November 10, 2007 – Tomorrow is set aside to honor all those who have served in the nation’s armed forces. Always celebrated on Nov. 11, Veterans Day was originally called Armistice Day to commemorate the end of World War I, which took place at the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month in 1918. A year later, Armistice Day was proclaimed. In 1954, Congress changed the name to Veterans Day.
So the question today is, “Are we honoring our veterans?” Certainly we did a poor job of this when the Vietnam War ended. On the surface it appears that no matter what one’s views on the Iraq war are, our veterans are being respected. But are they really? As I read the reports about the health needs of our military personnel and their families, I am not alone in determining that we are not respecting our veterans. Our vets and their families are in need of medical attention and to allow this need to continue without adequately dealing with it is shameful.
A report of the American Psychological Association (APA) published on www.medicalnewstoday.com calls attention to the increasing mental health needs of military personnel and their families. The report, developed by an APA Presidential Task Force on Military Deployment Services for Youth, Families and Service Members, notes that while service delivery efforts by individual military mental health providers are laudable, the military system falls short in its ability to meet the psychological health needs of deployed personnel and their families.
This is a sad statement. Our young men and women go off to war and suffer tremendous trauma and stress. Their families are under stress each day as they wonder if their loved one is dead or alive. Finances are tight. Mothers are left to raise babies without spouses and vice versa. In some instances both parents are gone. When a vet returns and is struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), everyone in his or her family also is struggling with the resulting depression, illness, violent behavior, and even suicide. And yet far too many of these vets and their families are ignored.
According to Iraq Veterans against the War (www.ivaw.org) many of our troops have already been deployed to Iraq for two, three, and even four tours of duty averaging eleven months each. Combat stress, exhaustion, and bearing witness to the horrors of war contribute to PTSD. Depleted uranium, Lariam, insufficient body armor and infectious diseases are just a few of the health risks. Finally, upon a soldier’s release, the Veterans Administration is far too under-funded to fully deal with the magnitude of veterans in need.
One need not search too long to find too many instances in which our veterans’ needs are being brushed aside. Occasionally we see evidence in the headlines, but those headlines are the tip of a large iceberg. Not only do we involve our young men and women in a war that should never have been, but then we neglect them when they return in pain, struggling to get their lives back together again. As Americans we should all look hard at this reality as we seemingly celebrate Veterans Day tomorrow.
We can do better than this. We must do better than this. Our veterans deserve more. They deserve to be honored.
Mary Friedel-Hunt is a freelance writer, a publisher (Voice of the River Valley) and a licensed clinical social worker who has been a psychotherapist for 32 years. Her column runs weekly in WellBeing. You may contact her by writing to: P.O. Box 189, Lone Rock, WI. 53556.