Treating Our Veterans is the Least We Can Do

Monday, March 14th, 2011

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.

Tommy Gallagher
Phoenix House Military Services Advisory Board Member

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  • What a powerful email. It is all too easy for most of us to go about our day to day lives without thinking about the impact that a service member’s deployment has on extended family members. Thank you for reminding us that the whole communty has an obligation to help…..

  • Thank you for addressing our country’s next mental health epidemic–the visible and invisible wounds of being a warrior, or the spouse or child of a warrior. We train our soldiers to function under extraordinarily stressful, dehumanizing, and horrific conditions, and they need more help “switching gears” once they are safely home. Our brains are amazing instruments–they recalibrate to allow us to survive extreme circumstances–but they sometimes need help “downshifting” to normal levels of vigilance and self-regulation. Without appropriate mental health services, soldiers understandably turn to substances to perform those functions. We owe our military personnel no less than the best support available to help them resume their civilian lives. And I agree with Tommy Gallagher that a failure to do so affects every American, not just those who serve. Thanks for shining light on such an important issue.

  • Thank you for supporting our Nation’s Warriors.

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