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Soldiers with PTSD have difficulty finding treatment, understanding

At Defense Forum Washington, a conference on supporting wounded soldiers and their families, the Army's vice chief of staff and those with first-hand experience spoke about the "invisible" injuries many soldiers return home with. Sixty-six percent of the most seriously wounded soldiers who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq suffer from traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder. These injuries are often not obvious to the casual observer, but are serious and will require care at great cost.

One woman spoke up about her husband's injuries that he sustained in Iraq and the trouble he's had getting medical attention. When a mortar round exploded 35 yards from him at Ali Air Base, he was knocked unconscious. He was told to rest for a few days before resuming duties.

When he returned home in 2008, the Air Force TSgt. experienced continuous headaches, confusion and short-term memory loss. Upon seeking help, his primary care doctor at the Air Force medical clinic insinuated that he was simply trying to get out of work, and prescribed a pain killer. With more pressing, he finally got a thorough evaluation and was found to have suffered a traumatic brain injury with an orbital wall blowout fracture behind one of his eyes. He also had vision deficit, hearing loss and post-traumatic stress disorder. While one shoulder required surgery, the physical damage is not what the family is struggling to deal with.

He receives 70 percent disability from Social Security Disability Insurance and the Air Force, but, even so, the family has drained their savings.

When asked how the military could have such a stigma against veterans who have served, but have mental injuries instead of physical ones, the Army's vice chief of staff was sympathetic but acknowledged that injuries like PTSD are not well understood. "The reality is that we as a department and as a nation will be dealing with the symptoms and effects of these injuries for decades to come," he said.

Many military veterans suffer from PTSD, yet many do not get the financial help they need to get treatment. For some, the disorder is so bad that they can no longer work. Applying for Social Security disability benefits may be the first step toward getting the financial aid these people deserve.

Source: Kitsap Sun, "'Invisible injuries' of war to be felt for decades," Tom Philpott, Sept. 30, 2011

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