Recently I had the privilege of accompanying Adam Cook, candidate for the congressional seat in the 1st District of the Common Wealth of Virginia, on his tour of the district to engage all veterans in need. Adam is a veteran himself, and I was invited to join him because of my experience as a special forces soldier and my past 10 years traveling to Iraq and Afghanistan as an embedded journalist for CNN.
We met soldiers from past wars, going back to WWII. We met many veterans from Vietnam who emotionally had not come home. We met wives and mothers who cried about the status of their sons and daughters, husbands, and fathers who were veterans of the last 10 years of constant combat.
A common thread of all these heartbreaking conversations was a lack of understanding about what is available in the form of education, assistance, and the nature of war -- how it fundamentally can change a person.
We immediately recognized that this lack of knowledge was wider than the 1st District. It was likely rampant across the nation. We knew we needed to get the word out about the programs that exist -- today -- to make their loved ones whole again.
Soldiers are returning in large numbers from the longest war in our nation's history. Besides the expected percentage who may present symptoms of post traumatic stress, there is a single signature injury from this war (Iraq and Afghanistan are two theaters of that war). That signature injury is mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), delivered by the very powerful Improvised Explosives Devices (IED's) which have killed thousands and wounded almost 18,000 service members.
The human brain is the consistency of gelatin and the force from the explosion shakes it ferociously. Many thousands of troops in Iraq [and Afghanistan] have felt the blast of an IED. If they are knocked unconscious, according to VA docs, they are evacuated to a field hospital for evaluation. But if they are not and if they do not complain of a problem, they remain on duty. -- "The signature wound of the Iraq war," Robert Bazell
Some troops have returned to duty, or claimed they are fine, just to out-process faster, and return to their families. This fast trip home comes with dire consequences for the wounded veteran with an invisible injury. We can see with our own eyes the terrible price many have paid, losing their arms, legs, or their vision.
But, there are many other injured men and women who don't have a visible scar who are no less injured. What can be done for them? How can Americans help?
Step one is event recognition. The veteran needs to have a brain scan if he/she was in an IED incident; it is the only clear way to know besides an autopsy.
Step two is the family. They must educate themselves on the wartime experience of their returning veteran, and learn about the programs in existence that can help, starting today, minutes after you read this post.
Step three is reintegration training -- socially, physically, emotionally. There are many qualified veteran service organizations standing by to welcome your veteran home, and assist.
Adam Cook turned to me during our fact-finding tour and tasked me to provide him with a list of what is available and credible on the Internet, now, that every citizen in his district might have access to, immediately.
I am providing that list in this opinion piece today, in hopes that it can be given the widest dissemination possible to reach every family member in need and each veteran who has returned. These links will guide you to immediate tools to help the process of returning home.
These links do not replace the help available from a trained caseworker, or physician, but they do educate the family and veteran so that the caseworker or doctor can accelerate their efforts in tracking the vet, preventing suicide, homelessness and hopelessness.
That is half the battle! We can all act on this knowledge.
What can every American do, today?
Send these links to every friend, relative and acquaintance you know, every veteran service organization and church in your district, homeless shelters, hospitals, to other health care professionals. Study, educate yourself, then engage a veteran and listen to his unique story; they will all be different.
Share the knowledge. It will take all of us to welcome our veterans home and partake in their national assimilation into the next chapter of the greatest generation.
Please act. Intention is everything!
Philanthropy - http://www.cnas.org/investinginthebest
Business case for Hiring Veterans - http://vets.syr.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/The-Business-Case-for-Hiring-a-Veteran-3-6-124.pdf
Veterans Employment Challenges: http://www.prudential.com/documents/public/VeteransEmploymentChallenges.pdf
Ken Robinson is a former Ranger and Green Beret (special forces officer), an entrepreneur, writer and producer, and an inductee in the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame.