The Ripon Forum

Volume 53, No. 5

Veterans Day 2019

“It is Essential that We Take Care of Those Who Took Care of Us.”

By on November 3, 2019


In 1918, on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, at the eleventh hour, the Armistice Treaty went into effect, ending World War I. Due to the combination of new technologies, outdated tactics, and large armies, the First World War concluded as one of the deadliest wars in human history, with over fifteen million servicemembers and civilians dead.

Originally known as Armistice Day, every November, we recognize the brave men and women who have served in our nation’s military. Since our founding, generations of heroes have been called to duty, from fighting for a young republic to defending our way of life following the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001.

Encouraged by the sacrifice of the veterans who came before me, I volunteered to serve in the U.S. Navy JAG Corps following graduation from Duquesne University School of Law. The Navy’s Core Values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment were instilled into me.

Since coming to Congress, I am proud to have worked on several issues to help our veterans.

My service included two deployments to Iraq. During the first deployment of six months, I prosecuted those captured by U.S. Special Forces in the Central Criminal Court of Iraq, while stationed at a small forward operating base in Baghdad – FOB Union III for those that know of it. I made daily trips into the red zone to prosecute terrorists in Iraqi federal court, often as the only American in the room. Using Iraqi law, in front of Iraqi judges, through an interpreter, I successfully prosecuted nearly 100 terrorists, including 13 death penalty convictions. Shortly after my return to Norfolk, Virginia, I was assigned a case to defend a U.S. Navy SEAL. The SEAL was falsely accused of covering up the alleged abuse of the Butcher of Fallujah.

In a textbook mission, the brave and honorable SEALs of SEAL Team 10 captured the Butcher of Fallujah, Ahmad Hashim Abd al-Isawi — the most wanted and notoriously gruesome terrorist leader in Iraq — alive and unharmed, and transferred him out of their custody. Unfortunately, the Butcher followed page one of the Manchester manual, the al-Qaeda handbook discovered in Manchester, England, by faking his own abuse and accusing the SEALs of wrongdoing.

Taking the word of a terrorist over that of our SEALs, the Department of Defense threw the book at these three SEALs and tried to manipulate them into confessing to lesser charges. I returned to Baghdad to personally cross-examine the Butcher in defense of these SEALs. During a 45-minute cross-examination, and using my experience prosecuting terrorists a few months prior, I proved the Butcher was lying and completely destroyed the government’s case. I am proud to say all three SEALS were fully acquitted and one of them is still on the battlefield to this day.

Shortly after that case, I returned home to southwestern Pennsylvania. I soon decided to run for office so I could continue serving those in my community and my country. For me, it was important to realize that you do not have to stop serving. There are so many other ways we can continue helping our communities and our nation.

Lieutenant Guy Reschenthaler on the tarmac in Baghdad in 2009.

Since coming to Congress, I am proud to have worked on several issues to help our veterans. I’m particularly focused on improving the mental health of those who have served our nation.

Twenty veterans die by suicide each day. Up to twenty percent of veterans who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depression. Fortunately, our country has made advances in treating mental illness among our nation’s veterans.

I’m particularly focused on improving the mental health of those who have served our nation.

Last year, the Trump Administration increased U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) funding to the historic level of $85.3 billion. This included robust funding for mental health services, suicide prevention, traumatic brain injury treatment, opioid abuse prevention, and rural veterans’ health initiatives.

But we must do more. That is why, as co-chair of the bipartisan Military Mental Health Taskforce, I introduced the Veterans Posttraumatic Growth Act. This legislation, which I authored with my fellow co-chair, Rep. Tim Ryan (OH-12), requires the VA to conduct a pilot study of nonprofit organizations that utilize non-traditional methods for treating PTSD, such as team building and other exercises. In Somerset County, Pennsylvania, organizations like Semper Fi Odyssey have successfully integrated veterans back into public life through retreat sessions utilizing holistic approaches to mental health care.

Our country has sent generations of heroes to defend our freedom. It is essential that we take care of those who took care of us. Veterans Day is an important reminder to do just that.

Guy Reschenthaler is the U.S. Representative for Pennsylvania’s 14th Congressional District encompassing Fayette, Greene, Washington, and portions of Westmoreland County. He is a former Navy JAG and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

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