ThedaCare Health Matters

Demographics, needs of veterans changing

Former soldiers carry visible, invisible scars

Recently, we observed the national holiday Veteran’s Day, established to honor those who have served our country in the armed forces. The date was chosen to commemorate the end of World War I, which happened on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. This is not to be confused with Memorial Day, which is set aside to remember the veterans who gave their life in service.

There are no longer any living veterans who served in World War I. The World War II veterans are becoming fewer and fewer. It is reported that there were 16 million Americans who served in World War II and it is estimated that there are less than 620,000 alive in 2016. Over 350 die every day. Since it has been 81 years since the end of that war, those veterans are at least 89 years old. History tells us of the brutality and the persecution of innocent people that occurred during the war. Unfortunately, there will soon not be people alive who actually witnessed the concentration camps and the suffering that went on during that time period.  
I have had the honor of caring for World War II veterans over the years. Some of the stories were truly amazing and changed these people. Many of them carried scars for their lifetime.

I remember seeing a man who showed the scars of terrible burns over his chest and face. He had been on the deck of a Navy destroyer hit by a kamikaze pilot while sailing in the Pacific Ocean. It was a miracle that he survived. Others carried shrapnel under their skin or suffered amputations as reminders of what they endured in battle.

I saw a man once with unusual scars across his arms and chest. When I asked him about them, he said while swimming with his group across a lagoon on a South Pacific Island, he was grabbed by a crocodile. He was not sure why it let him go, but he was able to escape and survived the attack.

Another veteran told me of how he still feared the dark. He was fighting in Europe and assigned to guard a bridge. The enemy was not far away. There was a piece of equipment that had been left by the bridge by his group. During the night, he crawled down to the bridge to retrieve the equipment and never really got over the fear he felt that night.

Vietnam veterans carry similar scars and memories. It is reported that about 2.7 million service personnel served in Vietnam of the 9.2 million who were in the service during that era. Because these individuals are younger, there are more Vietnam veterans than World War II veterans alive today.

Our veterans of today face a different type of evil, but still have medical concerns that need to be addressed. Today’s veterans face medical and psychological challenges that civilians can never quite fully understand. Tragically, suicide is a major problem among veterans. In 2014, it was reported that 20 veterans committed suicide per day. Substance abuse is high among veterans and is linked to the suicide rate.

The Veteran’s Ad-ministration Health system is faced with many challenges to care for the physical and psychological needs that veterans have. Hopefully, the resources will be dedicated to care for their physical and mental health needs.

If you get a chance, you might be able to make a Veteran’s Day by honoring them and thanking them for their service. Stay healthy my friends.