Presence of invisible injuries occurs at nearly 10 times the rate of physical injuries. Researchers estimate that 1 in 5 Veterans suffer from a mental health condition. Although the majority of Veterans that return from combat do not experience problems, the number of Veterans suffering remains high.
Do your part, and take a moment to become familiar with some of the most common invisible injuries facing our nation’s Veterans.
PTSD is a stress response to a life-threatening or traumatic event. Common experiences include re-experiencing, nightmares, flashbacks, hypervigilance, and avoiding places and people that are reminders. Some individuals experience irritability and constantly feeling on edge, whereas others are left feeling disconnected and detached.
Depression: Common experiences of depression include feeling down for long periods of time, loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities and a sense of hopelessness. It may also include difficulty concentrating and changes in appetite and sleeping patterns. Most people experience the occasional blues, but when it begins to influence daily living, work and relationships, it is time to seek help. The loss of close bonds, transition to new lifestyle, lack of understanding from others, and emergence of stored up grief and guilt are all factors that influence depression in Veterans.
Anxiety is an emotional response to real or perceived threats. At appropriate levels, the anxiety response protects us and keeps us alive. However, if individuals have anxiety responses that are disproportionate to the threat or are not able to reduce their anxiety, it can interfere with daily living.
TBI or Traumatic Brain Injury is the result of a severe impact on the head or body. It has become prevalent in OIF and OEF* Veterans due to the high occurrence of blast injuries from explosions and roadside bombs. TBI severity ranges from mild, the equivalent of a concussion, to moderate and severe. Problems commonly encountered include dizziness, headaches and problems with memory, concentration, and impaired brain function. TBI should be managed with a health care provider as permanent impairment can occur if left untreated.
*An acronym that refers to the conflicts in Afganistan and Iraq. Specifically, OEF/OIF refers to “Operation Enduring Freedom” and “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
Substance Abuse: Some Veterans will turn to substances to deal with their psychological or physiological pain. Drugs and alcohol may reduce or minimize the anxiety, depression, memories and losses, but only temporarily. Using substances to numb or escape can quickly spiral into a substance abuse problem.
Suicide: A disturbing statistic is the number of Veterans and service members that take their own life – an estimated 22 per day according to the VA. Service members can be exposed to extreme stress, engage in horrific experiences and are thrown into a readjustment process often without the opportunity or tools for adequate recovery. Too many turn to suicide to escape the relentless pain, terror and hopelessness. Many of the mental health problems associated with suicide (including the ones mentioned above) are treatable conditions. Additional stressors, also experienced by the civilian population that commits suicide, include unemployment, relationships problems and social isolation.
As employers, educators, and as Americans, it is important to develop a basic understanding of these conditions, to provide support, to reduce stigma and help get Veterans the care they need.
Veteran Connection blogs are written by ACI’s very own Clinical Specialist, Megan Hawker, MA, IMF #65325; Major, Medical Service Corps; US Army Reserves