Dr. Mike: Remembering our Wounded Warriors on Veterans Day

Dr. Mike: Remembering our Wounded Warriors on Veterans Day

Remembering our Wounded Warriors on Veterans Day

Veterans Day is a time to honor those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, and it is also a time to reflect and remember with gratitude. America is a free and democratic nation today, and we as civilians are able to enjoy all that comes with freedom and democracy, in large part because of the courage, strength, sacrifices, and dedication of our service men and service women.

Veterans Day, in my opinion, is also a time to remember our humanity; to be compassionate and to give to those who need our compassion and benevolence most – our wounded warriors.

As a psychologist, I have had the honor of working with and serving many wounded warriors over the years; at times those wounds are visible in the form of a combat-related physical condition or disability, and at other times, while the wounds are deep, they are invisible and formless and instead involve combat-induced mental health struggles.

It is probably not a surprise to most that military service men and service women struggle with mental disorders at higher rates than civilians, but how much more might that be?  The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) afflicts 31% of Vietnam veterans, 10% of Gulf (Desert Storm) veterans and 11% of veterans of the Afghanistan war.  In 2014, the largest study ever conducted on mental health risk in the Army found that soldiers are also six times more likely to suffer from Intermittent Explosive Disorder and five times more likely to suffer from depression than civilians of similar demographics. Higher suicide rates and drug and alcohol abuse were also significant concerns from the 2014 collaboration between the U.S. Army and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Regarding suicide, another large-scale study in 2015 tracked soldiers serving in active duty from 2001 until 2009 and found that the suicide rate for soldiers to be roughly 50% higher than civilians with similar demographics.

Research has assessed the impact of deployments on children and families, and the findings are both concerning and upsetting. In 2013, a study published in the journal, Pediatrics, reported that nearly 2 million children have been separated from a parent on active duty over the past ten years. Of that group, the researchers found that children all of all ages have experienced increased rates of mental health struggles with emotional and behavioral problems worsening for children and adolescents when a parent’s deployment is prolonged or repeated.

Homelessness is also a problem for our veterans. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, between 529,000 and 840,000 veterans are homeless at some time during the year. And the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, reports that about 70% of homeless veterans suffer from substance abuse problems, and 45% of homeless veterans suffer from mental illness including PTSD. A lack of education, resources and supports, combat-related physical and mental health conditions and disabilities and substance abuse are the primary contributing factors for homelessness in veterans.

In our fast-paced and busy lives in Northern Virginia, it is often difficult for many of us to find the time to do the extra things we would like to do. But we should never be too busy to do the right thing. There are many ways to support our veterans that, in giving a little, would go a long way. Donations are always welcomed, and the Wounded Warrior Project is just one of many agencies that receive monetary donations.  Donations are accepted by visiting:  www.support.woundedwarriorproject.org

Volunteering your time to help a veteran is also a wonderful way to give back and Homes for Our Troops is a great organization.  You can learn more about that wonderful organization by visiting:  www.hfotusa.org

Veterans Day is also a great parenting opportunity. Planning a picnic, attending a parade or visiting monuments in D.C. this weekend can be a new family tradition and some nice ways to honor our veterans on Veterans Day. Visiting a veteran in the VA Hospital or spending time with a veteran in another way to give thanks is also a good thing; I have learned so much about what matters most in life from listening to the stories of veterans. Of course, flying the American Flag on Veterans Day is also a good tradition as a family. Even having your child write a letter or send pictures of praise and gratitude anonymously to veterans in recognition of their service and sacrifices through your nearest military installation would also be welcomed.