The iconic Iraq War photograph of Private Joseph Patrick Dwyer carrying an Iraqi child to safety (above) was used repeatedly by the war's apologists to justify the intervention in Iraq. On June 28, 2008, police found Dwyer dead in his Pinehurst, N.C., home as a result of sniffing an aerosol cleaner. This was not the first time Dwyer had abused the aerosol. Until the day he died, he suffered from a sleeping disorder as a result of the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) he brought home with him from war-torn Iraq. The aerosol relaxed him. It gave him relief. That is, until June 28, when it finally destroyed him.
The death of Dwyer at age 31 brought a tragic end to a tormented soul. For years, the veteran had been plagued by insomnia, nightmares, flashbacks, nervous stress and explosive temper outbursts. People who knew him said that he came back from Iraq a shell of his former self. As his mother, Maureen Dwyer, pointed out: "He loved the picture, don’t get me wrong, but he just couldn’t get over the war. He wasn’t Joseph any more. Joseph never came home."
Dwyer, like countless other Iraq and Afghanistan War vets, did not receive the treatment he so desperately needed. While the Bush administration and Congress pump billions -- ultimately, trillions -- of dollars into a war that is destroying one nation, they ignore the needs of the men and women who put their lives on the line overseas after they come home. America's soldiers risked everything for one simple reason: Because they loved their country. And after serving, so many of them have been ignored, marginalized and put out to pasture.
Dwyer was yet another veteran who was given the shaft by his government. Worse yet, he lived in agony until the day he died. His father, Patrick, said, "He went away to in-patient treatments. None of it worked. And the problem is there are not adequate resources for post-traumatic stress syndrome."
In the end, Patrick and Maureen Dwyer are two more parents who will never see their beloved child again as a result of this most horrible of wars.
True patriotism should be about more than just regurgitating buzzwords like "freedom" and "democracy" and wearing Old Glory lapel pins. It ought to be about caring for the weakest, most vulnerable members of society. The best place to start is with the tens of thousands of veterans who struggle every day with mental health issues, financial challenges and readjusting to American society. Too often in history, America's veterans have been shamefully discarded by the very same politicians who talk the loudest about "freedom" and "democracy." If more Americans awaken to this reality and kick these crooked warmongers out of office, then maybe Private Joseph Dwyer -- an American hero and a victim of his government's misguided policies -- did not die in vain.