Basically, I’m doing nothing today. I am at the office sorting through paperwork that was waiting for me when I got back from being gone for over a week and doing a little computer maintenance. Its 94 degrees outside and I am dressed appropriately and I am at the office by myself.
Isn’t that wonderful? It is such a mundane kind of day that it hardly seems worth celebrating but it is nothing short of miraculous that I can hang out at my office and tidy up a few loose ends before the real work week starts.
In the Middle East, I would not be allowed out without a male escort and I would likely suffer for wearing a light cotton shift and flip flops in public where everyone could see me. In China, many mothers are spending today and every day mourning the loss of their second child. There are people who have to secretly practice their religion and others who live in countries so corrupt that even when the US tries to assist, the aide we send is diverted to the elite ruling party while their citizens starve. Last week I read about the frustration of a doctor from Doctors without Borders because donated blood was reserved for the army of the ruling party even though everyone bleeds the same.
Sadly, some of the men and women who made it possible for me to goof off at my office today did not live to tell about it. Their families gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country and I cannot begin to express how grateful I am to them.
Other veterans – too many to count – did make it home in bits and pieces, physically and emotionally scarred with broken spirits. Some of them have become our most challenging patients.
Here are some alarming facts about veterans.
- A soldier today has a greater chance of dying from suicide than being killed in action. 6,500 veterans commit suicide every year.
- One in five suicides is a veteran but only one percent of the population will join the armed forces.
- 1 in 4 Veterans ages 18-25 met the criteria for substance abuse disorder in 2006
- 1.8 million Veterans of any age met the criteria for having a substance abuse disorder in 2006
- There are 140,000 U.S. Veterans in prison, and 60% of those have a substance abuse problem
- There are 130,000 homeless U.S. Veterans, and 75% of them suffer from substance abuse problems
- The number of veterans with service related disabilities is astronomical. One report says that almost half of all veterans who have served are disabled up to 50 percent. I will have to research that more but it just doesn’t seem possible.
These are our patients. Or they are the sons and daughters, brothers and sisters of our patients and even parents of our pediatric patients. The Veterans Administration does offer help but the channels are often difficult to navigate and almost impossible for someone suffering from mental illness. Click here for an interactive tool to find your patient help.
It isn’t only the soldiers who died who lost their lives fighting for our freedom. The homeless and the addicted veterans gave their lives for us, too. Let’s give a little back.