Beyond the Battlefield: Helping Veterans

Brian M Murray, MS, IMH

Over the past 11 years our nation has been at war. As of 9/30/2011 the Department of Veteran Affairs reported there is an estimated 22,234,000 United States military veterans. To put this in perspective the world’s largest military force according to the CIA Factbook, China, has 2,250,000 active duty personnel. The United States has an all active duty personnel at 1,450,000. The point is the United States has an enormous veteran population and most people know someone who has served or know someone associated with someone who has served.

The United States Army is reporting that in the first part of 2012 that suicide rates are at an all time high. This impact is being felt among all ranks and all socio-economic-cultural backgrounds. This is not limited to the guys on the front line trading bullets. The impact, stress and trauma of 11 years of war are deep and are reaching upper echelon. It would behoove the Veterans Administration to have a contingency plan gathering resources to offset and counter the assault that is currently taking place in their mental health departments. Their hiring practices have filters that screen out solid professionally licensed therapists that could be helping a lot more veterans than they already do. Almost 1/3rd of the 1.64 million returning service members are reporting mental health problems. The RAND Center for Military Health Policy Research in 2008 reported at that time that there were 300,000 veterans with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and/or Major Depression and as many as 320,000 have experienced a Traumatic Brain Injury.

As an Infantryman and team leader I was taught the value of teamwork and how collectively helping each other creates cohesion and confidence. When others fall you help pick them up and keeping going, you keep fighting and you never quit. It’s dirty, it’s bloody and it’s painful, but you keep going. The idea is if one person quits it can cost the lives of the entire unit.

Awareness of what a fellow veteran might be experiencing is imperative and calls for community effort and teamwork. Knowing there are over 22 million veterans’ living among us is a staggering figure. While not all of them may have combat related problems or been through a combat scenario never discount that possibility. The threat of life is all it takes to have PTSD. Many veterans are humble about their service and do not share details about what they have experienced, and for good reason. Many of them do not want to recall the memories of past trauma and start reliving those memories they have locked away.

Adjusting back to life at home can be difficult and takes time. To return from deep in the abyss of war and military culture is challenging. It is more than readjusting from military life to back home; it is about adjusting to a new place altogether in a place called home. The veteran often finds that the world they left has changed on many different levels and readjustment at times can seem like an impossible task. Be patient, be kind, give them thanks and time to heal.

If you know of a veteran who is struggling with life, using drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism, seems distant, isolates, avoids family and friends, appears lost in the world, angry or threatens suicide do not ignore it. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and press 1 for the Veterans Crisis Hotline. If the threat of suicide is imminent call 911 immediately.


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