‘Help Wanted’ for America’s heroes

'Help Wanted' for America's heroes

Lara Solt/Dallas Morning News/MCT

Squad leader Eric Morante, left, says goodbye to Anthony “Doc” Thompson in his hospital room after a surprise reunion of the “Bridge Marines” at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange, New Jersey in December 2009. Eric told Doc, “It’s pretty good seeing you man, with your eyes open Doc. I know you hear me, I’m just waiting for the day for you to come back out, completely.”

Josie Little, Mary Green, Asst. Editor, Editor-in-Chief

Veterans Day Special Feature:

One of the most pressing issue facing veterans today is not broken bones or healing wounds but mental health issues. As a result of the stresses of combat, veterans face a litany of psychological afflictions. Among the most prominent are posttraumatic stress disorder, suicidal tendencies, and addiction.

Posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, an anxiety disorder that develops after a traumatic event, is most often related to combat or military exposure. Its effects are manifested in flashbacks, hallucinations, or other vivid feelings of the event happening again as well as agitation and avoiding reminders of the painful experience. Young veternas are the most prone to developing this disease because of the increased likelihood that they are of low rank and face high exposure to combat situations.

Veterans also comprise a large segment of the population suffering from depression and posing a risk for suicide. There are a variety of factors related to age, enviornment, and culture that make some veterans more vulnerable to depression, but the signs are usually the same. Veterans at risk for suicide usually feel hopelessness and anxiety and exhibit behavior that is risky without thinking.

Former senator Senator Max Cleland, a veteran, said, “You can’t send young Americans to Iraq and Afghanistan … and expect them to come home and just fit right in. They bring that trauma with them.”

Substance abuse remains a problem related to stress-related illnesses. Veterans suffering from PTSD or depression may seek to numb their problems with alcohol or marijuana at a higher rate than the general population.

After returning home from war, many veterans also face unemployment and job scarcity issues.  This harsh situation rings ironic for many former soldiers, who fought for America overseas yet cannot find employment in many American job markets.

Kenya Smith, a retired Naval officer, described her own bleak circumstances.  “You go from being self-supportive, having a great income to now serving your country, fighting for your country, and then you get out, and now I’m homeless, all because I can’t find a job.”

Though the current unemployment crisis has hurt all varieties of Americans, veterans have been hit especially hard. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 11.7% of post-9/11 veterans do not currently hold a job, a figure greater than the national unemployment rate of 9.1%.  Many of these former soldiers have difficulty finding jobs because they are, in fact, overqualified for  the opportunities to which they apply.

Also, their skills attained while in service oftentimes do not translate to the skills and excperience sought by employers.  Though military expertise aids soldiers while serving in combat, it nonetheless does not help a veteran looking for a job in business or education.

Smith said, “A challenge [for me] was taking all of my military experience and putting it in layman’s terms so a civilian employer could understand what I did.”

The U.S. government provides some financial support for jobless vets through the Unemployment Compensation for Ex-Service Members (UCX) program.  However, this amount is deducted from the national unemployment compensation that the veterans would also receive as any unemployed American.  In essence, the veteran does not come out ahead by receiving this compensation.

The severe problems facing America’s veterans might make it seem that they are without hope. However, this is not the case. Throughout the country, government-run and privately operated organizations place helping veterans as their foremost priority. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs is one such organization. The fact remains, though, that more most be done to heal both the physical and psychological wounds of America’s heroes.