Veterans struggle to find peace of mind
“About six months when I got back from my second tour in Iraq I tried to kill myself and I ended up in the intensive care unit from an overdose of aspirin and Tylenol,” Dixon said. “When I woke up in the intensive care unit I was very angry, very upset that that did happen. I felt lost, I felt hopeless. I couldn’t get any better.”
Dixon, 38, of Ocklawaha, Fla., saw three therapists to treat the PTSD she developed as a result of her overall experiences during her deployments in 2008 and 2010, but it had no effect on improving her mental health. She said she felt that, as a doctor, she should have the ability to beat it. Dixon said that because she hadn’t been cured, she saw only one way out. Dixon said she felt like an embarrassment to herself, her family and the Army after she tried to take her life.
Stories like hers whirled in the conference room Thursday during the 2012 Warrior-Family Symposium hosted by the Military Officers Association of America and the national Defense Industrial Association. Wound veterans and their families and caregivers told stories of their difficult paths to physical or psychological recovery.
Many veterans faced overwhelming obstacles during their transition back to civilian life.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that veterans from the 9/11 era had an unemployment rate of 10.9 percent in August, higher than the national rate of 8.1 percent. The root of this issue comes from soldiers that who developed post traumatic stress disorder, which is considered a disability.
“A job, that’s the best deal you can hand out,” Shell said. “It gives you a sense of worth, it allows you to provide for your family. And not so much hand out, but just make sure there are no doors closed in our way.”
Shell was a military police officer and was severely burned when he and his team were attacked in Iraq in 2004. It took two years and 30 surgeries before he recovered.
Shell struggled to get a job with his experience in the military, and he now works for the Department of Homeland Security and recently graduated from the FBI National Academy.
“Without really good, comprehensive hiring bills that allow veterans to get jobs, we don’t have that opportunity,” Shell said.
The bill that would grant $1 billion to help veterans find jobs was held up Wednesday when Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., started a filibuster. But the Senate voted 84-8 later that day to proceed with the bill and will do so on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Eric Shinseki, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, told the audience, “We have not fixed everything, we know that, but you have had our very best efforts. We will continue to provide you our very best efforts.”
In 2009, of more than 23 million living veterans 7.4 million were enrolled in the VA health-care system and 3 million were receiving compensation pension benefits, Shinseki said.
“We’re going to have to adjust our stance, which we started doing three-and-a-half years ago, and gain some agility quickly.” Shinseki said. “We had an outreach problem. Many veterans didn’t know about VA or their benefits. We had an access problem, even if they know about us, there was evidence they had difficulty getting the needed services.”
By the 2013 symposium Shinseki said he expects an increase in funding for Veterans Affairs programs. He said he expects an increase of 28 percent for spinal cord injuries, 39 percent for mental health treatment, 39 percent for long-term care funding, 59 percent for prosthetics funding and more money for many other needs.
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