Every Memorial Day we remember the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. We do this with parades, church services, and placing flags on graves. Another way to honor the fallen is by paying attention to the physical and mental health of those who served and returned.
A three-month study published yesterday by the Associated Press shows that 45% of the 1.6 million veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are filing disability claims for service-related health problems. They are also committing suicide at alarming rates—the American Journal of Public Health recently devoted an entire issue to this topic. Up to one-quarter of those who served in the Gulf War have reported developing a cluster of symptoms that include chronic fatigue, headache, joint pain, memory problems, and more. Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange are at higher risk of developing cancers such as Hodgkins lymphoma, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and other problems. Veterans from the Korean War and World War II also face long-term health problems, including often-hidden post-traumatic stress disorder.
Stand by them
The brunt of helping American servicemen and servicewomen heal falls on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. But in this era of growing demand for services by veterans and shrinking budgets, some veterans aren’t getting the help they need.
A number of private organizations have sprung up to fill the void. Here are just a few examples of national and regional programs:
The Wounded Warrior Project aims to enlist public aid to help injured service members, and to help them aid and assist each other.
NCIRE – The Veterans Health Research Institute is a leading nonprofit research institute devoted to veterans health research.
The Home Base Program, sponsored by the Boston Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital, provides clinical care and support services to New England-area service members, veterans, and family members affected by combat or deployment-related stress or traumatic brain injury.
You can honor all servicemen and women by donating money to a reputable organization focusing on veterans health or by volunteering your time to one. There’s a more direct approach, too. If there’s a veteran in your community or church who is struggling with health issues, drop off dinner now and then, offer to baby sit, or do what you can to make day-to-day life a bit easier.
And there’s an election coming up. Do your homework, then vote for the national, state, and local candidates you believe will help our servicemen and servicewomen live the healthiest lives possible.