Last week, when I read on CNN that two Air Force soldiers had just been killed on a bus in Frankfurt, Germany, my anxiety level soared—my son is in the Air Force, and he is stationed in Frankfurt. Thankfully, I soon found out that my son wasn’t one of the victims of this tragedy. Still, the incident brought back painful memories of the previous year, when my son was doing a tour in Afghanistan. Every morning that year, I would go to my computer to check Google and CNN to see what was happening in the war, continuing to hope that my son was safe.
It seems as if few people are suffering the emotional scars of these two wars. Tonight, most people will be home relaxing, watching The Biggest Loser or Charlie Sheen’s on-screen ranting. Yet more than two million men and woman have been deployed to serve in Afghanistan and Iraq—and if you add their friends and family members, you can easily say that ten million out of 310 million are directly affected by these wars. The larger problem is that not all of those fighting for their country, or even those left at home, are able to deal with the experience in a healthy way. Many find that self-medication lessens their pain, makes it easier to sleep, or chases away their fears and memories. How else should one confront the image of one’s best friend being blown apart? How else can one forget the act of picking up scattered body parts to estimate the power of the IED that destroyed the people caught in its path?
A few of us from Phoenix House recently visited veterans from Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. These men and women have suffered extreme emotional damage. Because they were stationed where drugs were easily available, many of these veterans returned from combat already addicted to drugs. Meeting them and learning about their struggles helped us realize the desperate need for initiatives like Phoenix House’s Military Services Program. This program provides military personnel and their families with treatment and support services for a wide range of substance abuse and mental health problems, including Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The number of veterans and military personnel who need treatment is growing, and it is up to all of us to ensure that they get the help they need. If not, our society will face increased incidents of homelessness, family crisis, incarceration, and suicide. These consequences will not only affect our veterans and their friends and family; they will also affect the 300 million people who will be sitting on their couches tonight, waiting to find out who Donald Trump will fire next. It is our responsibility as a society to support our veterans, especially those with invisible wounds.
Phoenix House Military Services Advisory Board Member