As the 113th Congress begins this month, it’s clear there is much work to be done. If we’ve learned anything from the 112th, it is that our representatives in Washington tend to be long on rhetoric and short on solutions. Finger-pointing seems to be the one thing at which they excel. Among many topics which deserve their attention, but which will likely be ignored, are Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) which affect as many as 20% of combat veterans.
Few congressional sessions in recent history have worked so hard to create their own crises so they can claim to have worked hard when they prevent the horror they set up. Doubling of student loan rates, and the fiscal cliff are but two examples of artificial disasters they set up and then averted. Clearly, kicking the can down the road became the mantra of legislative do-nothings who cling to their juvenile slogans while refusing to do their jobs.
Our government must embrace compromise. If it refuses, what we're left with is dictatorship from one party or the other, neither of which holds a commanding lead over the other, both of which are held in contempt by a huge majority of voters. Respect for Congress is at an all-time low, because Congress is more concerned about re-election and establishing a power base than it is about serving the people.
If Congress was concerned with serving the people, PTSD and TBI would be higher on the political agenda — or on the agenda at all. These two combat injuries are frequently lumped together in discussions about combat trauma, though they have very different impacts. The prevalence of TBI among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is generally attributed to multiple close encounters with roadside bombs. These improvised explosive devices, or IEDs as they are called, have changed the face of war for American service members.
Many vets I have spoken to have been present for 10 or more of these explosions. We mostly hear about the ones who were closest to the blast, who may have died or lost limbs, but the people in trailing vehicles which might not have sustained physical damage are nonetheless impacted by the concussion from these bombs.
We read about football players who are dying because of multiple concussions and cry out, “Something must be done!” Combat veterans are dying by their own hand at a horrifying rate and the one group who can step up and help them (Congress), stands at the sidelines wringing their hands.
Many victims of TBI also suffer from PTSD. While technically the reverse isn’t necessarily true, there aren’t many current veterans diagnosed with PTSD who have not sustained blast concussions at least several times.
It has recently been reported that suicide claimed more lives in 2012 than were lost in combat. For the first time in history, we’re getting a crushing reminder of the cost of war. Reported causes include relationship troubles, alcohol, financial difficulty, the cumulative effects of multiple deployments, and (of course) PTSD. What should be even more distressing is that suicide among veterans is not tracked, so the impact of these wars could be far greater than we can know. Many combat veterans have been pushed out of the military because of PTSD, often with a diagnosis of adjustment disorder, so we lose track of their status once they leave.
As the 113th Congress prepares its agenda, this tragedy must be addressed.