As we honor Memorial Day for all the soldiers that gave their lives for this country. I wanted to take the time to honor the unseen casualties returning to our communities with PTSD. After more than 10 years of war, and multiple deployments it is no surprise that we are seeing an impact in our communities. Returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer much higher rates of suicide than the general population. We have not won the war on PTSD, as it rages on largely unseen in our communities. So what as a nation do we have to do to make sure our soldiers get the care that they need when they return home? First, we have to realize that this is a problem we have to face in our communities. The new VA suicide prevention hotline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255), recently reported that it's received more than 55,000 calls, averaging 120 per day, with about 22,000 callers saying they were veterans.
The statistics here are staggering but that just begins to tell the story of what we are facing.
Suicide Totals Active-duty military forces: 356 [plus another 31 suspected]
Veterans: 295 [plus another 139 not officially counted by DoD or VA]
356+295=651 OEF/OIF active-duty troop or veteran suicides. If we were to add in the 139 the DoD and the VA appear not to be counting (see note below), the figure rises to 790. And, if we add in the 31 suspected 2008 suicides still being investigated by the DoD, the number grows to 821. As of today, there have been over 4,700 U.S. OEF/OIF casualties. If we use the conservative suicide figure above of 651, doing the math, that translates to nearly 15 percent (13.82 to be exact) of our Afghanistan and Iraq war losses are as a result of suicide.
If we plug in the higher figure (821), the percentage jumps to over 17 percent (17.43).
We have to become better educated on what these returning soldiers go through when they return home. The police have to recognize the warning signs of PTSD and make sure that they respond appropriately. All communities should at least get a copy of the book Moving A Nation to Care: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and America's Returning Troops by Ilona Meagher. It is the least we can do to help our returning soldiers.
Coping with PTSD in family members can be a difficult thing to do. The effect of PTSD on family can be great. Studies have shown that families where a parent has PTSD are characterized by more anxiety, unhappiness, marital problems, and behavioral problems among children. Drug and alcohol abuse can become a problem for the families of trauma survivors. Family members may try to escape from bad feelings by using drugs or drinking. A spouse may spend time drinking with friends to avoid having to go home and face an angry parent or spouse. On the other hand, spouses sometimes abuse drugs or alcohol to keep their loved ones "company" when the survivor is drinking or using drugs to avoid trauma-related feelings.
These are just a few glimpses on how these returning veterans feel:
"You feel on edge. Nightmares keep coming back. Sudden noises make you jump. You're staying at home more and more."
"Even though I knew they were just fireworks on the 4th of July, to me they still sounded like incoming mortars. It took me right back to my deployment..."
"Driving down the roads in my home town, I found myself noticing every piece of debris, avoiding every pothole."
"When stress brought on flashbacks, I dealt with them by drinking them away. I considered it recreational drinking, but really I was self-medicating."
"I wanted to keep the war away from my family, but I brought the war with me every time I opened the door. It helps to talk with them about how I feel."
"I thought I was being brave by ignoring it. But I was really being brave by facing up to it."
Of course, we have gotten a lot smarter on recognizing the effects of PTSD; the veterans from Vietnam never even knew that they had it. But it is not good enough unless we have ways to treat every veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. Unless we do that then we are talking about losing more to the effects of suicide, depression, and anxiety. So let us really step up as a nation and care about our returning veterans. The war for them is not over, it comes with a price.
Goodbye to sticking our heads in the sand about PTSD.
Hello to raising awareness about PTSD.
Goodbye to communities not caring about PTSD.
Hello to communities raising awareness about PTSD.
Goodbye to families and veterans going it alone with PTSD.
Hello to families and veterans having the resources to get help with PTSD.