Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and severe depression afflict at least one-fifth of U.S. veterans who fought in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. That amounts to 300,000 troops — a number greater than Toledo’s population.
Ensuring that men and women who have served this country honorably get the help they need to restore and maintain their mental and emotional health is a national obligation. Yet too often, that duty is ignored or compromised.
In a series of articles this month in The Blade, staff writer Federico Martinez reported on the struggles of veterans in northwest Ohio to cope with PTSD, depression, and traumatic brain injuries. He describes veterans who contemplated suicide to ease their mental agony; on average, one U.S. service member kills himself or herself each day.
The challenge can be even tougher for minority veterans, The Blade reported. They say their treatment can fail to take into account cultural differences and experiences with discrimination.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which operates a medical center in Ann Arbor, insists — credibly — that good mental-health treatment and therapy are available to returning veterans. Private groups such as Arms Forces offer crucial support to veterans as well.
But officials of the federal department concede that veterans and their families often don’t recognize PTSD, don’t know where to seek help, or equate asking for help with weakness, despite the department’s efforts to enhance community outreach. Lucas County’s Veterans Service Commission acts as a liaison between veterans and the federal bureaucracy and provides other vital services, yet the need continues to outstrip the available resources.
Those of us who have been spared exposure to life-or-death combat situations may find it hard to comprehend the nightmare of veterans who continue to grapple with the effects of battlefield shock. While advances in battlefield medicine now save the lives of many soldiers who previously would have died, they still must deal with the effects of their injuries, including brain trauma.
Veterans’ advocates say military officials often mislabel brain injuries as PTSD, which they say is cheaper to treat. They argue that treatment by Veterans Affairs therapists can lack compassion and understanding, and can cause veterans to feel abandoned and distrustful. Some veterans say that they were overmedicated, or engaged in self-medication, in a way that masked symptoms instead of dealing with them.
Such observations argue for a variety of approaches to treating PTSD. The Obama Administration and lawmakers of both parties must ensure that federal funding is adequate to address the needs of veterans and to find the right course of treatment for each one.
Expanding Ohio’s Medicaid program under the federal Affordable Care Act would provide health insurance to another 26,000 veterans across the state; that also could help veterans explore medical options. But the Republican-dominated General Assembly refuses to do so, because it is more important to GOP lawmakers not to offend extremists who hate Obamacare.
This nation owes a perpetual debt to the young men and women who fight its wars. Ensuring they get the proper treatment when they leave the war and return to “the world” is a big part of that debt.
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