Time to repay veterans for their service

Ezekiel mascuilli/The Arka Tech

World War I ended officially in June of 1919 in France with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. But fighting had ended seven months earlier when an armistice between Germany and the Allies went into effect. Because the armistice occurred in the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month,” President Woodrow Wilson declared, in 1919, November 11 to be Armistice Day, which was a day to be “filled with solemn pride in the heroism” of those who protected the country.

Eventually, Armistice Day became Veterans Day. A day to honor those who have fought for their country, and made sacrifices that we cannot possibly imagine. For this reason, taking care of our nation’s veterans should be of the utmost importance to us. Unfortunately, veterans’ needs are unique and often unmet.

One of the biggest challenges facing veterans today is post-traumatic stress disorder. Those with PTSD often relive the event that gave them PTSD, reliving the horror that went with it; avoid situations that can remind them of the event, which can include avoiding driving or crowded places depending on the severity of their PTSD and the event; experience negative changes in feelings or beliefs, which can include paranoia or the inability to feel any positive emotion; and/or hyperarousal, which can manifest as insomnia, ADD like symptoms or being easily startled, according to ptsd.va.gov.

According to a study done by the RAND Center, 20 percent of veterans who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from PTSD, or major depression. To put that in perspective, as of September 2014, there are about 2.7 million American veterans of the Iraqi and Afghani wars, which means that roughly 540,000 veterans have or are suffering from PTSD or major depression from these wars alone. And that number has obviously only grown.

The same study states that 50 percent of those with PTSD do not seek treatment, and of those that do, only half of them receive “minimally adequate” treatment.

Some of the roadblocks for seeking treatment veterans often encounter, as identified by the United States Accountability Office, are: embarrassment or shame over needing to seek mental health treatment, fear of being seen as weak, long wait times to receive care, logistical problems, like long travel distances, a lack of understanding or awareness about mental health and treatment options and the list goes on.

In the year 2005 alone, 22 percent of veterans sought mental health treatment in private sectors rather than getting help from the VA, according to the American Psychological Association. And that number has only grown. And so have wait times at VA facilities.

If veterans return with PTSD and then cannot receive the adequate treatment they need, they could, and do occasionally, turn to substance abuse. A study done by the National Institute of Drug Abuse showed that 25 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans showed signs of substance abuse. Another study by the same group showed that “active duty and veteran military personnel” abused prescription drugs at a rate more than twice the rate for the civilian population.

In 2009, the VA estimated that 13,000 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from alcohol dependency. Which requires mental health treatment. Which we’ve already established is difficult to acquire.

Along with inadequate health care, homelessness is a major problem for veterans. “The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that 39,471 veterans are homeless on any given night,” according to nchv.org. Due to poverty, living conditions and “lack of support networks,” another 1.4 million veterans are at risk for homelessness, according to the same source. Many of these homeless veterans are dealing with the effects of PTSD or substance abuse.

To a certain extent, the VA does help take care of homeless veterans. But, it can only do so much. Ultimately and ideally, funding for the VA would be increased, but, under the current administration who can’t remember fallen soldiers’ names when talking to their loved ones, it doesn’t seem likely.

That’s where we come in.

One of the biggest steps we can take is to research and vote in candidates, locally and nationally, who are committed to expanding programs and reforming healthcare for veterans. Voting is our biggest weapon, and we must use it if we want anything to change.

On a smaller, but almost more important level, we can donate our time or money to local veteran’s organizations of which there are several.

At arvets.org, you can sign up to volunteer to help the organization whose mission, according to their website, is to “support and grow state’s economy; strengthen our small business sector; improve the quality of life for Arkansas Veterans, service members and their families.” The organization provides programs geared toward job training for veterans and career development.

You can also donate money to various organizations, such as the Wounded Warrior Project.

At the Arka Tech, we realize that many of you may not have the time or money to donate. However, we implore those of you who do to give what you can. These men and women have experienced horrific things so that we can sleep peacefully at night and argue with each other on Twitter. The least we can do is give what we can to ensure they can live the lives that they deserve.