out of a convenience store on a Sunday, when alcohol sales are prohibited in Georgia, and almost ran over the store clerk with his truck. Twice, he tried to kill himself.
A year ago, an unexpected message popped up on my Facebook page. It was Spc. Shane Parham's sister, Mandi. Her brother was in jail.
He was incarcerated in neighboring Newton County, so he would not have to deal with former colleagues in the Walton County Sheriff's Office and jail.
Veterans Are Frequently Incarcerated. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found in a 2000 survey—the most recent information available—that 12.5 percent of state prison inmates reported military service.1 Similarly, 11.7 percent of county jail inmates reported military service. All told, more than 200,000 veterans are behind bars. Of veterans in state prisons, 30 percent were first-time offenders, compared to 23 percent of non-veterans. Veterans were more likely to have a history of alcohol dependence than non-veterans. Of veteran inmates, 30.6 percent reported alcohol dependence compared with 23.6 percent of non-veterans. Additionally, 70 percent of veterans in state prisons were employed prior to being arrested, compared with 54 percent of non-veterans. Veterans behind bars were more likely to be mentally ill, with 19.3 percent reporting mental illness compared with 15.8 percent of nonveterans.