Stress – Burnout – Pain management – Addiction – Suicide. I believe these are all parts of a continuum or a syndrome if you wish to put it into medical terms. Of course not all disabled Veterans nor their caregivers will experience all of these things, but I do believe there is the potential for many to go down this road.
What can be done and how can this potential disaster be averted before it engulfs the VA? My view of the VA system, admittedly a fairly small view, is of an organization which is overwhelmed already. I have previously likened it to a rudderless ship with no captain. That is not to say that there are not wonderful and dedicated individuals within the system. However, the system itself appears to be bankrupt, if not in terms of money at least in ability.
Where then are the resources to come from, to address the issues which are facing us now, as more and more service men and women are returning from deployment and many are young and with catastrophic injuries. Add to that the pressure on family members to be the caregivers, and the lack of support for caregivers in the past and you immediately move into the stress – burnout part of this syndrome.
Then it is doubtful whether many if any returning service men and women are without pain of some kind, be it TBI’s or other physical injury or PTSD. Emotional pain is as hard to deal with as physical pain and probably less well understood as it cannot be readily seen. So now we add pain to the syndrome. Let us not forget that the caregivers themselves may be dealing with their own pain. Aging parents may be caring for a wounded son or daughter. Spouses with health issues may be called upon to be the caregiver. Who is caring for the caregiver?
Now let us look at the addiction component. Addictions, of whatever kind; drugs, alcohol, cigarette/tobacco habit, gambling, sex, & pornography….. All of these are forms of addiction, and addiction is a way of dealing with overwhelming pain and a way for people to distance themselves from the trauma in their life. We need also to remember that many people are already active drug addicts or prior addicts, especially in the area of drugs and alcohol. The stress/burnout/pain syndrome merely pushes them further into their addiction.
This becomes even more convoluted when you consider the medication needs of Disabled Veterans and the possible potential for other family members to avail themselves of the medications. I do not say this lightly. The stress/burnout/pain component can push even the most stable person to seek relief.
Finally we come to the hardest part of this syndrome – Suicide. Even small events can trigger an unstable action which cannot be undone. I also believe we need to consider what I would term ‘familycide’ where the overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and helplessness can escalate into removing themselves permanently from the situation and taking the disabled Vet with them.
Obviously this is a very distasteful thought but one which needs to be considered in the light of the lack of support, isolation, inexperience and overwhelming fatigue Veteran families face. It would be wonderful to think that the VA would be able to find solutions for all of this, but realistically we know that will not happen, at least not quickly enough. I do believe all is not hopeless though, but once again, “We, The People” must band together in whatever way we can do avert the coming crisis.