Sgt. Tahmooressi

On October 1, 2014, the Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, held a press conference on the subject of problems in the quality of medical care provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs. During this press conference, the Secretary of Defense and the Deputy Secretary Bob Work acknowledged that there are many problems with the medical care that Veterans Affairs is providing to our nation’s veterans and their families. They discussed an independent review of the VA medical system, and made promises that they would be addressing shortcomings and improving the services that they are offering to the people who have made real sacrifices for our country.

However, Veterans Affairs now has a long history of letting down our veterans. The Secretary of Defense and President Obama could demonstrate a real dedication to fulfilling our obligations to American veterans by taking steps to rectify the situation of one young Marine sergeant whom we have failed terribly. Sgt. Andrew P. Tahmooressi is a Marine Corps veteran who left active duty following two deployments in Afghanistan. On March 31, he was arrested after entering Mexico in the possession of three loaded guns, which is a serious violation of Mexican law. However, Sgt. Tahmooressi maintains that he entered Mexico accidentally, taking a wrong turn out of a parking lot and ending up approaching the border with no opportunity to turn around.

Under normal conditions, we should allow the justice systems of foreign countries to do their work, even when US citizens are being charged with crimes. The US government’s role in these cases is just to make sure that our citizens are safe and being treated well while they are waiting for their trials. However, this case calls for more serious action from our government. Prior to his arrest, Sgt. Tahmooressi was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from his experience serving his country in Afghanistan.

Every single day in this country, we lose 22 veterans who have been suffering from PTSD to suicide. 2.3 million Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and studies suggest that at least 20% of those brave men and women are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. 50% of combat veterans with PTSD do not seek treatment for it, and half of those who seek help get only “minimally adequate” treatment. While Sgt. Tahmooressi was diagnosed with PTSD, he has not been receiving treatment for it. Being imprisoned in a foreign country, not receiving treatment, and receiving no help from his government is basically the worst situation he could be in in terms of his mental health. In fact, he has already attempted suicide once during his time in prison. He is in a situation where his PTSD is going to get worse, not better. When he eventually comes home, he will need to be treated for both his combat PTSD and his incarceration PTSD.

It is vitally important that we get Sgt. Andrew P. Tahmooressi home as soon as possible. We have allowed him to languish in Mexican prison for over six months now, and every day that he is there, his situation gets worse. Veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq often express a feeling that their government abandoned them as soon as they come home, and the problems with Veterans Affairs show that they might have some justification for saying that.

If our politicians want to make speeches saying that they intend to improve the VA medical system, that’s all well and good. If they want to do something that shows they actually intend to follow through and properly care for those who have sacrificed so much for this country, they can demonstrate their dedication by working to free Sgt. Tahmooressi.