To the editor:
I know it is hard for us to believe, but our country has been at war since 2001, the conflict in Afghanistan being officially the longest in our nation’s history by a substantial margin.
This longest and endless war is being fought by a relatively small number of volunteers, people who are sometimes very easy for us to forget about.
Make no mistake, in recent years, we have deployed the living daylights out of our volunteer force – regular, reserve and special forces — which now total about 1% of our population. They are the ones who ultimately pay for our country’s mistakes and for any sins committed by our political leaders.
While this is true of the entire force, it is especially true of our special operational forces.
It is time for a short period of mandatory public service for every American, military or non-military. It would no doubt play a role in healing the divide we presently have in our country.
Right now, however, the responsibility for our protection is being borne by too few, and the suicide statics clearly prove this is so. Every day, 20-plus veterans continue to pay the price by committing suicide, 77% of them accomplish this with a firearm.
These numbers are low because several states do not report these suicides.
How many veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder? Every last one of them, to varying degrees.
First and foremost, anyone ever present in a war zone becomes hyper-vigilant, constantly subjected to the effects of adrenaline, even without the great stresses of combat.
Traumatic brain injuries, caused by concussive injuries to the brain, greatly contribute to the severity of the post-traumatic stress that one experiences.
We do have a way forward, thanks to the nationally recognized clinical research being done at some major medical centers here, such as Massachusetts General Hospital.
Project Home Base, an initiative sponsored by the Boston Red Sox and Massachusetts General Hospital, has proven that PTSD, even very severe cases of it, can be effectively treated.
The Massachusetts Legislature is partnering with them. We have provided $1.3 million to Home Base and are working with them to extend their world-class care outside of Boston.
We are working with UMass Medical Center to provide counselors at our public colleges and universities who are trained to work with our veterans returning home and going to school. We want people to understand where returning veterans are coming from, and to recognize the signs of PTSD and other problems that co-exist with it.
Massachusetts will continue to lead the country in providing tangible care to our veterans; this is a sacred obligation we are all committed to.
In this session alone, the committee I chair has received over 90 pieces of legislation calling for additional support for our veterans. Each one of these bills will be reviewed with great care, and many of them pertain to doing more to address the effects of PTSD.
As we attack this challenge, we also know that the benefits extend well beyond care for our veterans. It can help public safety officers and others working in professions with high instances of PTSD.
We must succeed.
Rep. Linda Dean Campbell
15th Essex District
Committee on Veteran and Federal Affairs