The War after the War
By: Felipe Marin
This was supposed to be a sports story, and while there are sports elements, the Invictus Games has proven to be more than a sporting event.
The Invictus Games were created by Prince Harry of Wales, getting inspiration from viewing the Warrior Games held at Quantico, Virginia, a Marine Corps Base, from June 19 - 28.
While the Invictus Games is a chance for wounded warriors from 14 different nations to compete in various games, it also was an opportunity for several high ranking officials and delegates to come together to lend their support and encouragement. Former President George W. Bush, current Prince of Jordan, and leaders of charitable organizations, such as host Ken Fisher, chairman of the Fisher House, all made an appearance at the Invictus Games. They all came together on May 9th for the Invisible Wounds Symposium hosted by the George Bush Institute, a symposium in which Prince Harry explains his purpose for the games. That goal is to do away with the negative stigma attached to mental illness.
First Lady Laura Bush gave the opening address inviting everyone for a day of conversation and insight into what the definition of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) have been revealed through scientific discovery.
Through testimony she recognized that the invisible wounds are not treated the same as physical wounds.
President Bush used his wits and charm to turn a serious conversation into something that could become more relatable while throwing jokes at Prince Harry for his dashing good looks.
“I miss saluting the vets”, he said, “I have great respect for them”.
He emphasized that the games will show the world that these wounds aren’t something that is prevalent to just the US and UK military, but that it affects all military service members around the world.
Prince Harry shared the story of his tours in Afghanistan and how certain defining moments changed his view of what it means to have someone care and give care to someone with invisible wounds.
He essentially said you need family support, good friends and teammates. People hurt get care nonstop, but the ones that survived the blasts had to continue with their daily job and their mission. They look at wounded vets and say “he’s wounded and he needs help, there is nothing wrong with me, I don’t need help.”
I said the same thing to my wife and doctors at the Miami Departments of Veteran Affairs (VA) in 2010, when they diagnosed me with PTSD and told me that I needed daily care.
I found in my journey that the first step is to acknowledge that you have a problem and tell those involved that you need help. For a lot of veterans, it’s not part of your DNA to ask for help. A veteran, through training and sacrifice, can sometimes create a sense of invincibility.
President Bush was reluctant to speak about the D in PTSD, which stands for Disorder.
“We don’t view it as a disorder, we view it as an injury,” Bush emotionally stated, “If I have an injury, I can get it fixed. But if I have a disorder, people will look at me differently.”
Leading researchers from the Bush Institute then shifted the conversation to new information found during PTSD research. Several key members explained what they found during their research of combat veterans since they began in 2007. One of the most intriguing finds was that concussions eventually lead to TBI and that symptoms of TBI can heighten PTSD symptoms. For example, the light and sound sensitivity associated with TBI can cause anxiety for someone with PTSD in an environment such as a crowded beach.
Step two is what needs to be addressed the most. Veterans need access to quality healthcare that can provide continuous care. Too many veterans are being misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all. When the VA fails to deliver healthcare many veterans turn to local doctors. The problem with civilian doctors is that they lack the knowledge and/or equipment to properly diagnose and treat invisible wounds.
While suicide is a global issue, among the veteran population it is an epidemic. Everyday roughly 22 veterans commit suicide. When a veteran commits suicide they not only hurt themselves but they destroy their caregivers, their families, their children. Families are affected the most because they are the ones dealing with this problem every day.
The Invictus Games have shown that there are other forms of healing other than therapy that are more successful. Therapy can get quite boring; sometimes you’re doing something that has been forced upon you. On the other hand, competing in a sport can give veterans a purpose in life once again, something most are missing after discharging from the military
Some 648 competitors gathered for the closing ceremony, but they are just a small representation of all the wounded warriors across the globe.
In America itself, over 2.8 million Americans have deployed overseas since 9/11. Many more will be joining the fight for America’s longest standing war, the war against terror. As we deploy more troops, we need to realize we are also creating a generation plagued with PTSD. PTSD is not restricted to anxiety and paranoia but has been linked to other lingering debilitations such as cardiovascular diseases, depression, early onset dementia, decreased work productivity, substance use, relationship problems, homelessness, and the eventual catastrophe of suicide.
If not treated early with intervention, there is a strong chance that our next generation will have behavioral disorders like the fathers and mothers that raise them with PTSD and TBI.
The Invictus Games might have wrapped in Orlando, but they left us with a lasting impression. Next year the games will be hosted in Toronto, Canada and you can expect a larger turnout with nations around the world joining.
“Grow the games, share this with the world”, said Prince Harry.
He was right that these games were more than just medals. For a Marine veteran with PTSD and TBI like myself, I had no idea I could even participate. The Warrior games are the first step towards a chance at Invictus. Like others that were shown that there is something out there for us veterans I have been motivated to get classified and make an attempt for a spot in the games next year.
Invictus means unconquered, and while many wounded vets felt defeated, it was a solemn reminder to the world that we're still here.
See you in Toronto.
For more information about invisible wounds visit www.bushcenter.org/invisiblewounds
Follow my journey on Facebook: Felipe.A.Marin
Use the hashtag #changementalhealth to create dialogue between civilians and veterans
(Photo Credits: SaJorden Miller/Skyboat)