On this Memorial Day, as we remember those who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces, it is also a time to remember those who served and are still living.
The military members and veterans with physical wounds are easy to spot, but those with the "invisible war wounds" of PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, and mental health issues can be just as severely affected. These invisible wounds, plus other economic factors (high unemployment and sluggish economy) and cultural factors (lack of understanding and support for those with "invisible wounds") further aggravate even more problems such as joblessness, homelessness and suicide.
The parades and societal "well wishes" at the airports, or the heart-warming returns seen in TV news stories are all too often followed by a sense of detachment, isolation and failure. Veterans often cannot wait to return to "normal civilian life" when away, but once home often find themselves feeling distant and alone.
They often long for who they were before they entered the war zone, and no longer feel attached to their friends, families or their communities. There are many who are either dying or giving up on life because benefits never showed up or simply the struggles are far more than they can endure.
Then there are those veterans still "sitting on the dock of the bay watching time roll away". According to some estimates, more than 9,000 veterans have been waiting more than a year for some offices to process their applications. Those in major metropolitan areas face far more protracted delays.
The total number of claims awaiting adjudication is estimated between 600,000 and 900,000. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics on unemployment, the average jobless rate for veterans in 2012 was 9.9%. The national average was a full two percent lower. For some the challenges are greater. Female veterans face a 12.5% unemployment rate, and for post 9/11 veterans in the 18-24 age bracket, the unemployment rate is 20%.
Joblessness leads to homelessness. According to a recent study by the National Homeless Organization, 33% of homeless males are veterans. They are twice as likely as any other American to become chronically homeless. On any given night more than 300,000 veterans are living on the streets of America.
The good news is that with appropriate support and help these veterans can recover, and go on to live productive and satisfying lives. But that requires that we as a society make the efforts to recognize and destigmatize the "invisible wounds," and strengthen and speed up the process by which these veterans can be offered the help and assistance they need and deserve.
As you reflect on Memorial Day observances and watch flags being raised to half-staff to remember the million-plus veterans that died in the service of our nation, also remember the living when it is raised to the top. Let not their sacrifice be in vain.
Harry Croft, M.D is a psychiatrist who has evaluated 7,000 veterans diagnosed with PTSD and co-author of the book "I Always Sit with My Back to The Wall: Managing Combat Stress and PTSD," www.mybacktothewall.com. Sydney Savion, EdD, is a retired military officer, applied behavioral scientist and author of the book "Camouflage to Pinstripes: Learning to Thrive in Civilian Culture." www.camouflagetopinstripes.com