Have services improved? Of course. Even the horror stories of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, early in the days of the war, have come to an end with the closure of the hospital in 2011.
Marines, sailors, airmen and soldiers enjoy world class trauma care when they are wounded.
The level of care they receive in a combat theater is akin to a world-class hospital. When they are evacuated, they are taken to other hospitals where they are stabilized to the point where they can be returned to the U.S.
Back home, many are taken to medical facilities at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. These troops may need further medical care, surgery, physical therapy and rehabilitation.
This is a vast improvement over the Vietnam War, a few generations back. In Vietnam, we lost more than 58,000 servicemen. In Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve lost 6,500.
As I’ve said, part of the difference relates to improvements in medical technology and the quality of care troops receive. Some of it relates to improvements made in the technology used to protect troops. Some of it can be tied to the magnitude of battle.
But the number is deceptive. According to a Huffington Post article, through October 2012, more than 50,000 servicemembers have been wounded. More than 1,500 warriors have lost at least one limb in combat.
A lot of that relates to the use of improvised explosive devices against our forces.
These are the most grievous wounds. According to the same story, 2,542 servicemen and women have suffered traumatic burns; 142 have lost at least one eye; and five lost both eyes in combat.
Traumatic brain injuries are also a problem, with 253,330 servicemembers afflicted, more than 44,000 of those considered moderate or severe.
The Chicago Tribune reports that in 2011, more than 212,000 combat veterans sought treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
These are just the servicemen and women who have sought treatment in a culture that views mental disorders as weakness. More suffer in silence, or self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.
A CNN report in Oct. 2012 said more than 624,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have filed for some type of disability.
The bulk of U.S. Armed Forces are young men and women. Many of these people will require care for the rest of their lives. They should have it. They absolutely deserve the best for putting their lives on the line for our freedom.
Any veterans coming home to Marshall County are fairly lucky. There are two Veterans’ Affairs outpatient clinics nearby, in Mayfield and Paducah. Veterans requiring more extensive care can go to either Marion, Ill., or Nashville.
I’ve written at length about veterans of the War on Terror, but the nation still has legions of Vietnam veterans, and we’re losing the generation that fought WWII, Korea and the Cold War every day. They deserve the very best health care possible.
The Tricare insurance program should be offered to all combat veterans, meaning a veteran may receive full insurance coverage. This would allow them to see any local health care provider. That way, a combat veteran would not need to only receive VA treatment. This should also extend to mental health care.
Stars and Stripes reported 349 U.S. service members committed suicide in 2012, while battle deaths in Afghanistan reached only 295 for the same year. The military has taken several strides to make mental health services more accessible to troops. More needs to be done. Every serviceman to see combat should receive a comprehensive and professional mental health assessment. If counseling is required, then it should be mandatory, confidential and without stigma.
Many local VA clinics offer mental health services to veterans who reach out, but again, the perceived stigma makes it hard to access for people who need it most.
Maybe the military should follow up more aggressively to reach out to veterans, or make it a part of training. If soldiers were trained to consider mental health as important as physical health, perhaps the stigma would vanish.
Veterans from any war and peacetime have sacrificed their lives, freedom, time and health so that we may have all of these things. Don’t they deserve the very best healthcare we can provide?