“When the peace treaty is signed, the war isn’t over for the veterans, or the family. It’s just starting.” – Karl Marlantes
Our sense of security stems from knowing many of our bravest men and women are prepared to put down their lives to protect us. On the other hand, those who have witnessed the horrors of war inevitably have to cope with the impacts of those experiences such as post traumatic stress disorder [PTSD]. The first step towards taking care of these veterans is understanding how PTSD affects their community.
The number of veterans with PTSD varies by service era, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs [VA].
- Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF): About 11-20 out of every 100 Veterans (or between 11-20%) who served in OIF or OEF have PTSD in a given year.
- Gulf War (Desert Storm): About 12 out of every 100 Gulf War Veterans (or 12%) have PTSD in a given year.
- Vietnam War: About 15 out of every 100 Vietnam Veterans (or 15%) were diagnosed with PTSD at the time of the most recent study in the late 1980s, the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study (NVVRS). It is estimated that about 30 out of every 100 (or 30%) of Vietnam Veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime.
It’s unfortunate that due to the way insurance and mental health care programs are currently structured, there is no guarantee the men and women serving in the armed forces are being or will be taken care of by the society they strive to protect. Veterans and military personnel with untreated mental disorders have a difficult time reintegrating into their communities, making it hard to find work, start or maintain relationships and treat PTSD symptoms.
According to recent statistics, 18 to 22 veterans die by suicide every day due to severe depression, chronic anxiety, sexual or other trauma, serious substance abuse and many other PTSD-related afflictions. Nonetheless, only 30 to 40% of veterans and military personnel diagnosed with severe mental or emotional distress seek professional help. Much of this has to do with the costliness of traditional therapy and the lack of access to military or civilian mental health providers.
Another factor is personal shame and social stigma. Members of the military are trained to be strong and brave, to withstand anything that comes their way. This creates a problem: if they have to be strong at all times, where can they channel their emotional pain when they finish their service?
After suffering the trauma of war, those who do not utilize professional mental health care are significantly more at risk for unemployment, poverty, hospitalization and homelessness than the average citizen. One of the simplest things you can do to help veterans is gently encouraging them to seek treatment and sharing some knowledge about fighting stigma.
“Caring for veterans shouldn’t be a partisan issue. It should an American one.”- Jennifer Granholm
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