On Wednesday, November 11, 2020, we celebrated Veterans Day – a public holiday held on the anniversary of the end of World War I to honor United States veterans and victims of all wars. As many of us live our comfortable lives – as comfortable as they can be in the midst of a pandemic – we often don’t recognize the struggles that many of our veterans are facing on a regular and daily basis.
Those who actively serve and return to civilian life often face a battle that, while much different than military service, can be just as difficult. Some have a hard time finding or maintaining a job. Many of our older veterans regularly must choose between medication and food each month. And for others, physical scars and ailments from combat leave them unable to return to life as it once was.
There is a growing epidemic in the country that involves mental health. While the pandemic didn’t help the approximately 40 million individuals who suffer from things like depression and anxiety, there is an invisible war that continues for many who have served their country.
The signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety vary from person to person, with some developing overwhelming sadness and others experiencing panic attacks on a regular basis due to stress or chemical/biological makeup. But, according to the Mayo Clinic, PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event – either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms of this condition can include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
Also known as “shell shock” during World War I and “combat fatigue” after World War II, the American Psychiatric Association states that about 3.5 percent of U.S. adults are affected by PTSD every year. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs breaks that down even further and says the number of veterans with PTSD varies by service area. For example, 11 to 20 percent of those who served during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD in a given year, about 12 percent of Gulf War Veterans suffer from the condition and about 30 percent of those who served during the Vietnam War have had PTSD in their lifetime.
Everyday stress following service in the military can exacerbate the condition, so it’s important for veterans to take the necessary steps to treat their condition with a few of the following suggestions:
Talk to a trusted physician about prescriptions that could help.
Stay away from drugs and alcohol.
Consider the benefits of therapy.
Work toward reducing stress by practicing meditation, taking mental health days and exercising regularly.
Contact the local Veterans Affairs office for valuable resources.
Connect with other veterans.
Call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.
And we, as family and friends of those who have served, can help, as well. Even youth can get involved in offering support to veterans who may be having a hard time adjusting to civilian life, or simply just to say “thank you” for your service. Check out the weekly column of our partner organization, LEAP Foundation DC, to see how you can brighten a veteran’s day.
And to all veterans: we thank you for your service.