Justin Savage | December 14, 2009
Every day in the news we are bombarded with stories and pictures of operations that continue in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet despite the heavy media coverage of our troops in combat, a large piece of the picture is often overlooked. Who’s watching after troops return, once we’re home, while we’re struggling or focused on trying to take the next natural steps in our lives? As it turns out, the battle isn’t over when we leave the battlefield. Many Veterans and active duty troops alike, struggle with the return to civilian life. While problems can be mild and manageable–nothing more than a little difficulty getting back into the swing of things–in many cases they can be debilitating. Recent studies show that over a third of Veterans are diagnosed with a combat stress-related behavioral health issue like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or major depression. Of those diagnosed, nearly half won’t seek any help Â– and half of those that do seek help don’t receive adequate care. The consequences of untreated behavioral health problems like PTSD can be grave. Compared to civilians, veterans living with PTSD are two times more likely to divorce, three times more likely to be unemployed and four times more likely to commit suicide. Deployment-related mental health issues are challenging to address from a warrior’s perspective and from the standpoint of those currently trying to solve this problem. Stigma is always a concern, and common symptoms like avoidance can keep returning troops from asking for help, or in some cases even leaving the house. Among those who are able to overcome the initial hurdles to seeking care, many are ultimately thwarted by logistical concerns like long drives to the nearest Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital or justifying time away from job and family commitments. And for those who can make it to a VA Hospital, they are often met with waiting rooms or waiting lists, keeping some months away from an appointment to see a mental health professional. Veterans and the current system need new tools to meet the mental health epidemic among our troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.