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Col. Matt Amidon on Confronting the Invisible Wounds

Article by Col. Matthew F. Amidon, USMCR November 10, 2016 //   5 minute read

This week, in honor of Veterans Day, the Bush Center will feature a series of posts that highlight the strength and resilience of the brave men and women who volunteered to wear our Nation’s uniform.  

Today, we hear from Colonel Matt Amidon, Deputy Director of the Military Service Initiative, about why seeking help for an invisible wound of war is a sign of strength. 

Nostalgia, Soldier’s Heart, Irritable heart, Shell shock, War neuroses, 
Combat stress reaction, Battle fatigue, PTSD/TBI

All of these historic terms point to the tremendous toll that combat can take on the physical and mental well-being of our warriors and their families. For those who have worn the nation’s cloth and been placed in harm’s way, it is largely indisputable that one can somehow remain unchanged by these profound experiences. Combat, the deliberate taking of human life, and the horrors of war all imprint an enduring image on the psyche and the body.

Combat, the deliberate taking of human life, and the horrors of war all imprint an enduring image on the psyche and the body.

In order to better understand some of the impacts these may have on our warriors and their families, the Military Service Initiative conducted two surveys with our partners at SSRS. This research entailed surveying post-9/11 veterans in the U.S. as well as adults in the general population in the U.S., the UK, and Canada in order to gain a better understanding of how people think about post-9/11 veterans and their perceptions of the issues post-9/11 veterans face regarding post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI)

Over 2.8 million of our post-9/11 warriors have deployed to Iraq and/or Afghanistan. Over 52,000 have sustained visible wounds. But the number of warriors dealing with the invisible wounds of war, inclusive of TBI, PTSD and other psychological health conditions may be as much as six times larger.

Results from the survey indicate that inaccurate perceptions may inflate this number. Forty percent of respondents in the United States said they believe that more than 50 percent of post-9/11 veterans suffer from mental health issues. An additional 32 percent believe that at least 26 percent of post-9/11 veterans suffer from mental health issues.  Sixty-four percent of respondents in the U.S. believe that greater than 26 percent suffer from PTSD. However, estimates range that, at any given time, about 10-20 percent of U.S. service members who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan experience symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of PTSD.

While we know that the vast majority of our warriors do come home, adjust well, and transition to the next phase of their life, for some the invisible wounds of war present an insidious and significant hurdle to overall health and wellness. Among these challenges are the hesitation to seek and stay in effective care.

Therein lies the challenge, as though there are effective and proven treatments available, it comes down to who is willing to partake of them for the right amount of time. Studies have shown that less than half of military personnel and veterans who experience invisible wounds actually receive any care. This is in direct contrast with the estimated 83 percent of warriors who receive care for a visible wound of war.

But why aren’t our warriors seeking the help? Our survey found that over 80 percent of warriors surveyed believe that; embarrassment or shame, belief that their family will not understand, and belief that seeking care will result in negative repercussions in the workplace, are significant barriers to veterans seeking care.

Seeking help is not weakness. It is the foundation of strength.

Michael Rodriguez, Team 43 Warrior and former Green Beret, pointed out that “Hiding behind shame will not solve anything.  How do you describe something you cannot see, touch, or quantify?  I think it requires a tremendous amount of patience and personal courage.  You cannot let fear determine how you respond to an issue.  Until you clearly identify an enemy, you will never truly be able to defeat them.”

Hiding behind shame will not solve anything.

We are part of the greatest fighting force this planet has ever seen and stigma is just a word that unfortunately manifests as actions or more precisely, inaction. Don’t let it.