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Memorial Day: Veterans, PTSD and Democratic Candidates

Olivia

Founder of Millennial Girl, Interrupted, a senior in a small Connecticut high school. I've been through many treatments and recoveries and am eager to share the lessons I've learned!

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It’s Memorial Day! So, the day that the beach weekend is actually named after. Today we celebrate something much more important than a day in the Hamptons. It’s a day to memorialize human casualties of war. I like to celebrate this day separate from my feelings about individual wars or the military as a whole, for those things have nothing to do with someone’s brother, sister, mother or father who served and died.

I do this in part because those who serve, those who watch their brothers and sisters die while serving, and those who die serving, are whole human beings. Really taking an individualized approach to memorializing service members can be overwhelming and saddening, so I won’t focus on it specifically, especially since I don’t know anyone who lost their life in service. What I do want to talk about is the set of plans that the various Democratic candidates for president have to combat PTSD and homelessness in veterans.

I’ve covered mental health and candidates before, which I’ll do again soon, but for now I want to focus on plans that are specific to the mental healthcare of veterans. Let’s dive in.

Elizabeth Warren

Warren is slowly but steadily rising in the polls, and it’s no secret that she’s my vote for president. She’s taken a specific approach to PTSD in soldiers that is often less visible but just as important: sexual trauma in service men and women.

In May of 2018, she and Senator David Perdue sponsored the Sexual Trauma Response and Treatment Act, the goal of which is to give servicemembers access to adequate healthcare and support in the wake of sexual assault.

Survivors of sexual trauma in the military can experience a range of mental health problems, from PTSD to anxiety and depression, to substance abuse. And sexual trauma in the military is on the rise, up by 10 percent in 2017.

Much of the problem to do with veterans with PTSD is that their conditions are often ignored or glossed over. An even more subtle issue like sexual assault in the military is a frequent recipient of this treatment. Props to Elizabeth Warren for being on the frontlines of such a low profile but tragic mental health issue among our veterans.

Joe Biden

Joe Biden has obviously done a lot of mental health work and advocacy throughout his career, as well as work to improve the lives of veterans. His organization The Biden Foundation, has poured a lot of money into Mental Health America and Give an Hour. Biden was invited as a keynote speaker at the Global Summit on Mental Health Culture Change in 2018.

Interestingly, however, when one researches Joe Biden and his relationship with veteran PTSD, the first (and primary, by far) result that emerges is Biden’s response to a comment by then-candidate Donald Trump.

Donald Trump had said that PTSD sufferers couldn’t “handle” the horrors of war and weren’t “strong.” In a speech soon after, Biden passionately explained that “we have a sacred obligation… to care for those we send to war and to care for them and their families when they come home.” Asked Biden, “How could he be so out of touch?”

One of the major problems facing PTSD sufferers is stigma, and Joe Biden publicly defending sufferers is more profound than it might seem at first. His words oppose the common misconception that PTSD victims, particularly servicemen and women, are weak.

Bernie Sanders

If you go to Sanders’ website, you’ll find much of the information you need on his contributions to the veterans of Vermont. He’s not my favorite, but the information is comprehensive and valuable.

He helped secure funding for the Vermont Veterans and Family Outreach program, which includes a 24 hour crisis hotline for the mentally ill. He’s also generally seen as someone who goes to battle for veterans. In 2013 he chaired the Senate VA Committee, focusing specifically on veterans’ healthcare accessibility and affordability.

In general, too, his keynote plan, Medicare for All, would surely improve the health outcomes of veterans, though it would leave the funding and operations of the VA’s health system intact.

I’ve only reviewed the plans of these three candidates, for they are the only cross sections of high likelihood of election and having actual plans related to veterans and PTSD. I hope you keep the wellbeing of veterans in mind when you make your selection in the primaries.

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