Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Helping today?s veterans?a new era of treatment

Commentary by Tom Iselin


Nov. 11, 1918, marked the end of World War I. Estimates suggest 8.5 million people were killed and 7 million were permanently injured. The United States lost 116,000 service members.

One year later, President Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11, 1919, as "Armistice Day." It was the first nationwide commemoration of the war. In 1954, Armistice Day was changed to Veterans Day.

The most noted symbol of Veterans Day is the "Tomb of the Unknown Soldier," located in Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Va. It symbolizes America's losses, but also each American's losses and sacrifices in the war in defense of the nation's integrity, honor and values.

Unfortunately, today's war might be best symbolized by brave young men and women who have returned home with brain trauma, spinal cord injuries, amputated limbs, burns or blindness.

Due to advances in body armor, these men and women are surviving explosions that would have killed service members in previous wars.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 3,000 service members have died in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in the global war on terror. More than 10,000 have returned home "severely wounded," 4,200 of whom are considered "very severely wounded."

During a trip to the Pentagon last week, I took time to visit wounded service members at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C. At 9 a.m., the first round of service members entered the physical therapy clinic.

In this rotation (more followed), there were 30 young men and women in two rooms doing rehabilitation exercises. All had amputated limbs, 10 of whom had double leg amputations. The scene was a shocking reality of the tragedy of war.

We're facing a new type of war against a new type of enemy, and the Department of Defense realizes it's dealing with new types of injuries that require new types of treatment.

No longer is it enough to rehabilitate wounded service members with health benefits, jobs and education. With more support services than ever before, many service members still find themselves lonely, depressed and angry once they return home from the hospital. Some have resorted to drug and alcohol abuse, crimes of passion, acts of rage and suicide.

The Department of Defense understands that building the self-confidence and self-esteem of wounded service members through sports and recreation can be the single most important factor to sustainable rehabilitation, happiness and the reduction of combat-related stress. They know if a service member feels good about himself or herself, then he or she will have a better outlook on family, life, work and community.

Healing war's wounds starts with healing wounds of the heart and spirit.

The Wood River Valley hosts dozens of wounded service members each year. I urge you to find ways to help these service members achieve their sports and recreational goals and aspirations. Your service could make a lifelong impact on one of these young men or women. It will bring them joy and it will certainly have a lasting impact on your life.

There are a number of ways to help. You can host a service member in your home or help organize an event. You can be a ski buddy, fly-fishing partner or woodworking mentor. Whatever your gift or skill, wisdom or influence, you can make a difference.

I would like to offer a special thanks of gratitude this Veterans Day to our local Legionnaires (196 in Blaine County) who graciously volunteer their time to help visiting service members.

This Veterans Day, let's all take time to thank veterans who honorably sacrificed and served, but let's also take action to help today's wounded who need our sacrifice and service.

To learn how you can volunteer to help wounded service members, e-mail Sun Valley Adaptive Sports at: info@svasp.org, or call 726-9298.

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Tom Iselin is the executive director of Sun Valley Adaptive Sports.




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