- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
By Garry Trudeau
Best Defense guest columnist
As I’m old enough to recall the stereotypes that formed around Vietnam veterans, I’m well aware of this danger. The purpose of my stories has been to participate in the national conversation about the costs of war. JPWREL and VICTOR are correct that the majority of warriors return home without invisible wounds, but it is by no means an “overwhelming” majority. There are an estimated 600,000 veterans (out of 2.2 million who’ve served in OEF and OIF) who are suffering from either stress disorders, MST, or the effects of TBI. The proportion is considerably higher than in previous wars because of multiple deployments and the aggregate number of consecutive days that participants are in a high-conflict environment, thus in a rolling state of stress and hyper-vigilance.
This is a substantial cohort whose continuing care represents a major challenge to our country. I have tried to represent the sacrifices of the wounded — both physically and mentally — across a broad continuum of affliction and recovery: B.D., the amputee, who learns to manage his PTSD well enough to reach out to Melissa, the helicopter mechanic, who recovers from her MST enough to actually re-enlist; Leo, whose TBI leaves him with Broca’s Aphasia, but whose resilience propels him into community college, a job at a studio, and a healthy romantic relationship; Ray, who recovered from physical injuries in the Gulf War, led a normal life at home, only to endure multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, leading to the collapse that recently sent him home. All different journeys, all different outcomes.
War changes everyone, and most veterans can manage that change without become impaired or dysfunctional. Their stories are important, too, but by focusing on their less fortunate brothers and sisters, I mean to keep front and center the sacrifices they have all made in our names.