While reading some news articles the other day I was dumbfounded, disappointed, and just down right disgusted. I have a bizarre love hate relationship with the news for obvious reasons.
But I came across a story I found to be upsetting. I am a mental illness advocate and by that I mean I care about mental illness. And not just about the illnesses as much as those that suffer from them. I should, since I too suffer from one.
What I came across was a staggering statistic about our American veterans. I knew what was going on was bad, but like many Americans I did not know just how bad. I don't know why we don't know this. I have no idea why this isn't plastered across the media, blatantly reported to the masses, or put in the forefront of our subconscious except that I have to believe that is being kept quiet due to stigma. That nasty little bugger gets in the way too many times and it is given too much power.
In World War I and II they called it shell shocked. In Nam the government pretended it didn't exist. We now are more familiar with it's newest term: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
A figure released from the Department of Veteran's Affairs stated that in 21 states or 40% of America they have found that we lose 22 veterans to suicide a day. 22....a day.....The data isn't as accurate as one would hope. After all, there are fifty states in the good ole US of A. There is no data for the other 30 states. And it doesn't take in to account veteran's who have been discharged dishonorably or the homeless veterans. But still at 22, I am devastated. To put it in better perspective 14% of suicides are said to be civilians. 30% are veteran's.
Now I don't know how this makes you feel but it pisses me off. First of all, our veterans were not suicidal when they joined. They were mentally healthy, physically healthy, and over all normal people joining up to a job. They go where we say. They do what we tell them to. The leave their families for months on end and put their lives on the line everyday...for us. Because we ask them to. Because we need them.
They go to places they have never expected to. They see things and are forced to do things that no one can forget, no one can come back from and be the same way they were before their deployment. They come back damaged and haunted and this is how we treat them. They leave a part of themselves over there and come back and are expected to just act normal.
They are supposed to go to the grocery store and pick up odds and ends and not think about the horrors of war. The loss of their brothers and sisters in arms. The blood and gore, the smells, the tastes, the absolute tragedy that war brings to the table. They are expected to come home and be the way they were before a part of them died in combat. They are expected to forget.
Forget things that we have been blessed never to have to see because they did it for us. They took the roll of soldier so we could sit behind our computer screens drinking our exotic lattes and eating our over priced croissants and mumble about how we are not patriotic or how we don't feel like soldiers deserve our utmost respect. Because we don't understand that without soldiers we would not be able to do those things. We forget what makes our lives the way they are. Someone died for those rights. Those soldiers coming back know more about tragedy, loss, and devastation than we could ever even hope to imagine.
They go through their daily lives haunted by the images and emotions. The smell of burning flesh. The taste of blood in their mouths. The dying words of a friend in pain. The having to take another's life. And we just sweep what they went through under the rug. They are supposed to just forget, but how does one forget what is to be human ? How does one forget the life leaving a brother's eyes? How does one forget humanity being ripped to shreds, or blown to pieces, or stolen away? How does one come from a place where every second is wrapped in danger and every moment is life or death and then just feel safe and secure because they get to come home and sit on the couch and watch television? One doesn't and to pretend otherwise ins't just foolish but ignorant as well.
We send our children, our brothers and sisters, our parents to war whole and then pretend that they haven't come home broken. And why? Who does pretending help? Well, I will tell you who it doesn't help. It doesn't help the 22 veteran's who kill themselves every day. One soldier for every 65 minutes. That is 8030 veteran's a year and frankly that is 8030 too many.
I could sit here and talk about how PTSD is a killer and how the fear that being labeled having a mental illness keeps many from getting help. I could sit here and discuss how that to receive such a diagnoses ends military careers and other law enforcement careers. I could sit here and blather on about how stigma keeps us sick, how fear keeps us from getting help, how it hurts even those of us that didn't get mental illness from war and yet what good does talking do?
I fail to understand how this is treated so calmly and nonchalantly. This is our friends, our family members, our neighbors suffering in silence and for what?
The president has issued more money into the programs that help diagnose the PTSD but what good is money if the programs are broken? Did you know if you have PTSD but they feel it was not because of combat experience then you are not covered and sometimes not even given the diagnoses of having it?
What the hell kind of law is that? Do you think that when that soldier went out of her fox hole to save a fellow veteran she paused to wonder if her healthcare was going to be covered? Or what about those that survived the first fort hood shooting. Did you know that many developed PTSD from that event but weren't covered because they did not receive PTSD from a combat mission?
I know it because one of the soldiers came back home after being wounded by the gunman ended up killing himself. Because he wasn't getting the care he deserved simply because he wasn't in Afghanistan when he was wounded. Because it wasn't a mission to survive the military compound...
I am dumbfounded and disgusted by the lack of compassion and understanding of PTSD. I am tired of hearing excuses as to how hard it is to diagnose and treat. I am tired of watching the suffering they go through get pushed aside while they kill themselves to just to find release. I am tired of hearing paltry excuses of why there is a two year waiting list to get disability filed for our veterans. Did they wait two years to loose a leg, an arm, or their mental health for us? What the hell is wrong with this picture?
They put their lives on the line for us and we do not do the same. We do not stand up and yell that this isn't right and it has to change!
I had a thought that the smart thing to do would be to treat every soldier for PTSD. Not the medications mind you(that would be for those that need it), but a therapeutic debriefing. Instead of amplifying the fear of the term mental illness we could just treat them for it and help them learn to reacclimate into society. It makes no sense to make soldiers go into a situation where they are forced to kill and then just pat them on the back and send them home. They need to be reintroduced little by little into certain situations so they can feel safe. So they can get the help they need. I could look up the statistics of soldiers that have PTSD but I don't bother because I don't believe they are accurate. A great deal of people do not seek help because to do so would kill their chances at certain careers and they are afraid that somehow a PTSD diagnoses is a character flaw or that it means they are weak. They want to cling to whatever normalcy they can grasp and they don't want to be thought of as broken. I do not think of them as broken. I think of them as human. I do not believe that a human can go to war and come back unfazed. People are just not built that way. It hurts them and it affects them and as their country we owe it to them to help.
Sure treating all soldiers for possible PTSD would cost more, but you go ask someone who's family member killed themselves if they wouldn't give anything to bring them back. If they wouldn't pay more to help other's not do the same. I know I would. And if we did that we could catch those that fall through the cracks and suffer in silence. We could end the stigma that surrounds the diagnoses of PTSD. We could help bring our soldiers home more whole than they are now. Less nightmares. Less flashbacks. Less walking through the house at night checking the perimeters for combatants. We could save marriages, and families, and even more importantly we could save lives. We could save 22 people a day.....Why isn't this being done?
In a time when we bring home more soldiers and walking wounded than in any other war our country has been in due to medical advances, why are we still operating the mental care the same as we did thirty years ago, or twenty years ago, or hell even five years ago? Why do we continue to ignore the plight of our veterans?
Make no mistake our soldiers carry deep ragged festering scars from combat whether they are visible to the naked eye or not and the deserve to be helped and treated just as much as if those scars were on their skin rather than in their minds. We sent them to do a job and they came back broken from that. We as a country did this to them and we as a country need to stop pretending that nothing is wrong. Something is very very wrong here and we need to fix it. We owe them everything, whether we see that clearly or not it does not make it untrue. We need to figure this out and quickly because while we wait, they die and that is totally unacceptable.
These people need to know that they are not alone. They are not invisible. They matter and their lives are important. They can go on and they can thrive. We owe it to them to give them the tools to do so.