February 27, 2017, by David McCauley – U.S. military service members hold an important role in protecting our nation and people. In order to do this, they sacrifice much – sometimes up to and including their lives. For the men and women coming home, fighting America’s battles can leave scars, and not all of them are visible. When servicemen and women carry physical and emotional wounds suffered while defending the rest of us at home, we too must do our part to support them. Each of us can take an important role in watching over the watchdogs who protected us.
Some common conditions that returning veterans suffer from include depression, anxiety, survivor’s guilt, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Those suffering from these conditions may not recognize it in themselves, while others may refrain from seeking counseling or assistance. Providing veterans and their families with the treatment they need to work through these conditions is vital. There are 19.3 million veterans in the United States. 3.8 million of them have been diagnosed with service-connected disabilities and conditions, while an unknown number go untreated.
Nearly 20 veterans commit suicide daily, according to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released in July 2016. The researchers who conducted the study found that veterans have a 21% higher risk of suicide than civilians. Research also found that nearly 70% of those who committed suicide were not regularly receiving services from the VA. The reasons for this are varied but is often rooted in the idea that veterans must deal with own problems and be tough. Because of the requirements placed upon them to be strong and unwavering, some veterans return home in the same mindset and may not know how to ask for help. Others might believe that they shouldn’t need help. Among mental health practitioners, this is called ‘self-stigma’.
When veterans internalize negative views about themselves or their conduct, it can lead to poor quality of life and the worsening of many of the above-listed conditions. What this means is that some veterans who are suffering from PTSD or other conditions might refuse to seek treatment because of their belief that a service member must remain strong. In turn, this relates to the belief that to have any of these problems means weakness, when it isn’t. Understanding military culture helps mental health providers connect with suffering veterans and help overcome this self-stigmatization. Veterans are deserving of help and treatment, especially because of the sacrifices they have made.
It isn’t weakness to ask for help. Advocates and supporters of veterans, as well as their brothers and sisters-in-arms, must each take responsibility for the culture that sometimes encourages brave men and women to hide the difficulties they face. An open and active dialogue is necessary to ensure that every person who puts their name on that dotted line and agrees to defend this nation receives the care and help they deserve. These brave men and women have served as watchdogs for years, sometimes even decades. It’s time for us all watch over them and ensure they receive the care they deserve.
About the Author: D.M. McCauley is a former U.S. Navy sailor who worked in Intel. After the service, he has dedicated his time to writing and traveling with his significant other.