Veterans Day reminder: Honor the fallen, but hire the living

Some thoughts to consider below the fold:

One of the glaring differences in 21st Century warfare and battles that came before is the vast improvement in combat trauma care. Injuries that 40 (or even 20) years ago would have been fatal are treatable, allowing tens of thousands to return home still breathing, and not in a body bag. It's a fantastic achievement, but the clouds that eclipse that silver lining grow darker every year. These miracles have resulted in a relatively low combat death count, which has likely (greatly) contributed to our continued presence in Afghanistan, over 16 years now. It has also produced an ever-growing subset of our population who are struggling to re-integrate themselves into society, and way too many of them are failing.

Understand, for every prosthetic-wearing veteran you see, there are 8-10 more suffering from psychological trauma that you don't see, or notice if you do. PTSD, like other mental health challenges, comes in many forms, with varying levels of debilitation. But even in the mildest cases, problem-solving skills are often disrupted intermittently, making the individual seem incapable of functioning in certain occupations. This may last longer in some than others, but the incredible irony is: It's that very occupation that may end up curing the PTSD, or at least making it manageable. Employers need to be made aware of this, and become a part of that veteran's rehabilitation, not the one who decides that rehabilitation isn't working.

TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) is also an issue that plagues many returning combat veterans, and it's just as difficult to detect via observation. Even somebody whose vehicle wasn't destroyed by an IED, or somebody who was near a mortar round explosion but did not suffer any shrapnel wounds, may have been affected by the shock wave. Many of the symptoms mirror some of the worst psychological disorders like schizophrenia, and even those who only have a mild case of TBI may suffer from auditory hallucinations (voices in your head), misplaced paranoia, and cognitive dysfunction (arriving at the wrong conclusions to problems). In mild to moderate cases, these symptoms usually fade away over time, 6-12 months. But the problem is, by that time they may be in economic distress over not being able to hold down a job. Which leads to what is fast becoming the biggest challenge of all, substance abuse.

Drug and alcohol addiction with veterans usually starts out as a sort of self-medication. It dulls the memory, quiets the voices, and (as crazy as it sounds) may be the only way to get to sleep. Or at least that's what many believe. I have gone through this in my life, when divorce and separation from my children would keep me awake all night. I can only imagine what the hyper-vigilance of PTSD and the auditory hallucinations from TBI would have been like. There aren't many places to safely turn around once you're on that road, and we need to do a hell of a lot more to create those turnaround spots.

But the best thing you (as an individual, especially if you're an employer) can do is at least understand the challenges facing veterans, and not just assume their observable skills and capabilities are all that's there. There is usually much more, a potentially vital element in your work force. If you give them the time and patience they've earned.

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At our community Veterans Breakfast yesterday,

we had a couple of guys talk about a program they're involved in, Heroes On the Water:

OUR MISSION

To help warriors relax, rehabilitate and reintegrate through kayak fishing and the outdoors.

HOW WE HELP

Since being founded in 2007, Heroes on the Water has been organizing no-expense kayak fishing trips for active-duty military and veterans of the U.S. armed forces and their families. Heroes can reflect in solitude or connect in groups as they learn kayaking and kayak fishing basics.

Recurring activities give heroes and their families camaraderie and a lifelong social network with like-minded people. Plus, no experience or equipment is needed, and kayak fishing is adaptive to those with disabilities.

OUR IMPACT

Heroes on the Water was a participant in a study conducted by Troy University. It was an 18-month study focused on alternative forms of therapy for individuals who were faced with traumatic experiences.

WHY THE NEED

Traumatic injuries now outnumber deaths as a result of modern medical advances

Global War on Terror warriors serve an average of 45 months in combat compared to 15 months/Vietnam War and 7 months/WW2

300,000+ warriors have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); 320,000+ have Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI); 31,902 have visible wounds, according to a 2009 Rand Study.

I talked with these guys for about an hour after the breakfast was over. One of them had served 12 years in the Army before he was medically discharged, and two years after that he was still floundering, still could not function in society. That kayak saved him, and now he's working and volunteering with this program.