By Marc Burgess, Special to Military Times 12:10 p.m. EST November 25, 2015
Our recent annual observance of Veterans Day marked a genuine, heartfelt "thank you" to the men and women who have bravely served our nation. But now that the celebrations are over, it's an appropriate time to ask an important question: Are we truly supporting America's veterans?
A landmark survey conducted by my organization, Disabled American Veterans, reveals a very mixed answer.
There are 22 million veterans in this country. They are our family members, friends and neighbors; indeed, we all likely know at least one veteran. But there is much that many of us don't know or understand about their experiences, attitudes and perceptions.
Horse trainer Buck Brannaman, who helped inspire the lead character in the Nicholas Evans novel "The Horse Whisperer," speaks from experience about the healing power a horse can offer its human companion.
"Horses,'' he says, ''are incredibly forgiving. They fill in places we're not capable of filling ourselves. They've given people a new hope, a new lease on life."
That proposition — that horses can be healers — stands at the operational core of Horsefeathers, a therapeutic riding program located at 1181 Riverwoods Road in Lake Forest since 2008.
Success is a wonderful thing. It is exhilarating and exciting, especially when it comes to helping others. But it can also be very limiting when it drains resources that need to be replenished in order to sustain growth.
That is the state of affairs the Lake County Veterans and Family Services Foundation finds itself in as we complete our first full year of operation. Our robust growth has paid off, but we need to raise money to continue to serve our Service Member target population fully and efficiently. So, we are happy to announce two more options for our supporters to help us with donations.
The old Army cook and the injured artilleryman sat shooting the breeze at the Department of Veterans Affairs' Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago.
Nick Konz spent part of the 1960s in uniform, turning low-grade meat into meals for soldiers stationed in Germany.
Ray O'Brien came home "banged up" from the Korean War, prompting a discharge and a loss of military life that the 86-year-old would lament after until the day he died.
By that November day, O'Brien was suffering from vascular disease and had settled into hospice care. Still, the Libertyville man retained the loquaciousness of someone healthier as he held court from his wheelchair.
"The American Legion has the best bars," he noted, hair gelled up by a nurse for the visitors, his right leg swollen with blood that refused to circulate.
"Depends on who's bartending," Konz said.
For all too many veterans, returning from military service means coping with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). You may be having a hard time readjusting to life out of the military. Or you may constantly be feeling on edge, emotionally numb and disconnected, or close to panicking or exploding. But no matter how long the V.A. wait times, or how isolated or emotionally cut off from others you feel, it’s important to know that you’re not alone and there are plenty of things you can do to start feeling better. These steps can help you learn to deal with nightmares and flashbacks, cope with feelings of depression, anxiety or guilt, and regain your sense of control.
What causes PTSD in veterans? Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sometimes known as shell shock or combat stress, occurs after you experience severe trauma or a life-threatening event. It’s normal for your mind and body to be in shock after such an event, but this normal response becomes PTSD when your nervous system gets “stuck.”
Your nervous system has two automatic or reflexive ways of responding to stressful events:
Mobilization, or fight-or-flight, occurs when you need to defend yourself or survive the danger of a combat situation. Your heart pounds faster, your blood pressure rises, and your muscles tighten, increasing your strength and reaction speed. Once the danger has passed, your nervous system calms your body, lowering your heart rate and blood pressure, and winding back down to its normal balance.
Immobilization occurs when you’ve experienced too much stress in a situation and even though the danger has passed, you find yourself “stuck.” Your nervous system is unable to return to its normal state of balance and you’re unable to move on from the event. This is PTSD.
Recovering from PTSD involves transitioning out of the mental and emotional war zone you’re still living in and helping your nervous system become "unstuck."
VA caregiver benefits provide financial, medical, and peer help for family members that support veterans.
Roughly 5.5 million people serve as caregivers for veteran family members. The Department of Veterans Affairs has a lesser known benefit for these family members. Known as Caregiver Support Services, these benefits aim to help family members who are tasked with the primary care of a disabled veteran.
The services available include access to a caregiver support line, support coordinator, peer support for caregivers, adult day health care centers, and home care, among other things.
Connecting your docs with the Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record (VLER) Health program shares important parts of your Veteran health record between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and your community health care providers who participate in this program. This allows your health care providers to access important information about your health, so they can provide you the best possible care.
This exchange occurs over a secure and private network known as the eHealth Exchange. This program is free and voluntary for Veterans, but VA needs your consent to share your health records (VA Form 10-0485).
If you have not already joined, go to the eBenefits website and sign up (It's free)!
If you have technical difficulties, please call 1-800-983-0937 for assistance.
Thank you for agreeing to share your VA health data with your providers and, as always, we thank you for your service!
The VLER Health National Program Office
Lake County Veterans and Family Services Foundation works every day to support the 57,000 Service Members in Lake County, Illinois. Our Vets are sometimes faced with critical emergency financial needs and they come to us for temporary assistance. We respond and help when we can.
We need your help to do the right thing. One $20 donation can buy a simple meal for a Vet, provide a night of shelter, transportation to an assisting agency or any number of other needs.
Veterans Day and the season of giving reminds us of how much our Service Members, both current and past, have unselfishly served the Greater Good for the benefit of all of us living and enjoying life in the United States.
Please consider a $20 donation to the LCVFSF Vets In Need Program. Every penny of whatever you donate will go directly to a Veteran so the entire amount is tax deductible. Just click on the images above or below to be taken to the secure PayPal site to make your donation.
We thank you for your continuing support!
An act of Congress honoring Vietnam veterans with a day of recognition was signed into law by President Trump on Tuesday, per a White House press release. March 29 is now designated as National Vietnam War Veterans Day by the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017 according to Gateway Pundit. The U.S. flag is to be flown in commemoration of those who served in Vietnam.
The bipartisan bill was sponsored by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind. The bill passed the Senate last month and the House last week.