Image courtesy of flick'r user ash_crow

On January 6, 2017, Esteban Santiago, age 26, casually walked into the Fort Lauderdale airport and opened fire. Santiago killed five people and injured six others. Once apprehended, Santiago confessed to the heinous crime and admitted that it was a planned attack. With Santiago in custody, law enforcement officials are looking into this young man’s background and finding a series of unsettling events.

According to recent reports, the shooter sought help for mental health problems and reported that he felt he was under control of U.S. intelligence. According to his brother, Santiago told the FBI that he was hearing voices from the CIA urging him to join ISIS. After a four-day period of observation and a mental health evaluation, Santiago was released. A few weeks later, bullets began flying at the Ft. Lauderdale airport.

In the wake of Santiago’s rampage, government officials are saying that traumatized soldiers are coming home with “invisible wounds of war,” which is something Defense Secretary Ash Carter takes very seriously. More needs to be done to help these men and women who have put their lives at risk for their country.

”We keep learning more about how to deal with this kind of illness, we’re gonna learn more and we have to do more absolutely.”
– Defense Secretary Ash Carter

Though the exact mental health issues Santiago suffers from have yet to be determined, Defense Sec. Carter and other sources are pointing to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition that is far too common among our armed forces.

What We Know

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that between 11% and 20% of soldiers who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom suffer from PTSD in a single year. When the entire population is taken into account, the V.A. estimates that 7% to 8% of Americans will struggle with PTSD during their lifetimes.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), only half of the veterans who need mental health treatment after returning home seek out help. Of those who seek help, only half of those men and women receive adequate care. This means that only about 25% of our veterans who need mental health treatment actually get help. This may explain why the Army suicide rate hit an all-time high in 2012.

What Needs To Be Done

It begins with identifying cases of PTSD, traumatic brain injury, depression, psychosis, and other mental health disorders common to our returning war veterans. As these brave men and women return home, too many are being discharged without adequate screenings, which leaves our veterans and their families to face the challenges of mental illness on their own.

With effective screening procedures in place, we can begin to get our wounded warriors the help they need. This includes ensuring that veterans’ benefits cover mental health services, helping connect veterans with mental health providers near them, and including mental health medications such as antidepressants, anxiolytics, and antipsychotics in V.A. health insurance coverage.

There are mixed opinions about whether our troops belong overseas. But regardless of political opinions, our nation must care for our service men and women who are returning home with invisible wounds that have so far been neglected and allowed to fester.

How do you think we can help our brave soldiers who return home with invisible wounds? What do you recommend we do to help?

Sources

American Psychological Association. (n.d.). The Critical Need for Mental Health Professionals Trained to Treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014). Veterans and Military Families.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2016). How Common Is PTSD?

 

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