It was about 9 years ago. I decided to put down the rifle and pick up the DSM. You see, I was an infantryman since I was age 17. That means, since I was a child, I was literally trained to kill people. Looking back at it, that sounds like a profound concept.
I am proud of my time in the military. I am proud of my brothers and sisters who have ever answered the call. But… I am also worried.
As I said, 9 years ago, I decided to change my path. I didn’t realize where that path would lead. I seen multiple traumas and death happen to my fellow comrades. I went through some trauma myself, but I still worried about others more than myself. So, I decided to become a Mental Health Specialist in the military.
It’s been a long road going from Infantryman to Social Worker. There are a lot of learned attitudes and behaviors I had to change. Can you believe it? I literally had to learn empathy. And that took a long time.
Just about anyone in the military knows that drinking alcohol is a part of the lifestyle. Everyone I looked up to drank and considered me a p**sy if I didn’t. So… when I was sent to Germany back in the early 2000’s as a 19 year old kid, you better believe I drank. It was legal!
Looking back at my adventures between then and now, I don’t regret a thing. Yes, there were many embarrassing moments, and I have lost many friends along the way. I also met some great people. My alcohol use made my path rockier than anything else.
Many others have had this experience as well. Between 1998 and 2008, binge drinking went from 35% to 47% of veterans, and 27% of that 47% experienced combat.
Between 2002 and 2008, misuse of opiate prescriptions went from 2 percent to 11 percent in the military. These prescriptions were mostly due to injuries sustained in combat, as well as the strain of carrying heavy equipment.
This concerns me. When I was young, I had a good time. Looking back, maybe it wasn’t.This might not be every veteran’s experience, but the culture encouraged substance use and discouraged getting help. There are others that would agree with me.
This could explain why 20 veterans a day on average commit suicide. This is actually down from 22 a day before the 2014 study from the VA. However, it is a 32% increase since 2001. In 2014, veteran suicides accounted for 8.5% of U.S.’s adult suicides, and the rates were especially high among 19-29 year old compared to the older generation.
Let’s not forget about the infamy of PTSD. Up to twenty percent of veterans have suffered from this. Of course, those who suffer are more likely to admit their distress to a computer program than a battle buddy or their superior. This, again, goes with the constant culture that causes our military to fear judgment.
These wars have been a constant the last two decades, and have cost all U.S. citizens a pretty penny. According to one report, the VA spends $59 billion a year on health care. This number is 3 times as much as it was since before 2002.
And let’s not forget the cost this country has incurred for being in war for this long. Well, we don’t really know an exact number. The cost is estimated by many to be in the billions or even trillions. This isn’t including the interest from borrowed money.
So, after looking at all these figures, I am overwhelmed. How can I even make a dent in helping our nation’s veterans? The current administration is planning on increasing our presence in war zones. I am expecting the rate of PTSD and suicide to increase once again. Also, our country will continue to spend. It seems to me that we are all participating in a death and mental illness factory. The thing is, I didn’t even get to the physical injuries many of our combatants have suffered from.
I love our nation’s military. I want every one of them to know that I am here to support them. But most of all, we all need to be here to support each other.