May 7, 2008 – Sometimes it amazes me how little logic the military really applies to the men and women who wear the uniform. Not just the individual branches, but the overall Department of Defense as well. Why should it take an independent agency doing a research study to inform DoD that our overburdened troops are suffering from unprecedented mental health issues?
To me, it should be obvious if you use some good old-fashioned common sense.
You have young adults, in their late teens and up, spending three and four tours in a combat zone within the span of a few years. How can that not affect the mental health of a normal person?
If it doesn’t, I would start to worry about the state of our young people as a whole.
An Associated Press article I read several weeks ago quoted numbers from a study done by the Rand Corporation that indicated up to 20 percent of our troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from major depression or post-traumatic stress.
And when I say combat vets, I don’t just mean those soldiers and Marines out on foot patrol. Every person who is sent into the war zone is exposed to life and death conditions every day, regardless of what their occupational specialty is.
No longer is the front line “out there” ahead of the column of troops — it is everywhere, on all sides. Even the supposedly safe areas are vulnerable to rocket and mortar attacks or to suicide bombers.
Soldiers who drive trucks are exposed to combat situations every time they convoy outside the wire.
Communications personnel and military police officers and supply troops who are off-duty are snatched up to provide extra security on convoys or to fill out squads on patrol because there aren’t enough infantry troops to cover it.
Nurses and medics are in the thick of battle, saving lives and risking their own.
And all these personnel are male and female. Gender has truly become irrelevant in the combat zone.
Women are winning the Silver Star for bravery in the face of battle. They are driving trucks, flying support missions, manning checkpoints and pulling security duty. This isn’t your father’s and grandfather’s war anymore. And that is truly my point here.
These are real people, such as the young mother who cannot drive during a thunderstorm because the noise terrifies her, bringing back images of mortar attacks and exploding bombs.
There is the vet who is panicked by the sound of a loud alarm going off. Perhaps saddest of all to me is the young Marine still on active duty who has been to Iraq four times at last count, twice because he volunteered to go back with units other than his own, because he is more comfortable there in the “sandbox” than he is back home.
The mental health issues facing this generation of warriors is unprecedented. So, the real question has to be: Are the DoD and the VA equipped to handle it?
I see Operation Iraqi Freedom vets every week in my office who are trying to cope with the struggles of being home, in a normal life. They are hesitant to reach out for mental health treatment because of the stigma that still is associated with it.
Not only must the branches of service address this, but we as a society must change our perceptions so that these vets do not feel ostracized.