U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy once provided a context to the concept of the pursuit of happiness in a 2005 lecture at the National Conference on Citizenship. Happiness, he said, is that feeling of self-worth and dignity you acquire by contributing to your community and to its civic life.
Of combat veterans returning home after serving our country, as many as 30 percent struggle with mental health issues whose symptoms often worsen once they leave the structure and comradery of military life and hospital treatment to begin reintegration back into civilian life. For these brave men and women, their mission for our country has been completed, but our mission is far from over.
As noted a couple of weeks ago in this space, in exchange for their service and sacrifice, the covenant this nation has entered with these men and women is to heal, restore and reinstate them to their proper place in our society — to realign them with their fundamental and inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness; and, where needed, to help them in every way possible to regain a sense of control over their lives. In fulfilling this responsibility, we are falling far short.
I say this based on my February report on the state of care for our military diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Only a third of troops with PTSD, as well as less than a quarter of those diagnosed as clinically depressed, are receiving even the bare minimum number of therapy sessions after being diagnosed and following discharge from hospital care. Still, we would like to believe that the help they need is at least a phone call away.
The Veteran Administration's crisis hotline (800-273-8255) was created in 2007 and receives about 1,200 calls per day, according to the agency. Of those, about 35 are calls from veterans who are threatening suicide. According to an investigative report released last week by USA Today, in the 12 months prior to January, the phone banks at the VA's Health Resource Center had a call "abandonment rate" of 26 percent. Abandonment rates reflect calls where veterans hang up, often because they've given up on waiting for someone to answer. As revealed last month in an inspector general report, many calls are being allowed to go to voicemail. According to a Senate hearing on this matter, at least one combat veteran is known to have committed suicide last July after failing to reach someone on the crisis hotline.
Says the deputy secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs, Sloan Gibson: "One of the biggest challenges we have right now, and quite frankly it's a low bar, is answering the phone."
Army Corporal Tyler Wilson joined the growing ranks of our nation's wounded warriors in 2005 during deployment to Afghanistan when, during a firefight, he was hit by a bullet that pierced his spine and left him paralyzed below the waist. Upon returning home, he was given medical care as provided for all veterans disabled while serving. His problem is different, yet equally disturbing.
Years later, Wilson decided to start a family. Doctors told him and his fiancee that in vitro fertilization is their only chance of conceiving a child. The Defense Department covers service members for infertility treatment while their status is still active military if it's because of service-related injuries. As you might guess, few wounded troops recovering from combat injuries are of a mind to take advantage of this benefit. When Wilson approached the V.A. for these services he was told that, by law, the V.A. cannot provide in vitro fertilization, not for him or any of the more than 1,000 other veterans, male and female, who are now infertile because of injuries sustained in combat or training.
It's not like the government doesn't recognize they have a problem here. The Pentagon announced in January that it will now begin offering troops a chance to freeze their sperm or eggs before deployment. But despite this step, current law banning the V.A. from offering in vitro fertilization continues to force Wilson and others to pay for treatments out of pocket — to the tune of $12,000 a treatment. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine has called the government's ban on V.A. coverage "antiquated and unconscionable."
The idea that there's a correlation between happiness and health — or unhappiness and poor health — is not a new theory. The association of happiness and health is now a potent standard in both medical and non-medical approaches to a person's overall wellbeing. What more powerful means of bringing joy and happiness to people than the birth of a child you have brought into the world? How shockingly unjust it is to deny our wounded warriors this blessing.
To be fair, it's not like the government is not trying. There is said to be legislation in the works calling for the creation of treatment centers across the country that would offer combat veterans a pilot program of alternative mental-health treatment and pain management. The need for such programs was pointed out by a recent study by the Federal Institute of Medicine that suggests that the Defense Department's PTSD management program and VA's program to screen, diagnose or treat PTSD are not using a "best practices" approach.
To this point, there is a growing grassroots movement seeking ways beyond conventional treatment programs to manage military deployment stress injuries. Pressure is being applied to the V.A. to better inform veterans of alternative treatments and therapeutic activities now available. This will allow treatment options for those who either don't want to, nor can afford to, rely primarily on a regimen of drugs.
Pressure is mounting on the Department of Veterans Affairs to inform all veterans of available alternative treatments and therapeutic activities beyond a regimen of drugs. We owe them every measure of support we can provide so that these men and women — part of America's treasure — can not only cope with civilian life, but can prosper and be happy.
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.