Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Coming Veteran Mental Crisis?

Last Sunday, Sixty Minutes rebroadcast a very affecting piece on the growing population of American veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

You guys can read the text version :;contentBody NOTE: type it as one continuous address

. Some of the numbers are absolutely staggering. The VA told Sixty Minutes that there are already more than 9,000 Iraq and Afghanistan vets who’ve been homeless. Further, the unemployment rate among young returning veterans is about double the national average about 20%. Much of the blame for the high employment rate and homelessness is placed on the multiple redeployments to the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan where soldiers are subjected to repeated and sustained levels of combat stress and brain injuries from roadside bombs. These redeployments create layers and layers of trauma that build on top of each other. Three hundred thousand soldiers (out of estimated two million troops who’ve served in Afghanistan ) have already requested mental health services from the VA.

I hope I never have to experience the horrors these men and women know all too well and thanks to their sacrifice, I’m able to sit behind this computer screen writing this meaningless by comparison blog post. Many of these soldiers have seen their brothers and sisters in arms blown to bits from IED’s, and other unspeakable traumas. I share the worry of the psychologist interviewed for the Sixty Minutes story that the United States is not ready for the complex psychological and emotional challenges that our veterans face reintegrating into society. These men and woman sacrificed comfortable lives in America to protect us, but more than that they sacrificed the people they used to be. No one escapes war untouched. This is one of the unintended consequences of war, war is greater than guns and bullets, good guy on bad guy. Many of the soldiers who return home from war, psychologically haven’t left the battlefield behind. We need to help them, but I’m not sure we can.

The VA can only do so much with the limited government resources that have been provided them. It troubles me that something as delicate and immediate as our Veterans mental health could be left to a government bureaucracy, as bureaucracies have never been noted for speed. The problems are veterans face cannot wait for the bureaucracy to plod through it, particularly if the title wave of veterans materializes as predicted. I’m much afraid that the bureaucratic machinery will get bogged down, leaving a private sector that has been hammered by budget and staff cuts to pick up the slack. We don’t even have enough mental health facilities available for the existing base of people who need them, I’m mortified to consider how were going to deal with this crisis given our dismal track record in this field. But I do know that these people have given so much to us, I think we owe them this one.

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