Home of the Free Because of the Brave

In the year of 2017, we have been fighting a war in Iraq and Afghanistan for sixteen years now. That is sixteen years of men and women being sent away to the most stressful situations imaginable. As we celebrate America’s Independence this week, I thought it was a fitting time to discuss “the Brave” in the line, “America the Free, Because of the Brave”. 2.7 million service members have been to the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, and over half of them have deployed more than once. This is the longest combat operation since Vietnam.

Many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans face a life of disability due to the physical and psychological injuries they sustain in the war zones. At least 675,000 veterans have some degree of officially recognized physical disability as a result of the wars. Many more live with physical and emotional scars despite lack of disability status. Reports estimate that 11% of the soldiers who fought in Afghanistan, and 20% of the soldiers who fought in Iraq suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). That puts the amount of soldiers suffering from PTSD anywhere from 297,000 individuals – 540,000 individuals and many studies suggesting much higher numbers than that.

As we know, the fourth of July can be very triggering for soldiers who fought in these wars- as the fireworks explode, it can cause severe flashbacks for those in combat zones and I ask that the readers of this memo keep that in mind this week. PTSD can be a chronic condition and last soldiers their entire lives. The disease interrupts individuals daily lives and it is a debilitating disorder if it goes untreated.

It doesn’t stop at PTSD. As of today, more United States troops have died from suicide than have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001. From 2002 to 2012 there were 253,330 service members diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury of some kind. The unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is 10%, higher than the national average of 7.3%.

If the Vietnam war taught us anything, it is that we need to take better care of our veterans when they get back home to us. Today, in Indianapolis alone, 20% of individuals experiencing homelessness are veterans. The Balance of State (which excludes St. Joseph county and Indianapolis) puts the state average of Individuals experiencing homelessness as 12% being veterans. Many of these veterans fought in the Vietnam war.

This trend speaks volumes as to what we can expect to see, and are already seeing, with this new generation of soldiers who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. We as a country, need to make massive investments into affordable housing for veterans as well as mental health treatment. The number of soldiers experiencing these complications will continue to grow as more time passes.

For this year’s Fourth of July, let’s remember "the brave" - not as a saying, but as the people who are actually suffering because of these wars - in an effort to protect our freedoms that we enjoy. We often say in this Country “Freedom is not Free”, referring to those who laid down their lives. But we also need to start thinking of those who did not die, but came back altered. We need to pay the cost it takes to rehabilitate these soldiers so that they too do not end up homeless or suffering from untreated diseases/disabilities. Because indeed, freedom is not free. Wars are expensive, and we need to ensure some of those expenses are going to the actual individuals who fought in these wars. We need our elected representatives to protect our soldiers, or we need to vote them out of office. We owe our soldiers that.

Thank you to those who have served our country. Happy Fourth of July everyone, please celebrate responsibly.

- by Kait Baffoe

Earth Charter