New York Daily News
October 10, 2012
Be Our Guest
Anyone who believes that our country’s methods are adequate for helping veterans re-adapt to society as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down need look no further than at the following data: In the year 2012, 211 members of the United States Armed Forces took their own lives.
At least 53 of them committed suicide in July and August. That is more than the total number of battlefield deaths in those months. This is a crisis that has gone largely unaddressed in this political cycle, and it’s unacceptable.
The numbers are a devastating wake-up call to a healthcare emergency that demands leadership and a new approach. Military brass, medical experts and elected officials are well aware of one cause of this epidemic: severe mental illnesses caused by Post-Traumatic Stress, often stemming from the unseen wound of this war, Traumatic Brain Injuries.
TBI occurs when the brain is subject to one or a series of concussive waves, such as those given off by a detonated roadside device, the most frequent attack against our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The trauma suffered by the soldier’s brain results most often in personality-altering depression, leading to a host of extreme mental health problems. The solutions — investments in research, proper diagnostic methods and evolving treatment measures — are well known.
What’s missing is leadership.
Yes, both campaigns have indicated knowledge of a problem. During a recent campaign swing through the veteran- and military-rich state of Virginia, Mitt Romney pledged to reverse proposed cuts in defense spending and enhance the budget for greater psychological treatment for service members. President Obama addressed TBI directly while campaigning in July. He also made the crises facing service members, from unemployment to the suicide epidemic, a part of his convention speech.
But neither candidate to date has put forth a concrete plan to immediately allocate the time and resources needed to save the lives of those who serve and have served this nation in uniform.
We are calling for leaders to immediately convene the Defense Department and others in the executive branch with legislators, medical researchers and providers, active duty service members, veterans and their families, to establish new protocols for research, treatment and diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress. Funding must follow: Congress should expedite the allocation of at least $1 billion as a baseline.
We have spent over a trillion dollars on these two wars. It’s time to now spend on those who risked their lives in battle.
This is not simply government’s problem. The private sector stands at the ready to help, mindful of patriotism, responsibility and the fact that we live in a time of critical budget shortfalls. Several national non profits and private foundations have already raised billions in private sector dollars towards much-needed medical research, healthcare and social services for our veterans and active duty service members and their families.
Much more is needed. As we approach the final weeks of the presidential campaign, it is critical the candidates move beyond speeches to a new phase: action.
The horrifying psychological impacts of these wars mean that, according to the RAND Corporation, a staggering 600,000 of the 1.7 million service members returning from active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering, their lives in danger.
If our leaders don’t act now and we do not hold them accountable by demanding solutions, then we’re losing a different kind of war — one that is entirely winnable. Each campaign must provide leadership, not words. Action. Our soldiers can’ t wait another day.
Fisher is honorary chairman of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund (fallenheroes.org), which is building medical facilities at military installations to treat Traumatic Brain Injuries. White is the CEO of Constellations Group.