As military spending comprises the majority of the United States budget and there are correlations between politics, history, war, the economy, economic status, wellbeing and health, U.S. military life, despite having a distinct and largely separate operating system as well as a seemingly consuming yet completely segregated presence, will at some point, inevitably, touch the life of every person living in the United States. As the end of Summer descend begins and we feel the change, that faster pace the Fall inevitably brings, this piece pauses to reflect upon the future of the United States Military, three specific areas of interest and importance, and the challenges and opportunities within this entity and its related populations.
Wellbeing, Deployment of U.S. Active Duty/Reservists And A Future Draft
While the over two million active duty and reserve status service members across the five U.S. military branches account for "less than one percent" of the approximately 309 million people that comprise the total U.S. population per National Public Radio statistical data, this figure diminishes the actual reach of the U.S. military, which extends further, permeating the lives of millions of people. For example, while the U.S. Veteran population consists of over 22 million men and women who have served this country per the VA (May 2016), this figure does not include their family, which when combined totals approximately three times that amount at 63 million, or more compelling, 20 percent of the U.S. population. In fact, when including civilian Department of Defense (DoD) employees, active duty and reserve populations located in over 150 nations, the DoD are the largest employer in the country (DoD, 2015). Still, despite these astronomical figures and no true major spending cuts in sight, there is growing concern that active and reserve forces are being over-utilized and over-deployed even with recent policy change to official permit women to participate in combat, a process that began integration in 2013 with formal policy changes in 2015.
For the first time in history, the United States' overseas anti-terrorism contingency operations have been carried out without the use of a draft for over four decades with military service participation and recruitment met solely via a volunteer basis. Following the 9-11 attacks, the U.S. amply deployed over one million service men and women to carry out Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) within the first four years. Today, data indicate that the Gulf War Veteran population has reached 7.3 million, officially surpassing the 7.1 million of the Vietnam War period per the VA (2016) with almost one million active component service members.. diagnosed with at least one mental disorder... during the years 2000 through 2011. This data begs the question whether multi deployments or other factors, such as efforts to end the stigma related to accessing mental health disorders can better explain why these diagnoses have risen by approximately 65 percent in the last twelve years, with females and all genders under age thirty, reporting higher rates and what the DoD intends to do should our military workforce, which has been characterized as "smaller" (Pew Research Center, 2011) shrink even further. Moreover, as research affirms that combat exposure "increases the risk of substance abuse disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, major depression and tobacco use," 40% of active duty members are under age 25 (Business Insider, 2014) examination and implementation of neuroscience data which confirms the brain has not completed development is becoming increasingly timely and relevant.
Given the significant mental health disorder spikes, as well as the "unprecedented" increased rates of suicide in the military, both reported within the last decade , it is clear that the issue of mental health in the coming decade and how to best meet the needs and help heal these growing military populations will be unavoidable, particularly as suicide has also begun to outnumber combat fatalities in recent years. This potential impasse between the hierarchal macro and micro systems within the military could present an opportunity to end all barriers to treatment but also embrace this data, which demonstrates that clearly this generation of service women and men are bold and unafraid to incorporate into their value system and "norms," mental health tools and products that will best prepare her/himfor one of life's most devastating and destructive traumas, war. These statistics can also represent a chance to psychoeducate about the fact that no American over the course of their lifetime is immune from encountering a mental health issue and that obtaining more knowledge about mental health best practices to address overall health, strength and wellness are an essential component of rest and recuperation as well as a welcomed addition to tribe culture especially when there is data that readily confirms that the mind is connected to the body, which are both forms of weapons our military need to access during times of War, and maintain during times of peace/rest. While these military mental health statistics do create a pause in which to contemplate why these figures exponentially increased, it is also a chance to reshape and redefine the military's development and definition of a "strong and stable identity." This next decade could prove to be an incredibly exciting point in history as neuroscience breakthroughs shed more light regarding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) issues.
Sexual Assault and Contemporary Society Well-Being
While women make up a smaller percentage both in Veteran populations at 9% per the VA (2016) and active duty forces at 15%, their wellbeing is important not only because many servicewoman identify as caretakers and/or parents but as military sexual assault has "risen by approximately 88%" since 2007, continually dismissing these crimes poses an incredible public safety issue via an entity that is supposed to create the precise opposite sense of wellbeing and safety. If the stories shared by sexual assault survivors are not enough to bring about policy change and consequences, then the data that affirms that rapists will most likely rape again needs to translated into tangible no tolerance policy with unequivocally guilty violators immediately dishonorably discharged and without access to taxpaying military benefits. It should matter that the nation's most honorable are perpetrating the most damaging acts of violence against their own and possibly society. Military populations need to be educated that an inability to control one's sexuality is a developmental defect and a sign of weakness and not at all a part of "masculine norms." As survivors are unaware of the best way to report and document sexual assault, this is also a timely opportunity for advocacy of overdue system resolutions and closure.
Emotional Impact Awareness
These issues can affect any one of us, both on a professional and personal level; it is painful to see the most honorable of populations suffer and sacrifice their lives and wellbeing further particularly when there is a litany of solutions to consider. As sexual assault is an incredibly emotional and disturbing issue to occur among team units that are supposed to be centered on trust, a range of emotions, especially if one has a military background, arise and need to resolved. Moreover, continual denial of these well-founded crimes cannot go on endlessly as public safety issues possibly intensify not to mention that civilian populations collectively acknowledge and support that these populations undeniably deserve tangible and swift justice and safety.
New Insights and Aspects
It is incredible that despite these statistics, combat Veterans often report higher incidences of Post Traumatic Growth (PTG) and/or that PTG has helped reduce the possibility for PTSD. According to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte Department of Psychology, PTG is defined as "a positive change experienced as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or a traumatic event." For more information regarding this amazing, occurring phenomenon, please visit this link. As 20 percent of the 1.1 million active military surveyed, are on medication but are not actively prescribed therapy (van, d.K, 2015), this data also presents the chance to incorporate the now evidence based and revolutionary treatments such as Eye Motion Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) but also arm families and military members with resources and the variety of options available to them as well as the very real possibility for PTG. Moreover, with the implementation of the Team Based Treatment/Patient Aligned Care Team (PACT) model by the VA now presents the ability to provide our military with holistic, wrap around service care in a single visit per The VA (2015).
Future Practices and Influence of These Insights
From a historical perspective, as "in many cases data...has not been studied...for OEF/OIF Veterans, these findings affirm the possibility to positively alter history by not replicating the minimal efforts of the Vietnam Era in which social workers and doctors did not have best practices readily at hand. The fact that the VA continues to actively deconstruct Vietnam populations and PTSD issues is evidence that the military seems to be evolving and committed to correcting past ineffective and at times, non-existent treatment choices (van, d. K. ,2015 ). Also, while fewer fatalities have occurred, injuries have dramatically increased from previous generations at a ratio of 7:1 per Pew Research Center (2011), which could further pose the need for more service members and social workers along with a variety of interventions to address this potential spectrum of ailments.
The manner and degree in which the United States cares for and regards its military force impacts and sets a standard regarding humanity and well being for the rest of the world. With neuroscience data continuously evolving, social workers have the opportunity to access the most revolutionary treatments available in our time while simultaneously healing our nation's every day heroes, our military and their families.