A Super MAC for Our Vets

In the recent weeks, we have seen several 2016 presidential candidates announce the start of their campaigns. It is estimated that at least $1 billion will be spent on the 2016 election cycle. In 2012, over $600 million was wasted by Super PACs (Political Action Committees), primarily on attack ads. What we really need is a Super PAC for our veterans because they have not only made sacrifices to defend our way of life, but they desperately need it.

My concern for the veterans' community started with my awareness about the increasing number of neurological issues facing my fellow football alums and the lack of accessible care that former players are receiving. Almost ten years ago, I was badly injured after a collision in my final game in pro football that left me temporally paralyzed from the neck down for six months. I suffered through a long and painful recovery until a therapist at the hospital where I was being treated, suggested meditation and conscience breathing. I eventually added yoga to my routine and was able to not only heal my body but my mind, as well. Since then, I have been advocating for dynamic approach to care that promotes both physical and mental health.

Neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease, dementia, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to traumatic brain injury and other chemical and biological hazards are major issues affecting football players as well as returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. According to the most recent data from the VA, approximately 30 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans accessing care were diagnosed with PTSD. New evidence from the VA also suggests that military mental health providers use PTSD diagnoses to help returning soldiers receive assistance with the variety of problems they face while reintegrating into their families and communities: joblessness, isolation, and drug and alcohol addictions among them. Veterans need many forms of financial and health care support to deal with a range of injuries -- psychological and physical.

As a son of a veteran I know all too well that the true physical and emotional cost of war is astounding. The VA has processed 970,000 claims for disability but that number is misleading because some of the neurological issues remain dormant or more likely undiagnosed for a number of years until that person hits rock bottom. The issue is that our veterans face obstacles in receiving care due to a variety of problems: inadequate funding, overwhelming demand for health care and social services, the military's arbitrary restrictions on allowing civilian health care providers to step forward and participate in military insurance programs, the public's lack of understanding of what returning veterans have gone through, and the military's offloading of care onto family members without compensating them.

That is why I sought the help of Dr. Ray Dorsey, a neurologist at University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) who has pioneered the use of telemedicine for Parkinson's disease. URMC is considered to be one of the top neurological hospitals in the world. The doctors personally practice yoga and meditation and recommend it to their patients. Together we have created a care plan with an emphasis on marrying holistic and western medicine to treat both military veterans and former NFL players. Our goal is to help them assimilate into society, improve their personal relationships with family members, and increase the success rate and outcomes from these traumas.

I am leading the mindful revolution along with my close friend Congressman Tim Ryan, who has also advocated for veterans with neurodegenerative and cognitive disorders. On May 1, 2015, I will be joining Congressman Ryan and other members of the Capitol Hill community to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month in the first-ever "Yoga on the Hill" event aimed to promote physical and mental wellness for our veterans. Simply put, we have the knowledge, the medical talent and technology to really help our veterans. I am proposing that we create our own version of a PAC and call it a MAC (Mindfulness Action Committee) that puts money to good use and leads to health and prosperity for our veterans. Let us all join the Mindful Revolution 2.0 and make it a really super MAC.

Keith Mitchell is a former all-pro NFL player turned yogi that works with military veterans, current and former athletes, and children and teens at risk through his Light It Up Foundation.www.keithmitchell59.com