Serving those who serve us

The media talks about it. Our political leaders pontificate about it. But are we doing what we need to do to honor the men and women that sacrificed their health to serve their country?

Image by under CCO license
Image by under CCO license

WASHINGTON, July 15, 2016 – Mental illness is a growing problem throughout our culture and is of particular concern for our military veterans.

Our military veterans are suffering from invisible wounds, those injuries that are not visible but that are deep and debilitating. In fact, veterans suffer from invisible wounds at a rate six times higher than physical wounds. Ten to 20 percent of vets who served in Iraq or Afghanistan are suffering from PTSD, and 60 percent of those vets describe managing those invisible wounds as very challenging, even more so than finding a job or reconnecting with family.

One shocking result of these mental and emotional wounds is the unacceptably high suicide rate among our veterans. In 2014, an average of 20 veterans a day took their own lives.

The plight of vets at the Memphis Veterans Administration hospital

The situation is compounded by the stigma associated with mental health challenges. Veterans, like many other Americans, are often afraid to ask for help because of the potential of a negative reaction from family, friends, and employers. Moreover, approximately 40 percent of veterans surveyed say they do not believe mental health care would help them.

To help veterans in need, the Veterans Administration is introducing a mobile app related to mental health challenges supporting programs that provide service dogs to veterans suffering from PTSD and offering other assistance.

However, as long as there is a negative view of mental health issues, progress toward helping our veterans will be stunted.

One important way to break the taboo is to talk about mental health issues. Individuals, families and the media can all help break negative stereotypes surrounding mental health issues. Talking openly about mental health and discussing personal mental health challenges can help open the way for more assistance and help veterans obtain the help they need.

Veterans may take off the uniform, but they never take off their warrior ethos. Just as in so many other situations, in the case of reforming the stigma surrounding mental health, our veterans are courageously leading the way and once again proving themselves to be an invaluable asset to our country.

Our veterans deserve better

The majority of America cannot fathom the sacrifices that these men and women make to serve and protect us. And while much of what they do should be classified as heroic, most of them would humbly respond that they were just doing their jobs. To many, it is that very selfless humility that does in fact make them heroes.

As Americans, we can all help veterans by lowering the barriers to treatment and accepting mental illness as a disease. Talk openly about the challenges and difficulties, and encourage veterans to seek out help for their invisible wounds, just as they would for visible wounds.

Our veterans deserve our thanks and our support for all their service. Helping them with mental health treatment is the least we can do.

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