Nov 082007
 
Authors: State Rep. John Kefalas

On Monday, I will spend a quiet day with my family.

I have cleared my schedule because I want to pause for a day to honor and remember our veterans.

On this Veteran’s Day, my wife and I will think about our son, a father and husband, who is in his fifth month serving in Afghanistan in the U.S. Army.

This Veteran’s Day, I ask you to do more than shop the sales and play with your kids. On this day, let us set aside our differences to celebrate the courage and honor the sacrifices that past and present members of our armed forces make for peace and freedom. While we may have different opinions about the foreign policies that led to the Iraq War, we can agree that our soldiers and veterans deserve support and respect.

Soldiers and veterans face serious challenges today. I don’t need to speak about the dangers posed by the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are all well aware of the threats on the ground. Unfortunately, amid the ongoing media coverage in those troubled parts, the struggles that soldiers face after they return from prolonged tours in battle zones are still widely ignored.

What is clear is that our current military engagements impose a powerful plight and a lasting toll on soldiers and their families. As many as one in six soldiers are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder upon their return the U.S.

While accurate numbers are hard to come by, research indicates that returning veterans face much higher risks for depression and substance abuse when compared with their peacetime counterparts.

More than 400 troops who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan have committed suicide since those two wars began.

Army researchers found that the percentage of soldiers who intended to divorce their spouses moved from nine percent to 15 percent upon returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A number of contributing factors are compounded to create the challenges that homebound soldiers face.

The nature of the conflict forces soldiers to contend with protracted high-stress conditions.

Many soldiers serve in the reserve forces or National Guard and may not be fully equipped to deal with the heavy combat operations or foreign military endeavors require.

Finally, soldiers – more of whom are women than in any previous American military engagement – are likely to serve multiple tours-of-duty, which greatly expands the likelihood of both physical and emotional trauma.

My son, Staff Sgt. Harlan Kefalas, currently serves our country in Afghanistan. He served in Iraq from 2004-2005 and in Bosnia before that, as part of the peacekeeping forces there. He has chosen a military path to serve his country and I totally honor his choice, although I would like him to come home.

I can’t bear the thought of him or his colleagues returning to this country and not having access to all the resources he may need to make a healthy transition back into the U.S. But this situation is increasingly likely because resources for mental health for returning soldiers are drained.

Unless we act now and make it a high priority to solidify and expand those services available to veterans, soldiers returning from the risks and stress of the frontlines may have to cope with more battles on the home front – homelessness, social disorders, substance abuse and family strains – all alone.

State Rep. John Kefalas is the representative for House District 52. His can be reached at his office at (303) 866-4569. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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