Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Independence Day?

On Thursday, most of us will celebrate America's 237th birthday.  We celebrate our freedom.  We celebrate the privilege of practicing any number of religions.  We celebrate freedom of speech, the right to privacy, and my favorite, freedom of the press.

There will be cook-outs, parades and fireworks.

Unfortunately, many of the people who fought for the freedoms we enjoy are anything but free.

Let me throw out a few statistics.  According to Pentagon figures, 349 active duty soldiers committed suicide in 2012.  That's more than the number of men and women who died in combat in Afghanistan during the same time period (295).  Many, many more combat Veterans commit suicide every year.

Several studies indicate roughly 20-percent of the people who have served in a combat zone in the last six years suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Early studies by the Army indicated 1 in 8 soldiers who served in Afghanistan and/or Iraq suffered from PTSD, and less than half sought help for it.

Stigma is one of the reasons troops don't seek help, lack of adequate treatment is another.  Troops who loose a leg are medevac'd to the nearest hospital. They're given adequate medication.  They are comforted.  They also receive long-term care.  They're fitted with a prosthesis and physical therapists teach them how to walk again.

In contrast, PTSD usually goes unnoticed - and untreated - for months, even years.  And it can be hard to diagnose. 

This is DSM-5 criteria for a PTSD diagnosis:  "A history of exposure to a traumatic event that meets specific stipulations and symptoms from each of four symptom clusters: intrusion, avoidance, negative alterations in cognitions and mood, and alterations in arousal and reactivity. The sixth criterion concerns duration of symptoms; the seventh assesses functioning; and, the eighth criterion clarifies symptoms as not attributable to a substance or co-occurring medical condition."

No wonder it's so hard to diagnose.

Of course, soldiers aren't the only ones who suffer from PTSD.  This could lead to a healthy debate about mental health care coverage for everyone. But who deserves it more than those who are willing to sacrifice their lives for our freedom (remember that's why we're celebrating July 4th).

This subject gets a lot of lip service form politicians - and let's be honest, from all of us.  Rather than just talk the talk, it's time we all walked the walk - especially if we've never walked in combat boots.

Think about this as you're enjoying your cookout.  Think about the freedoms we might not have without these brave men and women while watching the fireworks.  And then go make a difference - volunteer, make a contribution or cast a meaningful vote.  Because while we enjoy freedom, far too many remain confined in a prison that is hard to escape.

Special shout-out to the Iowa National Guard's Red Bull Infantry Division, www.redbullrising.com   Thanks for putting me to the test during training.  I'll never forget it.  It was a life changing experience.

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