At What Cost? (May 25, 2014)

As we celebrate Memorial Day weekend, I think not only of the women and men who have given their lives for our country, but those who have returned home with their lives profoundly changed.

When my older brother returned home from Vietnam he brought with him a substance abuse problem exacerbated, I believe, by his work as an unarmed SeaBee (Construction Battalion) in the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone).  Unfortunately, no one told the Vietcong that no one was to fire into the DMZ, and so his life was on the line as he built  runways and storage facilities.  While there was a contingent of armed Marines to protect him and his battalion, the stress of the situation never left him.  Today we would probably call that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

Today’s warriors come home with even more serious stresses and injuries.  Warfare has devolved into IEDS and suicide bombers.  Our service people survive what were formerly non-survivable injuries, but at what cost?  In the Vietnam War, 14 to 18 percent of all veterans had a brain injury.  “Today, the Walter Reed Army Medical Center says 31 percent of those admitted between January 2003 and May 2005 had some kind of brain injury. A 2005 study in the New England Journal of Medicine attributed these higher numbers in part to advancements in munitions, especially improvised explosive devices, and in part to improvements in body armor, which protects soldiers from what would previously have been a fatal penetrative wound, but not from a nonfatal blast injury.”

Soldiers are also surviving more profound loss of limbs than in previous wars, and this can result in serious physical as well as psychological challenges.  While our veterans are entitled to state-of-the-art prosthetics, as well as assistance with speciality motor vehicles, home modifications, service animals, and even clothing allowances when necessary, access to these services is often another challenge to be faced.  The recent scandal at the Phoenix VA Hospital underscores the situation.

An article in last year’s USA Today spoke to the demands placed on charities.  “The need is increasing, people don’t realize (that) . . . they think the war is over and there’s no servicemembers in the hospital, so there’s no more need. But it’s our long-term cases that need help forever, and now the returning vets that we find have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and TBI (traumatic brain injury); and many, many, many suicidal situations, which is just a crisis.”

And physical and psychological rehabilitation, once received, can take years.

Today we give thanks to all of the military people who serve and protect us, and to our veterans.  We lift up them and their families.  We particularly pray for those who have been injured by war, be it physically, emotionally, or mentally.

Dear Creator God, We ask that you open the hearts and minds of the officials providing services to our wounded warriors, and open the floodgates of relief.  Boost the spirits of our service people and their families, and let them know that we love and support them.  Let them feel the comfort of Your presence, and know that they rest in the palm of Your hand today, tomorrow, and always.

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