Those who defend the safety and well-being of the population of the United States deserve to have their health and well-being defended. That being said, veteran health means more than just addressing physical well-being. To properly care for our veterans, we need to address issues including mental health, community rebuilding and connection as well as caring for the physical body.
Sadly, getting access to quality mental health for our veterans is impeded by a number of factors. Not only are one in four soldiers on active duty showing signs of mental health challenges, but many soldiers view the act of addressing mental health concerns as a weakness. There are multiple concerns around the mental health of our veterans. These include
- Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
Mercifully, advanced technologies have made it possible to help soldiers survive serious trauma to the body. However, this trauma also impacts the brain. During TBI events such as an explosion, the brain is actually slammed against the inside of the skull. This can cause blood vessel damage at the point of impact.
This jarring of the brain can also damage the nerve cells within the brain, damaging the connections between brain cells and brain regions. It's important to note that this part of a TBI cannot actually be detected with available technology.
We spend a great deal of time and resources training soldiers to be ready for war, but don't provide many options for coming home. Soldiers are trained for readiness in combat. However, the ability to stand down once they're out of combat is simply left up to the soldier.
A brilliant TED talk given by Hector Garcia provides a better option. Soldiers returning from the field are given decompression techniques to help them stand down. When triggers such as a loud party or an oddly placed doorway angle may cause anxiety to a returning soldier as they learn to live in a peaceful place, Garcia's methodology encourages veterans to review the actual risks and how to safely stand down from a military mindset.
Military training requires soldiers to train with an eye toward their comrade-in- arms. This reliance on a team of fellow soldiers is healthy and can be very comforting to those in the line of fire.
However, many returning soldiers come home to a culture that's more about individualism than camaraderie, more prone to solitude and isolation, and simply less supportive. The military life is not one loaded with monetary reward, and many soldiers come home from war to return to communities with few job prospects and little community connection.
Current Veteran's Administration programs are focused on re-housing veterans who are currently homeless. These programs include rapid re-housing, permanent supportive housing for some members, and local connections to housing, assistance and employment.
Unfortunately, in the veteran community as in much of the civilian community, programs with an eye towards homelessness prevention are slim to non-existent. Too many people find that there is help at the bottom, but finding help to prevent your tumble into homelessness is almost impossible. This is an area where the leadership of the United States simply must provide focus and resources.
Veterans suffering permanent physical, psychological or mental damage from their time in a war zone can fall into isolation. This isolation can increase the anxiety common in those with PTSD and may well put the veteran at greater risk for homelessness should their housing or economic situation grow perilous.
Luckily, there are several groups of veterans taking up this challenge and providing their own social structure. StudentVeterans.org offers several tips to be visible, join together and continue to serve their community.
From community toy drives to reduced fees at the fitness center, organized groups of veterans on college campuses are staying strong and active, building camaraderie amongst their vellow veterans, and giving back.
The Bottom Line
One of the greatest tragedies of war is that the country asks very good people to participate in violent, horrible events and then expects them to be just fine. This simply isn't logical. The process of building a soldier includes a ramping up to power, violence, and the taking of life when necessary. War doesn't work without soldiers, and soldiers can't do what's required without this training. Recovery from these experiences requires support, and our veterans are owed.
Caring for American veterans means support. Physical support for injuries to the body, mental support for traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder, and emotional support to welcome them back into the community they risked their life to defend. All citizens are responsible for caring for those who protected us.