VOICES: Veterans’ invisible wounds made worse by pandemic

Many veterans suffer from visible and ‘invisible’ wounds years after returning home from combat. Unfortunately, many of these wounds never fully heal. As the United States has faced two decades of continuous war, the realities and effects of conflict have become all too common. Almost everyone has a relative, friend or neighbor who bears a badge of combat. For me, it was my late Uncle Charles, who inspired me to serve our country by entering the military. He was a Vietnam War veteran who suffered for decades from the effects of Agent Orange exposure until his death in 2015.

Physical wounds of war are often noticeable while the invisible wounds - which impact an individual’s mental health- are generally overlooked. Veterans experience post-traumatic stress, mental health disorders, substance use disorders, and traumatic brain injuries at disproportionate rates when compared to civilians. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression and traumatic brain injury (TBI) are among the primary health concerns veterans encounter. Other major health concerns include medication abuse, sleeplessness, flashbacks, hyper-vigilance and anger issues.

Mental health across our community has been greatly impacted due to the isolation and stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Social isolation and loneliness has led to mental health concerns for many Americans, but particularly veterans who may already be suffering from these invisible wounds. The pandemic has led to increased instability in relationships, difficulties finding employment and food and housing insecurity - all of which has exacerbated the need for recognition and treatment of existing mental health concerns throughout our community. Uncertainty in these foundational blocks are risk factors for veteran homelessness.

Currently, being a veteran increases the likelihood of becoming homeless. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs (HUD), in 2019, 21 out of every 10,000 veterans were homeless. The overall homeless rate that same year was 17 out of every 10,000 Americans. In 2020, before the pandemic, HUD reported veteran homelessness was increasing due to damaged employment prospects and financial resources. Veterans only comprise 6% of the population of the United States yet make up 8% of the country’s homeless population.

Often, veterans seeking treatment or assistance require specific documentation showing military service or honorable discharge. The DD-214 is the most common form of proof and can be obtained through an individual’s local county veteran services office. Due to the importance of the DD-214, many consider it to be the access point to earned benefits.

To best serve our veterans in obtaining their earned benefits, I implemented the Veteran Identification Card Program in August of 2018. The Veteran ID card is a bridge between the honorable service of a veteran to our great nation and their earned benefits. It can be used to assist in voting and obtaining eligibility for hospital, burial, service credit benefits, store discounts and more. To obtain the complimentary Veteran ID card, a veteran must present their DD-214 at the Recorders Office to be recorded and securely retained for safekeeping. At no time is the information from your DD-214 displayed on public record. More information about this program & upcoming remote Veteran ID Card Clinics can be found at www.mcrecorder.org or by contacting Denise Gerhard at the Montgomery County Recorder’s Office at (937) 224-3857.

Brandon McClain is the Montgomery County Recorder.

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