War hero support truly lacking

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By John Pawlak

Sometimes, I find myself speechless, amazed at the depth of feeling and insight some people have for the world around us.
Okay, maybe not speechless. That would be too unbelievable. But amazed, yes.
Patrick Stewart’s father, Alfred, was a war hero, one of the last to be evacuated at Dunkirk in 1940. He parachuted into Crete and Italy and fought in Monte Casino (75,000 casualties).
Alfred was a soldier in the British army from 1925 to 1933. When World War II erupted, he rejoined and headed with the Yorkshire Light Infantry out to the front in Abbeville, France. He was injured, but went back to war in Britain’s parachute regiment, dropping into southern France in support of seaborne landings.
How can you not admire a person like that?
But when the war ended, Alfred brought the horrors of battle home with him. He began having outbreaks of violent tendencies. He became an alcoholic and his wife endured regular beatings from him.
Patrick grew up hating his father.
Over time, Patrick learned that his father had post traumatic stress disorder, which at the time was called “shell shock.” Years of intense battles with no followup treatment after returning home. He “looked fine” and that was enough to release him back to civilian life.
Patrick Stewart has given many talks on the subject of military suicides and PTSD.
Despite PTSD being recognized as a legitimate disorder for more than 30 years now, it remains one of the most crippling and ubiquitous illnesses suffered by military veterans.
It’s easy to analyze war from the safety of one’s computer at home. However, for the people who deal with nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety attacks, memory loss, depression and a litany of other destructive symptoms, it’s more than just statistics.
More than 8,000 United States veterans commit suicide each year. That’s one every 65 minutes.
Today, 22 veterans will succumb to the helplessness and will end their lives.
That’s not a statistic. That’s a national epidemic.
For active soldiers, the numbers are equally appalling. Last year, 349 soldiers committed suicide, 39 more than died in Afghanistan.
Our nation has been suffering from the tragic realities of post-war effects since the first shot at Lexington and Concord.
Battles fought in the Civil War and WWI were equally if not more so horrific than those fought today, so it might seem strange that suicide rates are now higher than ever.
This paradox is explained by the fact that more people are able to survive battles today than in wars fought beforehand.
Survive physically that is. Advancements in body armor and medical attention have greatly reduced the number of battle deaths. But PTSD remains a tragic reality of war.
Over the past few years, dozens of bills have been proposed to help veterans, with many specifically addressing issues of suicide and PTSD. The same politicians who willingly send young people off to war sit in Congress and vote against these provisions.
This is unthinkable.
Congress recently voted against and defeated an amendment to HR2216 that would have appropriated funds to address the growing backlog of veteran claims. The bill also includes provisions to fund military cemetery expenses and American battle monuments.
The backlog is primarily disability claims, and PTSD evaluations do take a higher priority. But since symptoms are not always immediately apparent, many veterans do not receive the treatment they need.
More than 30 percent returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan are diagnosed with PTSD. The true numbers are probably much higher.
We owe our military more than just a salute and a handshake. Why do our politicians turn their backs the very people who fight to secure our liberties and freedom?
The Veteran’s Administration is laden with political bureaucracy and is severely underfunded to provide timely treatments needed by these heroes.
Given that under 22 percent of our representatives served in the military, it’s not surprising that a British Shakespearean actor understands better what seems to elude our Congress.
S. Kelley Harrell underscored the brutal reality of PTSD with this sad observation; “Often it isn’t the initiating trauma that creates seeming insurmountable pain, but the lack of support after.”