Honoring our Veterans by Jim Szyperski
On Veteran’s Day 2021, all of us at nView would like to express our deepest gratitude for the lives and service of so many Americans who dedicated themselves and sacrificed so much for our country and our freedom. It is a debt we can never repay, and their service is something we should honor for all service men and women, past and present each day, not just today. Thank you will never be enough.
My father was a 20-year-old Ensign in the US Navy from 1943 to 1945, serving on the USS English, a destroyer escort in the Pacific war during that time. He rarely spoke about the war, but occasionally and mostly under direct questioning from his children, he might describe certain events or places where he was engaged. They were all historic Pacific Island battles where they ran shoreline shelling in support of the Marines, or once or twice about attacks on his Fleet by Japanese aircraft. His words conveyed to me the sense of fear, stress, and anxiety they were under that make my worst days insignificant.
Like so many veterans, Dad wouldn’t discuss the trauma or impact on him. His (or our) mental health was just not a topic of conversation in our household. The last 20 months of global pandemic have changed that narrative, and mental health is a topic of daily dialogue. We are finally starting to strip away the stigma of mental health and problems like PTSD, depression, anxiety, and suicidality. We are more aware that mental healthcare IS healthcare. Dad, I am sorry that we did not understand that so many years ago.
Stigmatization is a real and present danger within our military and veteran communities. That is evidenced by the increased rates of suicide over the past several years. In 2021 we are losing veteran lives to suicide at a rate of 20 per day, well up from 17 per day just 24 months ago. Mental health stigma is real, and treatment resources are underfunded. There are signs of hope with new efforts in group therapy for our military and new technologies and apps that make it easier for our service men and women to seek help and treatment. But there is so much more needed to uplift and upgrade mental health services in the VA and our healthcare system. We require new ideas, new processes, new technologies… wholesale change. And change is always difficult, even when necessary. Change takes time, and time is certainly not our friend here.
Grace Brewster Murray Hopper was a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy and a true pioneer in computer programming as a member in 1944 of the Harvard Mark I team. Admiral Hopper once stated: “The most damaging phrase in the language is “it’s always been done that way.”
That quote unfortunately rings as true today as the day she spoke it with regards to our mental healthcare system. We continue to use the same legacy, one-dimensional tools to identify and assess mental health problems that we did 20 years ago. These tools have become imbedded in healthcare, and they are failing by any statistical measurement. Yet they continue to be used because “we have always done it that way.” I suspect that Admiral Hopper would not approve, and neither should we. As a nation, having a plan to unilaterally address the mental healthcare of our soldiers, our veterans, and families, is something long overdue and perhaps the best way to honor their service.
Thank you Dad.