By Dr. Vinay Saranga
Special to the News
This Memorial Day weekend, most people are looking forward to three days off spent with friends, family and a barbeque or pool party. Of course, the real reason for this important annual holiday is to remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice serving our country. It is because of these brave men and women that we can enjoy the freedom we have today.
As you pause to remember those who died in the line of duty, take a moment and also think about those who fought for our country and are still with us today. Don’t just thank a veteran, which is indeed a nice gesture and something we should all do more often. Really take a moment and understand the struggles that so many veterans face on a daily basis, specifically mental health conditions.
Suicide is a national epidemic within the veteran community. It is estimated that each day, roughly 17 veterans take their own life. Unfortunately, there are horror stories of veterans having trouble accessing and even being denied proper mental health treatment. This Memorial Day, we must continue to work at providing better mental health services for all of our veterans.
According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a common mental illness that many veterans, both men and women, develop after returning from combat. In fact, the statistics from Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF), the Gulf War (Desert Storm) and the Vietnam War, put the numbers at roughly 10 to 20 percent of veterans suffering with PTSD.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder in response to witnessing trauma and can be extremely debilitating. There are an array of unpleasant symptoms including: agitation, irritability, anxiety, avoiding situations that bring back memories of war, depression, hypervigilance and trouble in social settings. Perhaps the scariest part about PTSD is sometimes the triggers come with little or no warning, causing a great deal of anxiety and embarrassment for the veteran.
Not only is PTSD a real problem for our veterans, but reintegrating into society can be extremely difficult for some. While serving in the military, you are part of a larger group with a specific mission and tasks. The structured environment that veterans grow accustomed to is traded for a lack of stability, no rules or guidelines, and for many, no larger purpose or goals to work towards. As a result, many veterans experience confusion, depression and anxiety because of trouble acclimating back into family life or a corporate environment.
Unemployment has always been difficult for veterans, but thankfully the unemployment rate for veterans is now at an all-time low according to the Department of Labor. Holding down a job can be challenging for some veterans, especially those with PTSD. This Memorial Day, it’s important that all employers understand the many great advantages that veterans bring to the workplace. These men and women usually exhibit great leadership skills, know how to tackle even the most difficult tasks and get them done quickly and efficiently. Veterans are also some of the most mentally tough people you can have in your workforce, and challenges that may derail most won’t phase a vet.
On Memorial Day, we must remember our American heroes who are no longer with us. We must also continue to do our part to assist the many men and women who served our country and are still alive today. Proudly displaying the American Flag and saying thank you to a vet are great first steps, but we need to do more. We all need to do our part to make sure that veterans don’t just feel appreciated, but that we truly work with them and support them to live their best civilian lives possible. It’s the least we can do for those who did so much for us.
Vinay Saranga M.D. is a psychiatrist and founder of Saranga Comprehensive Psychiatry. www.sarangapsychiatry.com