One of the most debilitating obstacles facing military personnel who have fought in the Gulf, Iraqi and Afghanistan wars just as those veterans who have served in previous wars is traumatic brain injuries and post traumatic stress. We must ensure that our veterans are not dumped on our streets but are cared for when they return home suffering service-related stress and traumatic brain injuries. Soldiers who are exposed to roadside bomb blasts are equally susceptible to post traumatic stress and concussions as those suffering a direct hit.
During the Civil War, troops returned home with “soldier’s heart.” In World War I, the troops returned home with “combat fatigue.” After World War II, soldiers who developed stress related symptoms were said to be suffering from “gross stress reaction” “battle fatigue” or “shell shock.”
War is a demanding experience with life constantly at risk. There can be times that are terrifying. Troops make life and death choices and witness despair and horrific events. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, less than half of all our veterans who have returned home with traumatically witnessed stress have sought treatment because of their pride. The emotional pain exists and is present, sometimes not surfacing for many years, and it takes a tremendous toll on our families and communities.
The hidden cost of war is the cost to families both in loss of quality of life of loved ones and the cost to treat the cause. According to the Washington Post, “about 300,000 U.S. military personnel who have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan are suffering from post-traumatic stress or major depression, a mental toll that will cost the nation as much as $6.2 billion over two years.”
Picture this: Wounded troops, civilians and children, people who have had to have a leg amputated, victims of an improvised explosive devise.
Imagine this: A solider walking through a village sees children. The soldier, a father, befriends the children and talks to them. He even reaches into his pocket of his uniform and offers them some candy. Later, the soldier sees the same children again, but this time they are lying in their own blood by the roadside, their throats cut as punishment for speaking with the soldier.
We don’t see these events on our sanitized nightly news channels but Europe’s news exposes the human toll. We should think about the dead and the wounded, the human toll, to understand the full impact of war. Stories like this are numerous.
As civilians, we have a moral obligation to stand up and ask how we can help heal the wounded hearts and souls of our own people as well as the wounded people and children of occupied countries because war takes its toll upon humanity.
As a nation, we must acknowledge that it is our first and foremost duty to help negotiate peace around the world. We also must accept responsibility for our own troops returning home from two and three tours of military service and heal the wounds of wars.
Tracy Emblem is an attorney and a Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress, California ‘s 50th District.