Today is Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi’s 186th day in a Mexican jail after being arrested for taking a wrong turn, which took him unknowingly into Mexico. That’s 186 days away from his family, away from everything he knows and loves, but most importantly, away from any form of treatment for his combat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
As with many veterans who have fought for this country, Sergeant Tahmooressi left the war, but it never left him. The battles still haunt him. Not because he is weak or fragile or damaged, but because the effects of war are real. Many of our soldiers face this reality so the majority of Americans will never have to experience the horrific burden of war.
Many have had to witness ungodly scenes, holding their fellow service members in their arms as they die; carrying small children who have had limbs blown off; hearing and feeling mortars and rockets explode on their base, day in and day out in a war zone — all can trigger lasting memories and suffering from PTSD. While SergeantTahmooressi was in Afghanistan he heroically applied a tourniquet to save the life of a fellow Marine whose legs had been severed in an IED blast.
These are the realities of war that our soldiers endure. And they do so voluntarily because they are selfless and put the needs and demands of our nation above their own. They understand that this country represents something greater than self — and that it is worth putting your life on the line for.
Sgt. Tahmooressi proudly did just that. That is why veterans are our nation’s heroes. And that is exactly why they deserve to be respected and taken care of by the nation they sacrificed so much for when they return home. Unfortunately, many are left to navigate a broken Department of Veterans Affairs with little to no help from the agency created to serve them. Many have to wait months, even years to get into the VA system to get the benefits they have earned.
But even worse than battling a broken bureaucracy like the VA is losing the trust of the commander–in-chief who chose to put American lives on the line to rescue a deserter, Bowe Bergdahl, but has yet to pick up the phone and start a dialogue with the president of Mexico to discuss Tahmooressi’s release. In a hearing at the House Foreign Affairs Committee held Wednesday, Tahmooressi’s mother testified that the president had not called her, nor was she aware of any attempt from the president to negotiate her son’s release.
President Obama continues to say that veterans are our nation’s priority — that America leaves no one behind. He made the latter clear when he traded five top-tier Taliban terrorists for Bowe Bergdahl, who willingly walked off the base two months into his first deployment. The consequence of that decision will be paid for in years to come. Make no mistake, American lives are now at risk because of the president’s decision to release terrorists. While we might not witness the consequences today or tomorrow, sooner or later the released Taliban prisoners will continue to plot and coordinate attacks that kill Americans.
President Obama’s inaction with Tahmooressi is inexcusable. He is the commander in chief and it is his duty to act. It is disgraceful that he is picking and choosing when veterans matter and when they don’t. It is derelict leadership that makes self-serving decisions while ignoring vital crises that will yield smaller rewards.
President Obama needs to reevaluate the severity of the situation. Tahmooressi has been in jail for over six months in conditions that he says are worse than his two years in combat in Afghanistan. His suffering intensifies with each day he is incarcerated. In the same House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, his mother testified that in a conversation they had in the early stages of his confinement he said, “Mom, I tried to kill myself because the guards and the inmates were going to rape, torture and eventually execute me for information.”
Sergeant Tahmooressi’s health and well-being are in a dire state. His PTSD needs to be treated as an emergency medical situation. There is no more time to waste.
His release needs to become a priority now. I’m encouraged by reports that Tahmooressi may be released in the next few days, and I hope that they’re true. And if these reports aren’t true, Mr. President, pick up the phone — make the call. No more excuses. The world is watching; bring our Marine home.
Amber Barno is a spokesperson and military advisor at Concerned Veterans for America. She is a former Kiowa Warrior helicopter pilot in the Army and served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. For more information visit www.amberbarno.com