As America’s involvement in the Middle East winds down (for now), national authorities are stuck preparing to deal with the wave of American veterans who will be returning to the States suffering the damages of war. Thousands of American men and women have died in combat, and many more have suffered severe mutilations. But perhaps more insidious because of their invisibility are the mental scars many soldiers face.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and brain injury in the veteran community is a serious issue. As we told you here earlier this year, “The Defense Department estimates that nearly 213,000 military members have suffered brain injuries since 2000 and that about 3,000 veterans who were assigned to conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq suffered major depression or PTSD.”
The psychological problems these soldiers face might not be so bad if they were treated properly, like any illness or injury. But because you can’t see PTSD the way you can see a bullet hole, doctors have a problem recognizing it without soldiers self-diagnosing themselves and then asking for help. As it stands, less than half seek help.
Exacerbating all these problems is that African-American women, who make up nearly a quarter of the 150,000 female soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, are suffering PTSD at disproportionate rates. Women in general are more likely than men to suffer from PTSD, and the military environment enhances that, as female soldiers are likelier to face traumatic sexual assaults, many of which go unreported.
"African-American women in combat zones continue to experience higher rates of PTSD due to assaults that are never reported. To make matters worse, only 15 Veteran Affairs centers in the United States provide residential mental-health treatment specifically for women with PTSD. Thus, it’s truly become a struggle for African-American women to reintegrate themselves back into their civilian lives and begin the process to heal from PTSD."
If PTSD goes untreated, it can lead to drug and alcohol abuse, violent and erratic outbursts and an inability to hold down a steady job. And those problems are all things that lead to instability in personal relationships and financial health.
It’s no wonder, then, that so many veterans end up homeless. In Los Angeles alone, there are an estimated 7,000 veterans living on the streets on any given day.
One reason experts think many Black women suffer in silence with PTSD is that Black women are frequently seen as being strong caretakers. It’s the community’s responsibility to let African-American veterans — and anyone with mental illness — know that seeking help for psychological distress is not a sign of weakness. Being strong and capable, and needing therapy, are not mutually exclusive.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: Daniel Bendjy / Vetta / Getty Images)