We are fighting a hidden war with a hidden enemy.
Our leaders and most media outlets refuse to show the full face of this war. We're barely able to make out the form of our veiled enemy. Or even that of our supposed friends. We see no coffins. We see none of the wounded. We're shown none of the grief taking place at military bases across the country as loved ones return from combat in various states of disrepair.
Yet, another enemy lurks just beyond our gaze.
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It's a brutally personal, deeply buried adversary. You and I may know very little about its existence, but many of our returning combat veterans are intimately acquainted with this interloper. Its name is post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD], and currently at least 19,000 OEF and OIF soldiers have been diagnosed with this debilitating brain condition which overloads the nervous system.
GLORY AND REALITY
From the advent of war, the warrior has been a mythic figure in the public realm.
Honored and glorified, a nation's soldiers are larger than life (and often even larger in death). Think WWI's Daniel ("Dan") Daly. Or WWII's Audie Murphy. Even the Hollywood version of `soldier' (in the form of John Wayne or Gregory Peck) reinforces for us what a real war hero should look and act like. These stoic protectors and heroic battles are given a special place in the national consciousness - especially during a time of war. Unfortunately, as noble a cause these notions may (or may not) serve, a few important details are conveniently discarded from view.
War is hell.
Pulled into battle by geopolitical forces much larger than themselves, the cross-section of soldiers in our military is as varied as that found in the general population. Each individual, though highly trained, is no less mortal or human. The diverse personal experiences they bring to the military; their physical nature; their genetic make-up, and their psychological strengths and weaknesses - all of these characteristics influence a soldier's wartime experience creating unique responses and outcomes for each man or woman serving in uniform.
The Department of Veterans Affairs Iraq War Clinician Guide [Chap. III, p.31] states:
"[O]ver time, soldiers develop a belief system (schema) about themselves, their role in the military, the military culture, etc. War can be traumatizing not only because of specific terrorizing or grotesque war-zone experiences but also due to dashed or painfully shattered expectations and beliefs about perceived coping capabilities, military identity, and so forth. As a result, soldiers who present for care in VA Medical Centers may be disillusioned in one way or another."
The answer to this is in proper post-deployment attention and care. And good medical care doesn't come for free. A properly funded military health care budget should be a top priority of our government; yet, with a federal budget in disarray and an administration that continues to talk the talk -- but not walk the walk -- ensuring our veterans receive the very best care upon their return home becomes much more elusive. And much more scandalous.
We must take this issue on ourselves, then. We must become more vocal. We must be the defenders of our nation's defenders. We, the People must do right by our troops.
Senator John Kerry recently had this to say regarding this issue on Daily Kos:
Of all the things I've thought most about over the last year since the election, what's most disgusting to me is how ignored and forgotten and discarded the people I fought for have been by Washington. I'd love to have a debate about whether patriotism is giving speeches about veterans and then having a 1.2 billion dollar hole in our veterans budget, or whether it's actually going out and providing for veterans who come home from a war with all kinds of scars from the battlefield, visible or invisible.
There's a lot more we need to do, but it will only happen if we raise hell about it and organize around it. I intoduced a Military Family's Bill of Rights as legislation in this Congress and I've been able -- piece meal -- to pass parts of it to do things like improve housing benefits and death benefits for military families. But talking about PTSD and funding treatment programs and counseling programs is something Washington remains pathetically incompetent at really getting done. It requires pressure -- real pressure -- to do it. Please follow what I'm doing on it, and what people like Rep Lane Evans and others are doing on it because we really need your voice on it. 2006 will be a moment of accountability on this issue if we make it so, and we can especially with so many Iraq War vets running as Democrats.
by John Kerry on Sat Jan 21, 2006 at 12:38:56 PM CST
Our brave fighting men and women give their all to the nation they serve. They come from Nebraska, and Pennsylvania, New Mexico, and New York. All 50 states -- as well as from foreign shores -- to fight as one in the greatest military force on earth. After the warrior completes his mission, however, it's easy for them to fade out of our view. There are no more parades. No more speeches on bravery and sacrifice given in their honor. The task of folding back into society and home life is solely their own. Yet, veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder are still in battle, though the battlefield is no longer visible to us.
As veterans from previous wars have borne out, those suffering from shell shock or PTSD end up fighting a private, personal war on their return to us. The consequences are enormous, as the effect is felt in entire families and communities across the country. The PTSD battle may be private and personal, but it should never be solitary. A nation has a responsibility of supporting its troops - be they actively fighting overseas in our name, or returned to us to live out their days in the peace and freedom they so valiantly fought to preserve.
History has shown societies may be unkind to their returning veterans. Often, their sacrifices are too quickly forgotten. Their needs not fully met. Let's refuse to make that unpardonable mistake.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Representative Lane Evans and Senator John Kerry have introduced legislation favorable (yet slow-moving) to help with PTSD and veterans' health care in general. Please consider contacting their offices (click on their names) and thank them. And consider asking your own district/state leaders to support their work.
Monday, February 20, 2006
We are fighting a hidden war with a hidden enemy.