We've known for years that prolonged stress on the body manifests in dis-ease. What the VA is seeing in returning vets not only proves the point, but ups the ante. Doctors are seeing heart disease, obesity and diabetes much earlier than the norms. Also of concern are changes in the brains of vets who have experienced TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). All these, in addition to the PTSD that many multiple-deployment veterans bring home with them, mean that we've got a long-term problem that needs facing.
PTSD might seem like yesterday's news. It's been around since the Vietnam War ended in 1975, right? Not so fast. It was around, yes, but veterans were affected much earlier than that. Here at the National Veterans Foundation calls from Vets from WWII and Korea come in regularly. The historical record goes back much further than that.
Still, PTSD didn't gain full recognition as a diagnosis in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) until way later, in 1980. Since then it's been an uphill struggle to educate the medical profession, the insurance industry, and the public about it -- what it is, what it isn't, and the havoc it creates in individual lives, families and society at large.
Why am I telling you this? Because we're looking at a similar thing with vets returning from multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan: months without relief spent in high-alert, life threatening situations; Vets who've suffered the concussive effects of explosives detonating near them, who've had to remain in combat situations instead of having the time to heal.
Over the years we've seen how PTSD has played out in the lives of veterans, rippling out to their loved ones and even into the courts. We deal with it at the NVF 24/7. It just seems to me that we all need to get on board and get in front of the wave we know is headed our way. These returning vets will need a new kind of care, and they're going to need it for a long time.
What can you do? Stay abreast of veteran issues. Make sure your representatives hear from you on this. Support the non-governmental and community-based organizations that serve veterans.
If you know vets who are trying to readjust to civilian life, be willing to listen to their stories. Better, offer to advocate for them with the VA. A system as large as the VA is not easy to navigate. Imagine trying to do that with the loss of concentration and other unseen injuries that these returning vets bring home with them.
Last, talk it up. Be noisy. Tell your neighbor. Tell your friends, your fellow workers. This has got to stay front page news for us affect any change. We owe at least that to these men and women who put themselves in harm's way for our freedom.