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article imageOp-Ed: Afghanistan — The cost of war — Post traumatic stress disorder

By Karl Gotthardt     Mar 9, 2013 in Politics
Washington - Military casualties for the first two months of 2013 have been relatively low, with a total of ten NATO soldiers killed, of which six were American. With the war winding down what are the real costs of war in terms of mental illness of our veterans?
Just over 8,000 soldiers have been killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11. According the Pentagon more than 18,000 US soldiers have been wounded in action (WIA), 1144 in the first two months this year. This week one soldier was killed and another 12 wounded in action. What these figures don't reflect is the number of veterans that suffer from mental illness, commonly known as "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)."
The Royal Canadian Legion has a feature in its March/April Legion Magazine issue that deals with the subject extensively. The author, Sharon Adams focuses on a support group of veterans in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Veterans often live alone with PTSD and for the most part appear normal in their day to day life. While this support group wants to draw attention to the disorder, it wants to get the word out to their fellow veterans to seek help.
Andrew is hiding inside his jacket. He’s hunched over, clutching his gut, clearly in distress. He keeps his head down, his face obscured by a ball cap with an overly large bill. An early arrival, he’s snagged the chair in the corner across from the door, the safest chair in the room. It’s a small room, and at the moment it’s hot with anger.
Nine men—soldiers, sailors, airmen, veterans—have come to this meeting in Halifax to talk about living with PTSD—post-traumatic stress disorder. They’ve all got it, and they mean to talk about it, but can’t muster the right emotions at this moment. A few of the angriest have hijacked the conversation and can’t be moved from their litany of grievances against The System, whichever one they’re fighting or have fought. In a room full of strangers, it’s a useful shield to ward off the reopening of old wounds
According to the article, approximately 30,000 soldiers will leave the Canadian Forces over the next five years, of which one third are expected to have mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, addictions and sleep disorders. Of those 30,000 will have severe PTSD, No one knows how many cases go unreported.
In the United States, with more troops serving in Afghanistan, combined with multiple and longer tours, this is a much larger issue. According to NBC News 203,000 veterans were unemployed in February. A year ago that figure was 154,000. During the next 18 months, up to 66,000 US troops will be repatriated to the US, with many looking for a job. High unemployment, coupled with untreated mental illness can only be described as a national disgrace.
A government that sends young men and women to war has an obligation to look after them when the war ends. The reality looks different though. The attention of society is no longer focused on the war, the media has moved on to issues that sell news and magazines. Quite frankly politicians would like to keep it out of the headlines.
As reported in Digital Journal earlier this week, Colonel Pat Stogran (retired) is a long time advocate of veterans rights. He was appointed Veterans Ombudsman in 2006, but his contract was not renewed in 2010. Pat Stogran says that he is being treated for PTSD as a direct result of the shock he felt over Ottawa's treatment of disabled soldiers.
Stogran was a vocal advocate and was not shy about bringing his dissatisfaction with bureaucrats and politicians to the media. Although he was handpicked by the government to advocate on behalf of veterans, his approach apparently didn't sit well with politicians and thus his contract was not renewed.
Chuck Hagel, the new US Secretary of Defense, arrived in Afghanistan on Friday night. He is responsible for the announced draw down of US forces. While this is important, the Pentagon should also plan ahead with the Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA) to deal with the many returning veterans to the US. The unemployment figure of returning vets increased by 50,000 last year and in all likelihood will not get any better.
PTSD affects everyone, including the families of veterans. Often young wives are left alone to deal with their suffering veterans. While Canada has Family Resource Centers that can point spouses in the right direction, much more has to be done by the military itself. Too many veterans and their families fall between the cracks.
He talks about the fight for diagnosis, about the civilian psychiatrist who thought he was lying about his experiences. “How could he know? He went to head-shrinking school. His 19-years-old was going to university and chasing girls.” The battles Andrew fought overseas were bad, PTSD was bad, but the battle to get help nearly did him in. He describes the night he struggled with the decision to kill himself. After a short silence, someone asks how many others in the room know someone who’s committed suicide. They all put up their hands. How many have thought of suicide themselves? Most hands go up again.
Yes PTSD is real and often ignored or dismissed by those in a position to do something about it. As the war in Afghanistan comes to an end, remember that many of those we send to war are still in Afghanistan everyday. Lest We Forget.
Roll of casualties casualties
Below are this week’s updated DOD casualty figures:
Op Enduring Freedom Total Deaths KIA Non Hostile WIA
Afghanistan Only------------2049--------1707-----342------18311
Other Locations----------------118----------11------107
DOD Civ Casualties--------------3-------- ----1--------2
Worldwide Total-------------2170-------- 1718------451----18311
Accumulated 2012 Casualties:
KIA Non Combat Deaths WIA
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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