As a mental health therapist it has been my privilege to work with some veterans of the Vietnam, Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars. Of course, from the news media, TV, and Internet, we know of their sacrifices and their willingness to risk their lives for their country. Since 9/11 hundreds of thousands have served, and many have paid with their lives or with serious life altering injuries. Other wounds equally serious, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), are less visible. About 20 percent of all those who have served in combat suffer from these disorders. PTSD and/or TBI can result in acute anxiety, depression, and/or cognitive impairment, which can impede work and the formation of healthy relationships that most of us take for granted.
While the Veterans Administration (VA) offers many services, due to the large number of veterans increasingly in need of care, there are a limited number of VA providers to render these services. What then can parents, brothers and sisters, cousins and friends of these courageous men and women do to pick up the slack and lend a helping hand? One thing we can do is to encourage them to share their stories without feeling they are being judged. Our veterans can be our teachers, communicating their experiences of war, and bearing witness to horrific events. Events like veterans losing close friends in combat, listening to the cries of wounded comrades, or having to kill to protect themselves or others even though the Judeo-Christian ethic teaches that killing is immoral. Their stories may be difficult hear, but instead of being told to “put the past behind them,” we should demonstrate a willingness and openness to listen to whatever they experienced. After all, a soldier can be removed from the immediacy of harms way, but the memories of what they have witnessed is not so easy to eradicate, nor should it always be.
What else can be done to help our warriors in arms? First of all, they should be honored every day for their service to their country, not just on patriotic holidays when patriotism is at a feverish pitch. We can also support organizations that support veteran causes like the Veterans of Foreign Wars or the Wounded Warrior Project. We can show support by either contributing financially or by direct service such as volunteering at veteran shelters, by mentoring, or just being a friend. Those of us in a position to hire should employ veterans for well-paying and challenging positions, which would aid in the rebuilding of those vets’ lives that have been disrupted by their service to their country.
It is time for us to unite together, pool our tremendous resources, and embrace in total mind, body, and spirit, the men and women who have served their country so valiantly. Let us attempt once and for all to minister to all wounds, visible as well as invisible.
• Barry Oblas, Ph.D., LCSW, is a mental health therapist practicing in Ahwatukee. Reach him at (602) 469-099 or www.DrOatFoothillscounseling.com.