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Opinion
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Guest Column
For our veterans, let’s make a difference before it’s too late | Column
How do we encourage those veterans and service members who’ve been trained to “adapt and overcome” to ask for help?
On Aug. 16, 2021, hundreds of people run alongside a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane as it moves down a runway of the international airport in Kabul as U.S. forces withdrew from Afghanistan.
On Aug. 16, 2021, hundreds of people run alongside a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane as it moves down a runway of the international airport in Kabul as U.S. forces withdrew from Afghanistan. [ AP ]
Published Nov. 11, 2021

In recent months it’s been reported that Veterans Affairs’ hotlines and suicide prevention services across the country have recorded a significant increase in call volume. A number of these calls were reportedly triggered by veterans’ reactions to the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

How do we encourage those veterans and service members who’ve been trained to “adapt and overcome” to ask for help? Historically, that’s never been in their wheelhouse. And sadly, their physical and psychological injuries are further exacerbated by an American public who find the veterans’ experience worlds apart from their own.

David Apt
David Apt [ Provided ]

Remember, during the “draft era,” which ended after the Vietnam conflict, many citizens from all backgrounds served in the military, and most fulfilled their commitment. Many used the G.I. Bill for their higher education and returned to civilian life where they shared their military experience with friends and family.

Today, the general public has little to no firsthand knowledge of what our men and women in uniform do and the sacrifices they and their families make on a daily basis. According to the Pew Research Center, in 1980 18% of U.S. adults were military veterans but by 2018 that number declined to just 7%. The Department of Veterans Affairs projects that number will further diminish over the next 25 years.

Nonetheless, as a society, we have a profound obligation to reduce veteran suicide, and the onus does not fall on the VA alone. We all must make the effort to connect; to listen; to understand and to help. Yes, help and care is available and it must start with each one of us. We need to be there for them — not missing in action.

Is the VA showing any real progress in its treatment of mental health issues? Overall, we would have to say “yes,” progress is being made, but much more work must be done. We need to get veterans off opiates quickly. The VA needs to embrace alternative therapies that are proven to be beneficial in treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Military Sexual Trauma (MST).

Our collective goal must be to restore the veteran’s self-worth and successfully assimilate him/her back into society as a contributing member. We must also include the family in the equation; full support on the home front is critical to overall success.

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Bottom line: Fighting and winning our nation’s wars is dangerous, and our active duty forces and veterans put their lives on the line 24/7/365. Their selfless service allows all those who never served to enjoy the freedoms endowed in our Constitution. Unfortunately, there is a cost that many of our veterans have paid both mentally and physically, and it is incumbent upon government and society; you and me, to embrace them for their sacrifices and provide them the requisite support they truly deserve.

Col. (Ret.) David Apt is chairman of the board of directors for K9 Partners for Patriots, a nonprofit based in Brooksville dedicated to veteran suicide prevention. He served 30 years in the U.S. Army where he commanded the 4th Cavalry Brigade (TSB) and culminated his career as Commander, Army Broadcasting Service, comprised of the American Forces Network-Europe, American Forces Network-Korea and the American Forces Network-Honduras.

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