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Instead of Speculating About Bowe Bergdahl’s Conduct, We Should Be Ashamed of Our Own

Over the past week, I’ve covered the Bowe Bergdahl release and ensuing controversy for Latest.com and in much more detail than can be presented here at once, but in miring ourselves in the details of the story, we miss the most egregious point. Much of what we know about Bergdahl – how he was taken, that he’s converted to and proclaimed he was a “warrior for” Islam – all come from the Taliban. Since when does America take the word of Taliban spokespeople as gospel?

It seems that all of this criticism of Bergdahl, his actions, and the trade that got him back is couched in the never-ending campaign that has taken hold of the intervening years between Presidential elections that we once called governance. The fault is not just on the GOP or the Republicans, but is shared by the Obama Administration for trying to turn this into a PR victory.

For weeks, they had been hammered about the way employees tricked the system to pretend that reform was taking hold. While anyone who has ever paid attention, if only for a moment, to veterans’ issues knows that the VA’s problems transcend just one Administration or do-nothing Congress, the majority of those that never give veterans a thought anywhere other than on social media are prepared to lay the blame at the feet of their least favorite political figure.

According to a number of mental health professionals I reached out to during my research – all of whom agree that it is impossible to effectively diagnose anything from afar – suggest that Bergdahl’s behavior prior to his capture indicates he was already suffering from mental injury, a “wounded warrior.”

Even if that were not the case, he is almost surely suffering from mental injury after five years in the hands of the Taliban. So when Bergdahl eventually reintegrates into society – if only to face court martial as so many are currently calling for – he will undoubtedly suffer for all of this empty rhetoric.

A ceremony in March marked the suicides of 1892 veterans since January 1, 2014, which puts it on pace with the earlier report that 22 veterans commit suicide daily. None of these veterans, however, had the entire might of the national media machine behind calling them traitors or cowards (hundreds of thousands of times, including on the internet). I wonder what the media narrative will be if Bergdahl one day becomes one of 22?

The veteran community is hotly divided on this issue as well, which is why these vultures are getting away with this. To us, the idea of leaving behind your unit – a group that can only be called family – is anathema to every instinct we have. Yet, like all family problems, it should not be entertainment for the political crowd and Bergdahl, whatever his faults, should not be tried in the court of public opinion.

Private citizen Bergdahl signed up for the military knowing he’d be going to war. That makes him our brother-in-arms, even if he – in a moment of clarity or weakness – cast those arms aside. Our responsibility to him does not end because he says it does. America’s duty to make whole after his experience does not go away, even if he himself did not want it. And the good news is, at least for now, that his care is out of our hands.

While hot fingers angrily poke at keyboards and phones across the country carrying the condemnation of thousands into the ether forever, there are veterans everywhere who need help. While pictures of brave young men who were killed maybe searching for Bergdahl or just because it was Afghanistan are shared with pride and rage, there are brave men and women, young and old, who are desperate for someone (anyone) to help them keep living. Veterans who live with their own struggles and those of their community ignore those issues (like, say, who is running the VA?) debating whether or not “leave no man behind” trumps “I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.”

Perhaps instead of speculating about Bergdahl’s conduct, we should more carefully consider our own.

About the author

Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. Along with news and current events, he writes about parenting, art, and personal stories. His serial fiction story "The Prophet Hustle" is available at JukePop.com and a forthcoming independent ebook about the cam-modeling industry "Dirty Little Windows" will be available later this summer.