Soldiers returning from war don't need to exhibit any scars on their bodies to be injured. Many -- as many as 65 percent -- have witnessed and survived the trauma of explosions and detonations. Those jolts and their aftermath can do a number on them, be it through brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder. The two afflictions are often linked.
The long-term effects of a brain injury can be brutal and debilitating, while PTSD, left undiagnosed and untreated, can rob a person of peace of mind, sleep, the ability to maintain relationships, etc. And this is what our troops are up against after returning from their tour in hell.
We can only imagine the shape they must be in when they're redeployed. Reading in the P-I of National Guardsman Garry Naipo's ordeal, of the suicidal thoughts while in Iraq, of the "monster" he felt within him when he came back moody, depressed and paranoid, was brutal, but, sadly, not shocking. Our troops -- veterans and those on active duty -- have been fighting a war within themselves after returning home. According to the Pentagon, even six months after returning home, one in three soldiers has psychological problems.
Equally brutal was the story of Damian Fernandez, a 25-year-old soldier from Waterbury, Conn., who came back from Iraq with disabling PTSD. The Hartford Courant reported that despite saying he'd sooner kill himself than go back, Fernandez was issued a redeployment notice. There are many like him -- troubled soldiers who are no longer on active duty but have been called upon to return.
The government finally has come around to realizing what our soldiers are facing, and Sen. Patty Murray continues to rattle cages in Washington, D.C., to get more resources allocated to the Department of Veterans Affairs -- $43 billion in the latest spending bill. She also got the Wounded Warriors Act passed, which, among other things, requires the VA and the Department of Defense to come up with a plan to treat, diagnose and prevent traumatic brain injuries and PTSD. But given the high suicide rate among troops returning from Iraq, clearly, more needs to be done.
In addition to pulling out of Iraq, whatever it takes, we must do to make these men and women whole again -- be it building a sanctuary/support system for returning National Guardsmen and their families, or continuing to focus on the treatment -- and time off -- our injured soldiers need.
© 2007 The Seattle Post Intelligencer