Editorial Column: The Walking Wounded

Florida Today

August 7, 2008 – Two weeks ago an important new part of helping Space Coast veterans opened its doors — and its arms.

It’s the Melbourne Veterans Center, a walk-in facility designed like other such clinics nationwide to aid returning Iraq-Afghanistan war veterans get faster access and treatment to heal the battlefield’s scars.

Two of which are invisible, crippling and potentially fatal:

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and traumatic brain injury, or TBI, which have become the signature wounds of the wars because of multiple combat tours and repeated exposure to roadside bombs.

A study released in April by the Rand Corp. found about 300,000 troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan — or 20 percent — are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or major depression. Another 320,000 are stricken with probable traumatic brain injuries.

Even worse, experts say the numbers will rise as the wars grind on and more veterans return home.

There is, however, some hopeful light amid the darkness of this tunnel.

The Pentagon is spending an unprecedented $300 million this summer to start extensive research on the PTSD and TBI with the money going to 171 research projects, according to USA Today.

Medical experts in brain trauma are hailing the work, saying it could result in new understanding of how to address the afflictions.

The newspaper said the research includes:

# Evaluating as many as 20 different medications for TBI and studying ways to regenerate damaged brain cells.

That could lead to more successful treatments to reverse permanent problems with memory loss and problem-solving abilities.

# Finding new ways to deliver therapy to PTSD victims living in remote areas and reducing the stigma that many veterans feel and which prevents them from seeking help.

That’s essential to stem the long-term consequences of PTSD that include drug and alcohol abuse, marital problems, divorce, unemployment and suicide.

The breakthroughs won’t come overnight. Officials say it will take 18 months to complete some studies and five years to finish others.

Still, the research is welcomed at Melbourne Veterans Center where counselors say word of it could help more vets realize there is help and seek it.

“Hopefully, it’s a motivation to have them come in for treatment,” says Jack Maloney, a Vietnam veteran and the center’s team leader, adding the studies may result in “stronger tools to use” in treatment.

The center — located at 2098 Sarno Road and reached at (321) 254-3410 — is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Upon request, services can be provided after hours or weekends. Counseling for family members also is available.

The men and women who have served — and continue to serve — in Iraq and Afghanistan have done everything asked of them and more. The new PTSD and TBI studies are another way of making sure they receive the health care they deserve in the years to come.

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