By Amee Sheldon
Servicemembers, too often, are faced with harsh conditions both on the battlefield overseas and in their hometowns.
Nightmares, depression, difficulties transitioning back to their lives in the states, difficulties communicating with loved ones and difficulties focusing on their jobs all encompass the stressors that being deployed overseas can have on individuals, who serve our country.
Personally, when my loved one came home from Afghanistan in January 2011 his sleep was disturbed, he was anxious walking around in public, almost profiling every person who walked near us, and still, to this day, does not like loud noises, such as fireworks.
Due to the experiences of my own, it was not difficult for me to pick a piece of legislation to support when I was asked to do so in my graduate program at the University of Southern California. Each student is gaining the experience of researching a piece of legislation, learning how to advocate for a policy, finding resources in the community to help build awareness, and most of all, absorbing all the newly gathered information to rally support for what we are passionate about.
I have been married to my U.S. Marine for two years this month, so for me, it was so easy to choose a piece of legislation that supports our troops. I support the Servicemember Mental Health Review Act that was re-introduced by Representative Tim Walz from Minnesota. The bill will review the records of more than 31,000 servicemembers, who may have been improperly discharged from the Armed Forces, who served post-9/11. Not having a proper diagnosis when an individual is discharged affects his or her eligibility to access benefits, such as timely healthcare, disability compensation, disability severance pay and disability retirement pay.
In the first 155 days of the year in 2012, there were 154 suicides among active-duty troops. That is 50 percent higher than the number of forces killed in action in Afghanistan in that period and is also the highest rate in 10 years of war. The national unemployment rate, as of March 2013, is 7.6 percent. The unemployment rate of post 9/11 veterans is 9.9 percent, which is significantly higher than the unemployment rate among all veterans, which is 7.0 percent.
According to an article from Science, it is estimated that about 30 percent of troops deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq might develop PTSD; however, the latest survey found that 4.3 percent of all military personnel deployed developed PTSD and of those who reported combat exposure, 7.6 percent developed PTSD.
The question is: Why? Why might the estimated and reported percentage of PTSD differentiate by such a wide margin? An Army hospital is being investigated for medical fraud, where Army psychologists are taking the process of diagnosis into their hands, preventing fair disability ratings for those servicemembers with PTSD. The fact is that these men and women are being discharged, some being misdiagnosed, from their duty to our countries and are being plagued by statistics of suicide and unemployment. What if they get help now, including the proper diagnosis of discharge, when they are going through the process, so that they can get out of the Armed Forces and live a life of quality, happiness and fulfillment? Services are offered in the community, but it starts with getting servicemembers properly discharged from their branch of service, so they can get the extra benefits they need and deserve.
In the advocating process for the bill being reintroduced to Congress, Wounded Warrior Project was named as my organization, in which I partnered with, to raise funds. Wounded Warrior Project has also publicly stated its support for the Servicemember Mental Health Review Act, stating that the bill will “establish a much-needed remedial avenue for veterans to win reversal of erroneous determinations and potentially become eligible for service-connection based on PTSD or other service-incurred mental health conditions.” Awareness has also been spread through a petition sent to family, friends and fellow servicemembers of the Armed Forces.
As a student at the University of Southern California, I want servicemembers to know individuals are working for them in classes like mine to rally support for pieces of legislation that will benefit our troops and support them for supporting us every day, both here at home and overseas.
A Palm Bay native, Amee Sheldon is a graduate of the University of South Florida and is the wife of an active-duty U.S. Marine. The couple is currently stationed at Indian Head Naval Base in Indian Head, Md.