Universities must prepare for returning military men and women

by: Maayan Schechter, Asst. Campus Voice Editor

While Veterans Day commemorates those who fought and served the United States through generations on foreign soil, this country still fights the battle of posttraumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries on the home front.

A disorder plagued by a sense of numbness, depression and anxiety can lead to relationship problems, bipolar disorder and more poignant suicide. According to a new study published Oct. 1 in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, researchers find a direct correlation between PTSD, anger and criminal misbehavior. The study, led by forensic psychologist Eric B. Elbogen of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill School of Medicine, found about 23 percent of those with PTSD with high irritability had been arrested for a criminal offense. Among those studies, 9 percent had been arrested since combat deployment.

The study does not necessarily mean those with PTSD will commit crimes, but those who suffer PTSD from enforced trauma raises the risk of criminal arrests. In an interview with HuffingtonPost, Elbogen said other factors not related to military service, including growing up in a violent home or history of substance abuse, also raised the risk that veterans will commit crimes. In a recent HuffingtonPost story, an estimated 223,000 veterans, from mostly the Vietnam War era, were still serving time in prison.

Ending a war that has stretched for nine years, President Obama said the U.S. would bring home all forces from Iraq by the new year. It is war that has divided the country and left a mark in history. Referring to a pledge Obama made in 2008, he has once again promised that by the end of the year, our troops in Iraq will return home and after nearly nine years, the war in Iraq will be over. But for veterans returning home, the war is just beginning. A war plagued by intense isolation, traumatic brain injuries and depression will become a reality for those who served overseas and were accustomed to seeing tragedy on a daily basis.

According to a Veterans Administration report released in March, former or current military personnel represent almost 20 percent of all known suicides in the United States. For math students, that is more than 7,000 veterans and service members each year. For every soldier killed in combat, 25 veterans commit suicide. A report commissioned by the Department of Defense released earlier this year by the Institute of Medicine called PTSD “one of the signature injuries of the U.S. engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan.” The report estimates 13 to 20 percent of veterans have or will develop PTSD. PTSD afflicts 338,000 to 520,000 men and women.

This staggering number may seem small in retrospect to the number of men and women that serve in all forces of the military, yet this number will rise without proper medical attention and treatment. Continuing to allow large numbers of military men and women to go without care is immoral and unjust. Whether we as a country majority agree with a war or not, there are those who are still fighting in the name of the American people. While each member serves and protects our country, as a nation we must be willing to fight to protect them.

Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the U.S. soldier accused of killing 17 Afghan civilians, has been used as example of what untreated trauma can do to a soldier. His acts were unjustified, cruel and disgusting. Sgt. Bales deserves to spend the rest of his life in military prison if convicted. If untreated trauma caused this atrocious event, then the military and the health care system should fight to ensure this sort of tragedy never happens again.

For those fighting charges on American soil, the VA has sought to expand its number of mental health therapists and services. Still though, that does not ensure all veterans will get and receive the help they so desperately need. In an earlier 2012 study, 33 percent of 1,388 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans had committed a non-combat related crime of violence toward another human being. About 11 percent have used severe and sexual violence toward another person.

As young men and women return home from war, many will be enrolling in college. Colleges must be prepared and well equipped to handle those who suffer from physical and mental injures.

If colleges are not prepared to transition soldiers from combat to the classroom, there will be a disservice to those trying to do something productive for the body and mind.

Across the United States, young men and women will be lumped into classrooms with students that have never and will never face such challenges. Faculty, staff and students must recognize they are not the same as everyone else. We must be willing and able to make adjustments to those who have spent longer amounts of time cleaning a gun then tackling statistics homework. We must be willing to service them, and include them in the educational community.

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