Former Marine: Honor America's Veterans by Destigmatizing Mental Health Care
Veteran’s Day has always held a special place in my life. On the one hand, it is incredibly heartening to see the major shift between how veterans like me were adversely treated when we returned home from Vietnam. I remember barely being able to walk around town in Washington, D.C., because my Marine “high-and-tight” haircut gave me away—as contrasted to the much-deserved respect we see from society today. I am immensely proud that our veterans today never have to go through what we did in the wake of Vietnam.
On the other hand, Veteran’s Day brings back the pain of my brother’s suicide in 1970. Anthony was two years ahead of me in terms of our time overseas, and he came home with what we would now call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). At the time, though, this was not a recognized disease, so there was no treatment available for him. On November 10, he came back from a VA medical appointment where they told him he was getting 100% disability and that he would never get better—they thought this was “helping” him. On the very next day, Veteran’s Day, he committed suicide.
Thankfully, our medical knowledge and the military have made great strides when it comes to issues like PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury—those invisible injuries that can be just as life-altering as losing a limb. But sadly, the stigma on mental health is still too great. The veteran suicide rate has increased by more than 25 percent in the last decade, yet only about half of returning vets who need treatment for mental health issues seek care. According to Justice for Vets, one in five veterans has symptoms of a mental health disorder or cognitive impairment, and there is a link between these illnesses and substance abuse, depression, involvement in the criminal justice system, and thoughts of suicide. This must change because we are losing far too many of our veterans to trauma.
We make the promise to our servicemembers that we will take care of them on the battlefield, and then we will take care of them when they come home. We have to significantly improve to live up to these promises. Responsibility.org is at the forefront in providing help and resources to vets in need, but each of us still has to do more to beat the stigma surrounding mental health issues. No one should have to lose a brother, son, father, mother, daughter, or friend to these treatable problems.