This Memorial Day weekend, we will honor our fallen dead who have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our shared American Freedoms. We can take solace in knowing that though much has been sacrificed more troops are coming home alive, surviving injuries that would have killed them in past armed conflicts. Our brave return home, often times leaving limbs and their mental wellbeing on the battlefield. It is important this Memorial Day to question whether veteran health care and support systems at home live up to the performance these troops display overseas.
Vexing Aspects of Veteran Care
• 19% of troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan may have suffered a traumatic brain injury during deployment according to the Rand Corporation
• Nearly 30% of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans (247,243) who have been treated at VA hospitals and clinics have been diagnosed with PTSD
• Retired veterans whose income after medical costs falls below the amount of their military pensions are eligible to request that the military “top off” their income to at least reach pension levels.
o The requests usually take a full 9 months to a year to process alone.
The Politics of Invisible Injuries
Veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are increasingly returning home with injuries that leave mental scars, not necessarily physical ones. These so-called “invisible injuries” have been the topic of much debate in recent years.
In 2009, the Pentagon published a memo concluding that they would not award veterans with PTSD the Purple Heart honor given to soldiers who suffer an injury on the battlefield. Citing difficulty in diagnosing the condition and the tendency for symptoms to arise later in life and which cannot necessarily be linked to any one action or enemy engagement, the DOJ made a compassionate but resounding “no.”
Facing public pressure, the Pentagon decided once again to review its decision on awarding the Purple Heart to PTSD patients in July of 2012 and continues to this day. However, any effort to reverse the Pentagon’s previous ruling faces stiff opposition from The Military Order of The Purple Heart. The Congressionally chartered veteran service organization behind the honor argues that should the military redefine “as a result of a combat action” to include PTSD patients, the military would inadvertently be “looking at 80 years worth of ‘IOUs,’”
This Memorial Day ask yourself: should those troops who fight bravely overseas to protect us be forced to fight on their home shores for the basic care and honors they deserve?