James R. McIntyre
Review of Aaron Glantz,
The War Comes Home: Washington's Battle against America's
Veterans. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 2009. Pp.
xxiv, 254. ISBN 978-0-520-25612-5.
Although the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been subjects of a
great deal of writing, the scope of this material has remained
comparatively narrow, focused on aspects of combat, ranging from
strategic decision-making processes to first-hand accounts of
soldiers. Journalist Aaron Glantz
adopts a different perspective: The War Comes Home is "one of
the first attempts to systematically explain what Iraq and
Afghanistan veterans face when they return home" (xxi). The
motivation for this tale is his own experience as a returning war
correspondent. Much of the book's opening is dedicated to developing
its author's qualifications. While he is not a combat veteran, he is
certainly a veteran of combat. In Iraq, Glantz has seen the grisly
face of war close up, even if he was not embedded with a military
unit. His reporting on conditions there and his difficulties
adjusting to life back in the United States eventually became the
launching pad for this work.
returning to the United States, Glantz came to two significant
realizations. First, that he was suffering from Post Traumatic
Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to the events he witnessed while covering
the war. Second, that there was little guidance available to him in
his attempt to readjust to civilian life. These discoveries led him
to investigate the treatment received by returning veterans in order
to help them cope with the same issues he encountered. The War
Comes Home is, in part, an attempt at self therapy.
Glantz next launches into his main topic: the experiences of service
men and women as they transition from active military service in
Iraq or Afghanistan to civilian life in the United States. Starting
from the American Psychiatric Association's definition of PTSD
(8-9), he notes that the diagnosis remains controversial both within
and outside the military. Glantz observes that these are the
first wars in which the United States has deployed large numbers of
women to the combat zone, which raises a host of new challenges for
the traditional veterans' support systems.
Glantz seeks to establish a historical perspective on the veterans'
plight by comparing their experiences to those of Vietnam War
veterans. Most striking is the improved level of medical care given
soldiers in the combat zone. This has led to both a much higher
survival rate for soldiers and marines in Iraq than in previous
conflicts and new concerns for both the U.S. military establishment
and the Veterans’ Administration. Glantz
cites a RAND Corporation survey that suggests traumatic brain injury
(TBI) resulting from the blast of roadside bombs is one of the
primary wounds encountered by combat veterans of the Iraq War,
affecting far more soldiers than indicated by either official armed
forces or VA figures (36). An April 2007
report by military doctors at Fort Carson, Colorado, confirmed that
eighteen percent of those deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan exhibited
at least one symptom of mild TBI.
This study's results, if extrapolated
across all soldiers and Marines deployed in the war (and there's no
reason to expect soldiers from different bases had different
experiences in Iraq), would mean more than three hundred twenty
thousand Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffer from some form of
traumatic brain injury. These statistics from Fort Carson are
consistent with the RAND Corporation figure mentioned above. Yet
only a few thousand cases have been diagnosed (39).
addition, given the paucity of official data, there are no clear
protocols on how to address the condition and its debilitating
effects. Glantz recommends pre- and post-deployment brain exams, a
proposal the Pentagon has previously pushed aside, most likely, he
maintains, because the government does not wish to discover the full
extent of the problem. Further, many of the servicemen and women
liable to be diagnosed with TBIs sustained them during second,
third, or fourth deployments in Iraq. Thus, his criticism runs, the
problem is not lack of facilities, but a fear of jeopardizing the
ability to put troops in the field or of learning that they may not
be physically capable of the tasks assigned to them. The author lays
the blame for this situation directly at the feet of the Bush
Building his case for the government's lack of concern for veterans,
Glantz next approaches the scandal at Walter Reed Army Medical
Center. He portrays conditions there, first brought to public
attention in a Washington Post article,
as typifying an essentially broken system of care. Again, the root
problem is lack of funding by the government. "It's not that the
administration officials didn't know about Walter Reed's problems.
It's just that they had other priorities" (51-52). Conceding that
the Bush administration did not consciously set out to neglect
veterans, he argues that it did allow a system to develop in which
there was a far greater chance of such neglect. In the end, according
to Glantz, money was the problem: money spent on the care of
veterans was money not spent recruiting or arming troops for the
Glantz now moves to developing a historical context for
understanding the current situation regarding veterans' benefits.
Delineating the challenges that confront veterans trying to claim
their education benefits, he examines the historical conditions
prevalent when such benefits were inaugurated by the G.I.
Bill in World War II. In Glantz's analysis, the impetus to draft
legislation covering veterans' benefits arose as a result of the
poor treatment accorded many returning soldiers who had been
invalided out of active service due to their wounds. Mounting public
opinion in support of these men pushed legislators to take action.
Tracing the history of veterans' benefits back even further, Glantz
includes a brief discussion of the Bonus Army of the early 1930s.
When, during the Great Depression, WWI vets came to Washington to
ask for previously promised benefits, they were driven from the
capital mall by uniformed U.S. troops. The purpose of this brief,
incomplete history of veterans' benefits in the twentieth century is
to support one of the author's key contentions—that popular opinion
is crucial in motivating change on the part of Washington
After this historical background, Glantz describes the many ways that veterans of the wars in
Iraq and Afghanistan can lose their benefits. These include being
diagnosed with alcoholism and/or drug addition while actively
serving, which can lead to dishonorable discharge. Glantz emphasizes
that one cause of such addictions is the lack of adequate support
for troops dealing with the psychological and emotional stresses of
active service. Yet procedures for granting discharges are more
streamlined than those in place for addressing substance abuse: the
bureaucracy, Glantz contends, has created a system that too often
removes people from the service instead of caring for them. He also
examines the high crime and homeless rates among veterans in
separate chapters, attributing them to institutional failures on the
part of the VA.
last section of the book is a call to action in which the author
suggests that the various veterans groups would be more effective if
they pooled their resources. He returns to the example of the G.I.
Bill and how, in his view, popular opinion, mobilized on behalf of
the veterans, resulted in positive legislation.
useful this book will be to historians, only time will tell. While
the author is treating contemporary problems, several chapters
include extensive historical background on veterans' legislation.
Unfortunately, these lack the nuance that a historian would bring to
an examination of the subject. Glantz concentrates on the political
context of veterans' benefit legislation during the Second World
War, Korea, and Vietnam, neglecting such other important factors as
popular opinion concerning these conflicts and the economic
situation on the home front at these various junctures. Both factors
influenced what legislators could accomplish at any given time.
Glantz also rightly criticizes politicians, especially
Republican politicians during the administration of George W. Bush,
when the poor treatment of veterans chronicled in When War Comes
Home was occurring.
Insofar as the construction of the work is concerned, most chapters
begin with the experiences of a single veteran, as Glantz draws on
personal accounts to put a human face on the difficulties faced by
many soldiers returning home. But do the problems depicted in these
opening vignettes typify those faced by most returning servicemen
and women? It's a matter of degree. While Glantz does draw on some
specific statistical evidence to support his claims, it is unclear
whether veterans in general suffer so profoundly from the handicaps
Glantz's work will find a ready readership among those concerned
with the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as those
interested in the treatment of veterans, in other words, all
American adults. The text is very readable, and its arguments
rationally developed. While future scholars may challenge and
perhaps revise some of Glantz's conclusions, his book has great
merit as an investigation of poor treatment of veterans at the
Moraine Valley Community
 Author of How America Lost Iraq (NY:
Tarcher/Penguin, 2005), Winter Soldier, Iraq and Afghanistan:
Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations (Chicago:
Haymarket, 2008), and numerous articles in both newspapers
and online publications; for the latter, see, e.g., the archives
at Antiwar.com <link>.
 See Dana Priest & Anne Hull, "Soldiers Face
Neglect, Frustrations at Army's Top Medical Facility,"
Washington Post (18 Feb 2007) A01 <link>.