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“HE WASN’T Andy anymore.” That’s how Araceli Valdez described watching a surveillance video showing her cousin Andres Raya–known to his friends and family as Andy–take an assault rifle and gun down two police officers outside a liquor store in Ceres, Calif.
Raya, a 19-year-old Marine on weekend leave from Camp Pendleton, had spent seven months in Iraq as a Humvee driver. On January 9, he snapped.
After opening fire on the two officers, he ran into an alley, telling residents, “Don’t worry, you’re a civilian. You won’t get hurt.” After a three-hour standoff, Raya charged a police position–and died after officers pumped 18 bullets into his body.
Press reports described the shootout as a moment of violence in the otherwise peaceful town of Ceres, where a police officer hasn’t been killed in the line of duty in at least 100 years. But the event quickly brought to the surface the simmering tensions between police and Latino residents.
And for a brief time, it linked a small California city to the killing fields of Iraq. “He came back different,” said Julia Raya, Andy’s mom. His death won’t appear in the list of soldiers killed in Iraq, but Andy was another casualty of Bush’s war.
Veterans’ advocates warn that Raya is among the early examples of a wave of soldiers who will return from the war in Iraq bearing invisible scars. “The [Department of Defense] is taking great care of the acutely injured–the injuries you can see, the burns, the lost arms and legs that they’re treating with state-of-the-art prosthetics,” Stephen Robinson, executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center, told Salon.com. “But they’re doing a horrible job with the other injuries that aren’t quite so evident.”
Raya’s family know that his experience in Iraq cost him his life. When he was home for Thanksgiving, he told family and friends that he had seen Marines commit suicide rather than continue fighting in Iraq. “He kept saying it was a war that had no point, that it was all for oil, and it made no sense that we were after bin Laden, but went after Saddam Hussein instead,” Andy’s cousin Alex Raya said. Other friends described how Andy had fallen asleep at a party, and when they shook him awake, he lunged for a gun that wasn’t there.
Police initially reported that Andy had committed “suicide by cop,” but later stressed that Raya had gang connections and that post-mortem tests showed cocaine in his system. “They have to say something bad,” said Andy’s uncle, Nicholas Cortez. “They can’t say something good because he killed one of their partners.”
The attempts to demonize Raya as a “gangbanger” further alienated Latinos in the city. Days earlier, grieving friends and other members of the community repeatedly tried to set up a shrine to Andy, only to have it removed each time by police.
The truth is that there will be more soldiers like Raya who bring the war home with them. Timothy McVeigh did. He served in the 1991 Gulf War as a gunner on a Bradley Fighting vehicle–helping to bulldoze surrendering Iraqi soldiers. In 1995, McVeigh committed mass murder again, killing 168 people when he bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City.
In 2002, John Allen Muhammad–another veteran of the 1991 Gulf War who his wife believes suffered from Gulf War Syndrome–led his stepson on a shooting rampage in Washington, D.C., that took the lives of eight people.
Kaye Baron, a clinical psychologist in Colorado Springs, believes the military should take responsibility for its veterans. “I don’t understand why military mental health is not doing more given that we know combat takes a toll on soldiers and PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder] is a widely recognized phenomenon,” said Baron. “I don’t know why they’re not being more thoroughly examined and diagnosed.”
One reason is the expense. Already, one in six soldiers returning from Iraq show symptoms of PTSD, according to a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Some experts predict that the proportion will rise to one in three–and that more than 100,000 soldiers will require mental health treatment.
But despite the talk among the military brass about not abandoning veterans, little has changed since the Vietnam era, when soldiers who left the battlefield found that the battlefield hadn’t left them–and the military did nothing to help. Congress last year finally allocated new funds to deal with the crisis–but the $5 million a year over three years is drop in the bucket compared to the need.
While the U.S. government again abandons soldiers, the antiwar movement has take up their demands–calling for spending on adequate treatment and benefits and to bring them home now.
ERIC RUDER writes for the Socialist Worker.