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October 16, 2021
 

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Weekend Doctor: Physical and mental costs of war

By James H. Legge III, MSN, APRN-CNP, PMHNP

The sands of time include many pivotal dates: On September 2, 1945, General Douglas MacArthur accepts the formal surrender of Imperial Japan; in late July of 1953, the Korean War comes to an end, with the 38th parallel becoming the dividing line between North and South Korea; nearly 20 years later, on April 30, 1975, North Vietnamese tanks roll through the gates of the Presidential palace in Saigon. More recently, August 15, 2021, is now remembered as the day Kabul, Afghanistan fell to the Taliban.

While these moments represent the end of major conflicts in U.S. history, what can we say about the true costs of war and post-war? The global war on terrorism, for example, can be broken down in many ways. Not only have our post 9/11 wars cost greater than an estimated 8 trillion dollars, but nearly 400,000 civilians have perished, and nearly 38 million refugees have been displaced. In addition, more than 2,000 American service members have made the ultimate sacrifice, while several hundred thousand more have suffered wounds and debilitations.

No matter how the toll is measured, one aspect remains consistent--the effects of war can be felt for decades by those who gave of themselves in the name of service and patriotism, and much of the pain is shared by their families as well. Moreover, while we all hear that war is harrowing and ruthless, the direct trauma is very personal. Consisting of both physical and mental strain, the private damage to survivors can be so severe that it appears impervious to any type of long-term healing.

By nature, many service personnel are not wired to ask for help. And, while the grit and toughness that comes with being a member of our military might seem to provide the protection required to endure the burdens of conflict, this is not always the case. The force of will can’t cause a limb to grow back, help a paralyzed person walk or welcome a lost loved one home. The discipline and resilience instilled into our service members is not always enough to overcome the long-term effects of extreme emotional trauma.

It has been postulated that 22 veterans per day take their own life. This is proof of the battles that continue to rage in hearts and minds, regardless of the memorable dates that fill the pages of our history books. If you, or a family member or friend can relate to these words, please be aware that services are available. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has a Veterans Crisis Line (1.800.273.8255, then Press 1, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week), and there are local veterans organizations that benefit the community. 

Post-war trauma is a serious challenge, and it can be even more daunting for those with a reluctance to ask for assistance. While relief may seem out of reach, please know that a helping hand is only a phone call away.

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