I was honored when Heidi asked me to speak this evening during mental health awareness month. Many of you know that i have worked at the VA medical center in Loma Linda for the last 10 years. There are 157 VA’s across the country and thousands of VA community based clinics as well. Their sole purpose is to serve over 20 million veterans with physical and mental disabilities received as a result of serving their country.
My greatest interest in the subject of mental health relates to where i work and the people i work with and serve. Throughout history men and women have gone to war and have not come back the same as when they left. The trauma has been called “shell-shock”, “combat stress”, and “battle fatigue”. In today’s vernacular it has become known at post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.
Over the past 100 years, PTSD has affected the lives of millions of veterans, some more severe than others. World war i and world war ii vets rarely spoke of their issues but were haunted by their memories and struggled all of their lives to cope.
Many decided to ‘tough it out’ and get on with their lives despite the nightmares and flashbacks to the horrors they witnessed.
Today, due to significant research by the VA, psychologists and psychiatrists have learned how to help treat this illness and help guide those who sacrificed both physically and mentally for their country. There is no cure for PTSD. The treatments can involve medication, various coping methods, and group sessions involving others with similar issues. For every veteran diagnosed with PTSD there is another not being treated.
My connection with these men and women come from the difficulty many have obtaining employment or keeping employment. The VA has worked extensively over the past 20 years to reduce homelessness and under-employment of veterans. All VA medical center environmental service departments across the country are required to hire only service disabled veterans. From there, those hired are given training and opportunities for promotion within the VA system. At the same time, because they are at the VA during their work day, they have access to the most advanced treatment of PTSD as well as any physical disabilities. I have seen the effect their illness has on their daily lives. I have commiserated with them about their struggles. I have directed them to those who can help them. It is an on-going fight that we owe them for their service.
When we think of PTSD we typically think of men who have borne the battle. In today’s military, women are now engaging in battle and the effects are seen in them as well. The newest issue these women are facing beside PTSD is sexual trauma. It is difficult enough to deal with what our enemies inflict during war but now we must deal with other stress and trauma we are inflicting on our own. Since women in battle is something fairly new we are only now beginning to see more women coming to the PTSD for treatment of mental and physical issues. It should also be noted that PTSD is not solely an issue of war. Significant trauma can come in many different forms from disasters to serious accidents. The symptoms and treatments are the same. I have left a small packet of information in the Merkaz for those who would like to know more about PTSD. Also there is a flyer regarding a women’s clinic being held tomorrow morning at the VA in Loma Linda.
What is important about all of this is that mental illness affects all of us. We allow many to wander the streets of our cities with little hope of assistance or treatment. As Jews we are held accountable for the way we treat those who need help. Look for ways to support mental health causes. If you want more information see Heidi or Nancy and let them give you some resources or ways you can help.
The Torah teaches us to help our ‘neighbors’. Don’t turn your back, reach out your hand.