What Does Veteran’s Day Mean to a Veteran?

On this Veteran’s Day, we remember and honor those who have served during times of peace and times of conflict.  We remember those who volunteered and those who have been drafted and, lest we not forget, we honor those who came home and those who did not.  Having been a veteran enlisted medic from the US Army and an officer and physician in the Army, I am often asked what Veteran’s Day means to me.  In the past, it was sometimes a difficult question. While I still have no pat answer, I do have a better conception of Veteran’s Day and what it reminds me of in 2014.

As a physician veteran, I have been treating veterans with PTSD for free for the past 17 years.  I do this as a service to them, the collective of uniformed services, and as a service to the community. While we honor heroes, we oftentimes and in some cases conveniently forget about those with wounds, especially wounds that are not visible to others– wounds that might often make them appear to be weak, fragile, and unmanly.  PTSD and its associated depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and perceived instability in socioeconomic positioning as it relates to such areas as relationships and jobs, is now believed to be more problematic now than in any other time in our history of military conflict.

There were 21.4 million veterans in the USA last year.  6.1 million served in the Gulf War era since 1990 with 2.6 million serving since the events of September 11t,h, 2001.  3.2 million veterans (15%) of those that served have a service-connected disability.  Unemployment rates for veterans (722,000 for 2013) are at 9%.  This is higher than their civilian counterparts; the numbers appear to be getting worse as our government has elected to downsize our military, thus driving more veterans into the private sector.  It is estimated that 1 million service members will separate from service by 2016.

It is estimated that 30% of veterans will experience some sort of mental health symptoms and problems (substance abuse, depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc.) and that 15% will experience PTSD symptoms, adding to the adverse effects on socioeconomics such as employment, social and family relationships.  As a society, we chose to ignore these facts, and we often choose to avoid these individuals because they make us uncomfortable, because their mental health disorders are misunderstood, or because we can so closely relate that we do not want to diagnose ourselves.

Treatment is available  — this means help is available. If we want to commemorate all of those who served, let’s not forget those who served and came back with a bit more than a medal and experience.   Let’s commemorate those who came back with a burden that cannot be lifted alone.  So what does Veteran’s Day mean to a veteran?  It means that society has not forgotten about us and our sacrifices.