Celebrating Veterans Day -Shining a light on often ignored veterans’ issues

In honor of Veterans Day this column is dedicated to every past and present soldier especially those who are lacking a voice for self-advocacy.

A recent National Geographic cover story reads: “Healing Our Soldiers: Unlocking the Secrets of Traumatic Brain Injuries.” I thought I was well-informed on national issues however, this article by Caroline Alexander was enlightening.

The article started me thinking, how many of us know exactly what happens during a Traumatic Brain Injury or (TBI)? Summarizing Alexander’s article, even though many soldiers may not be directly on top of a blast zone, they experience shock waves from the blast that ripple through their bodies and enter their brains. According to research, kinetic energy can affect soldiers who are standing hundreds or thousands of feet away from the initial blast.   

Using research to educate, Alexander states, there is “an increase in intracranial pressure and the brain motion relative to the skull. The blast wave, or overpressure, affects the brain immediately upon impact with the skull. Brain motion can occur hundreds of milliseconds after impact.”

In simpler terms, these wavelengths from blasts enter the brain and increase the pressure. The result is the brain of the solider moves like that of a bobble-head.

As time progresses, even years after a blast, a breakdown of neural connections occurs. Think of thousands of strings running through your brain making connections in every direction from top to bottom. Now imagine hundreds of these strings never reach the top of your brain.

These missing connections can lead to decreased motor function, depression, seizures, psychological problems such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other symptoms. Soldiers can go from experiencing none of these symptoms to all of a sudden experiencing several of them. These broken neural connections indicate soldiers are often unable to articulate their experiences and symptoms.

Upon returning home, TBIs are not the only problem soldiers face. The National Coalition for the Homeless lists the startling statistic that between “130,000 to 200, 000 soldiers are homeless on any given night.”

The National Coalition goes on to state that funding for homeless veterans often allows for only “8,000 beds.” This means that 34 percent of the total homeless population are veterans. With funding, greater than 120,000 veterans (conservatively calculated) are left without beds, a home cooked meal and other basic necessities.

Also as recently as last April, CNN published a story exposing the Phoenix Veterans Health Care System as having 1,400 to 1,600 ill veterans on a waiting list for care.   

When soldiers return home they encounter the challenges brought on by TBI, homelessness and inadequate funding. Often this is an invisible battle that is difficult to understand.

Since TBIs are often not perceived by the larger community, the injury is repeatedly overlooked. As we habitually assume “seeing is believing;” leaving soldiers without proper care.

Soldiers are required to enter the horrific conditions of war and society ignores the veterans’ homelessness, injuries (both physical and mental) and other ghastly conditions upon their return. It seems the majority of society, especially those who control government funding and research only acknowledges soldiers’ sacrifices on national holidays.

By educating ourselves, we as a society can work to improve funding to further research the condition of TBI and work to decrease the number of injured, homeless and unemployed veterans.

As a society, we can become part of the solution instead of part of an ongoing problem of cataloging all veterans into media stereotypes and ignoring their physical and emotional necessities.

We can work to make every day, a day where our veterans’ contributions are valued, appreciated and respected.

A sincere thank you to all those who served and are currently serving in our Armed Forces.