Health & Fitness

Dr. Wood: When veterans come home, it’s time for us to take care of them

Meadows Elementary School students made Valentines for Vets in 2013.  Writing a thank-you note or holiday card to veterans can make their day.
Meadows Elementary School students made Valentines for Vets in 2013. Writing a thank-you note or holiday card to veterans can make their day. Olympian file photo

Taking care of the people who have served in the armed forces is something we all want to do well. After all, serving in the military takes a unique kind of strength and bravery. It takes a high level of sacrifice that most of us aren’t willing to make.

When our vets get home, they have to integrate back into their civilian lives. The transition can be brutal, and the path back into civilian life may be riddled with health issues that are common for veterans. According to medical research, veterans experience a wide variety of mental health disorders, substance use disorders, post-traumatic stress, and traumatic brain injuries at disproportionate rates compared to civilians.

In fact 18 to 22 American vets commit suicide daily, and veterans ages 18-44 are most at risk. A 2010 Live Science article identified several common health issues that face our veterans. These included:

  • Musculoskeletal injuries and pain

  • Mental health issues, such as PTSD and depression

  • Chemical exposure

  • Infectious disease

  • Noise and vibration exposure

  • Traumatic Brain Injury

It’s hard to know how to help. We know that veterans face not only a wide variety of health issues, but that these can lead to other problems. But there are ways that we can support our veterans.

Support local resources. Thurston County has a Veterans Resource Guide (https://bit.ly/2Pd8DJq), and the Veterans Hub in Lacey (https://www.laceyveteranshub.org/ ) offers hands-on support to local vets. Volunteer to get involved.

The Veterans Hub is at 4232 Sixth Ave. SE, Suite 202, in Lacey. They are open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and can be reached at 360-456-3850. The Veterans Hub helps connect local vets with a wide variety of resources, including veterans’ benefits, counseling, housing, financial assistance, employment, formal education, nutrition classes, health care, and legal services.

Here are a few more suggestions:

Offer a veteran a ride. It can be difficult for a disabled veteran to get to their doctor appointments, especially if they live in a remote location. Drive A Van is a volunteer transportation network administered by the Disabled American Veterans

Sponsor a companion dog for a veteran with PTSD. Puppies behind Bars is a national organization that trains prison inmates to raise service dogs for wounded war veterans.

Donate frequent flier miles to wounded veterans and their families. There are several charities that collect miles to bring families together to get vets to treatment facilities and help their families be there for them.

Send a thank you letter. Operation Gratitude will send thank you letters and care packages to vets and first responders.

Listen, learn and share. The Veterans History Project — part of the Library of Congress — has been collecting stories from veterans of all ages and from all walks of life. Listen to their stories.

Volunteer to help build a home for an injured vet. Both Habitat for Humanity and Building Homes for Heroes provide homes for wounded or ill veterans.

Whatever you’re doing for Veterans Day this year, be sure to take the time to think of these brave people, and do your part to show your thanks.

Reach Dr. Rachel C. Wood, health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties, at 360-867-2501, woodr@co.thurston.wa.us, or @ThurstonHealth on Twitter.
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