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Editorial: Wounds of war  

  • Steve Girard talks about his brain injury and PTSD while Tanner listens  in their home in Ashfield.<br/><br/>

    Steve Girard talks about his brain injury and PTSD while Tanner listens in their home in Ashfield.

  • Steve Girard talks about his brain injury and PTSD while Tanner listens  in their home in Ashfield.<br/><br/>

    Steve Girard talks about his brain injury and PTSD while Tanner listens in their home in Ashfield.

  • Steve Girard talks about his brain injury and PTSD while Tanner listens  in their home in Ashfield.<br/><br/>
  • Steve Girard talks about his brain injury and PTSD while Tanner listens  in their home in Ashfield.<br/><br/>

Veterans Day comes and goes, but the problems many military veterans face after returning home stretch out before them and can be overlooked by the people they served: every one of us.

In our “Wounds of War” series this week, we introduced readers to three Valley residents who came back changed from service in Iraq and Afghanistan. The series remains available on GazetteNET. Each of the veterans profiled is finding help through a counseling program at the VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System in Leeds. 
Steve Girard of Ashfield, Michelle Williams of Sunderland and John Raschilla of Springfield spoke candidly with the Gazette reporter Suzanne Wilson and photographer Carol Lollis about how difficult it has been for them to return to civilian life.

They are burdened, mentally and physically, by the trauma of war. Their stories are important to hear. Providing adequate care for veterans can seem like an abstract policy goal. But it becomes crystal clear to anyone willing to walk a mile in these veterans’ shoes.

They are stalked by memories of horrific assignments, by regrets, by physical ailments such as traumatic brain injury, and by emotions, including the anxiety known as post-traumatic stress disorder. 
The hundreds of thousands of Americans who put on uniforms and shipped out to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan took on complicated assignments. Their service could involve helping troubled nations improve their civic structures as much as finding and killing the enemy.

In both wars, it could be hard to define who was actually the enemy. 
Because of improved battlefield medicine and evacuation procedures, more soldiers and Marines injured while deployed make it to advanced care that saves their lives and enables them to come home.

But that means thousands have returned with injuries that change their lives. 
Because these wars have been fought without a military draft, this kind of service is alien to many. In large measure, recruiters have drawn from regions in the U.S. with grinding poverty, from small towns in Appalachia and the Midwest to barrios in the Southwest. Alongside them served members of National Guard units across the country — including many people who never expected to find themselves in war zones. They include members of the 182nd Engineer Company of the Massachusetts National Guard, who are scheduled to return today from a year of clearing roads in Afghanistan of explosive devices. We welcome them home, thank them for their service and wish their families an extraordinarily happy Thanksgiving. 

As Congress and the president ponder the nation’s dismal balance sheet, these leaders must ensure that money is set aside to care for injured veterans.

Regardless of how one feels about the wars, these expenses must be shouldered because the well-being of those who served in our name cannot be ignored. 
The VA system has had a mixed record since the Vietnam era. We hope such neglect is history.

Recognizing the needs of returning personnel from Iraq and Afghanistan, the government has allocated new resources to the VA, including 2,000 new clinical mental health practitioners nationally this year. The Leeds hospital was poised to add five such jobs, it said in June, nearly doubling its mental health staffing in five years.

Still, we have heard from veterans that the VA’s staff is stretched to accommodate their needs.
That is so even though many veterans struggle to acknowledge they need help. It takes courage for warriors to set aside instincts of self-reliance and accept support. We hope any veteran who reads Wilson’s stories in the Gazette and has wondered about joining a support group or receiving other kinds of care will come forward. 
The nation is indebted to them for fighting under its banner.

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Early on a fall morning in 2010, Steven Girard drove up the winding road leading to the sprawling campus of the Veterans Affairs medical center in Leeds. He remembers crying on and off, and his mind was racing. “I just couldn’t function,” he says. “I barely knew where I was, or who I was. I couldn’t make sound decisions about …

Veteran John Raschilla finds cycling soothes war’s trauma

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Just about every day, John Raschilla suits up, puts on his helmet, grabs his bike and hits the road. He rides for 20 miles, maybe 30. And he doesn’t think all that much while the miles slip by. “It’s great for calming the head down,” he says. “It’s almost like meditation.” Riding his bike, he says, keeps the person he …

Aftereffects of military service linger at the home front

Friday, March 22, 2013

Michelle Williams was sent to Iraq with the U.S. Air Force 820th Base Defense Group in 2004 and she couldn’t get there fast enough. “I wanted to go to war,” she says. “I wanted to be aggressive.” Just 20 at the time, Williams, who’d grown up in California, had chosen the military instead of college. Her father had served in …

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