One a day.
That's the suicide rate among military veterans, the highest ever recorded, as documented by the Pentagon earlier this year.
It is completely unacceptable.
As medical professionals strive to understand the reasons behind the fatalities, there is general consensus that traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress (PTS) are leading culprits.
Called the "invisible wounds" of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they are mostly caused by exposure to roadside bombs and IEDs (improvised explosive devices) used by the enemy to destroy men, machines and morale.
These injuries of the brain can burden a young veteran for the rest of his or her life - for decades. Not only does the veteran suffer, but so does the veteran's family - spouses, children and parents - as they struggle with daily chores that are scrambled by a brain that in some cases has been turned upside down and inside out.
But we are starting to understand why. And we are developing ways to help these young men and women in the fight of their lives.
The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund (IFHF) has been looking out for our military men and women for two decades. Originally founded to give grants to the families of deceased military heroes, we are now setting out to construct a set of nine centers that will diagnose and treat TBI and PTS at military bases all around the country.
We will take the treatment to the wounded, where they live, work and raise their families. By keeping them close to the people they live, science hopes they will seek treatment more readily for an injury that can carry the worst of stigmas, and respond better to treatment once they begin to receive care.
The first two of these NICoE (National Intrepid Center of Excellence) Satellite Centers are set to be completed this year, at Fort Belvoir, VA and Camp LeJeune, NC. The total effort - all nine centers - is expected to cost $100 million, all of which will come from private sources. The facilities will be gifted to the military upon completion.
The design and mission of the Satellite Centers are based on the original NICoE, opened in 2010 at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. Now operated by the Department of Defense, NICoE is the most advanced facility of its kind in the country, and is the center of the Armed Forces' efforts in researching, diagnosing and treating TBI, PTS and related injuries sustained by military personnel.
Our current campaign to support this construction effort, and to educate our citizens to the daily challenges our troops face, is called #MakeItVisible. We chose that name to illustrate how elusive both the injury and the cure is. Through social media and the internet, we are connecting each day with concerned citizens across our country who want to assist our men and women who have worn the cloth of our nation into battle. More information is available at www.makeitvisible.org.
As we turn the corner on the last decade of war, and young people deployed all over the world come home, it is up to us - the protected - to care for their long term needs. Especially for those who need help and who may be afraid to ask for it, we must extend ourselves to them, in the hour of their greatest need.
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