I’m just one of nearly 2 million U.S. military personnel who’ve served in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001. The vast majority of us return home, alive and intact. But among those of us who do, too many suffer serious “invisible” wounds that threaten to take lives back on the home front.
One of those who couldn’t shake those demons was a Marine Scout Sniper and humanitarian, Clay Warren Hunt. I didn’t know Clay personally, but I was sad to read recently in the Blackfive milblog that Clay had taken his own life.
Update: On 4/9, AOL ran a powerful profile of Clay – it’s worth the read…
That news made me more determined to raise awareness about PTSD and other conditions that take down even the most hardened among us. So, you can expect to see more action from me about these issues. Starting now.
It’s in Clay’s honor that I hand over today’s space to a military supporter named Tim Elliot – who asked me to share his thoughts on this topic. Tim is paid to write by a law firm that represents troops who need help to treat these injuries. While you deserve to know the source, I believe Tim’s message is no less legitimate. So I hope you’ll give him your attention, and share this message with others.
By shining a light on these conditions, we can be sure America’s warriors stay safe, even when the fighting is over. Thanks. – Jeff
Healing “Hidden” Wounds of War – How You Can Help
Lately, it seems our nation is increasingly divided. Conservatives vs. liberals, hawks vs. doves, Tea Partiers vs. Beltway Insiders – on and on. We’re debating the economy, the budget, health care, global warming, energy issues, revolution in the Middle East, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – the list goes on and on.
But even if we don’t agree about our country’s military presence abroad, it’s hard to deny that U.S. troops deserve our support. The best way to offer support isn’t always clear. But at the very least, we should focus on this – anyone whose health has suffered while protecting our nation’s interests deserves support to recover.
Each year, thousands of soldiers suffer injuries that are commonly called “invisible wounds.” Conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and mesothelioma are considered invisible because they aren’t as physically obvious as other war wounds. But I think it’s also fair to say that they’re invisible because they receive surprisingly little attention from the public. And yet, they’re very real – very profound – and sometimes just as debilitating as classic “war wounds.”
Each condition is distinct:
PTSD is a deadly serious anxiety disorder triggered by exposure to traumatic events. All military personnel who serve on the frontlines during wartime face the risk of acquiring combat PTSD. The onset can be immediate or delayed. Common symptoms include overwhelming nightmares, emotional numbness, hyper arousal, and severe, sudden mood swings. PTSD often goes undiagnosed, because soldiers often feel shame about experiencing symptoms – or seeking treatment.
TBI is most often caused in soldiers when roadside bombs detonate, and the reverberating shockwaves bruise fragile brain tissue. Many TBI victims suffer severe mental damage. These injuries are usually accompanied by headaches, persistent ringing in the ears, and trouble with memory, concentration and cognitive functions.
Mesothelioma is cancer of the lining of the lungs, heart, and stomach. It is caused by exposure to asbestos. This condition is prevalent among veterans because the military used asbestos widely until a strong link between mesothelioma and asbestos was discovered in the 1970s.
The most disturbing fact about these “invisible” wounds is this – they occur much more often among our armed forces than in the general population. The facts are sobering:
- Nearly 18 veterans with PTSD attempted suicide each day last year
- Approximately 15% of soldiers have grappled with a TBI
- More than 1,000 veterans a year are diagnosed with mesothelioma symptoms.
Supporting Our Troops
New measures, such as The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act and the Veterans Benefit Programs Improvement Act of 2010 are aimed at improving measures for injured soldiers, veterans, and their families. But the picture still remains far bleaker than it should be. It’s estimated that half of all PTSD cases go undiagnosed. And the average mesothelioma life expectancy is little more than one year – even though this condition can be treated successfully with proper early diagnosis.
We can do better. We owe it to those who’ve served selflessly for our nation.
Right now, we can stand together as a country to raise awareness of these conditions and their link to our troops. Each of us has the power to support those who are suffering today – or may face these lethal conditions in the future.
It starts by paying more attention to the plight of our soldiers. But we can make bigger changes. We can support policies that make diagnosis and treatment more accessible. We can help raise awareness about the symptoms of these “hidden” wounds. And we can work to prevent fatalities among our troops – not only one frontlines, but also here on the home front.
Our troops and their families are willing to sacrifice everything in service to our nation. They deserve a unified America doing its best to support and heal them, when they need it.
Shine a Light By Sharing This Message
Numerous organizations can put our time, talent and funding to good use in making healing a reality. For example, the Wounded Warrior Project and the Fisher House do groundbreaking work to help troops rehabilitate and recover. They welcome all forms of assistance.
Also, organizations like the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America provide fantastic resources to connect struggling veterans with health benefits, job opportunities and community support. Or, if you unsure what you can do to help, your local Veteran’s Administration office is also a good place to start.
At the very least, perhaps you can start right now – simply by passing this message along to others you know.
Knowledge is power. And the more of us who know about PTSD, TBI and mesothelioma, the more powerful we can be in exposing and healing these “invisible” wounds of war.