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Invisible Wounds

  • Published
  • By Michelle Padgett
  • Department of the Air Force Disabilities Action Team

I often look around the room and wonder, who is suffering in silence…facing challenges that no one else can see…scarred by traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress. We have a national security strategy to protect American people, promote resilience, renew our competitive edge and influence our partners. Over 3 million men and women have served in the military since 9/11, and yet there is a lack of understanding around invisible wounds. It may surprise you that in 1946, New England Journal of Medicine researchers could predict who was going to develop post-traumatic stress through poor sleep patterns. In our military population, lack of sleep is associated with more anxiety, more depression, more PTS, more alcohol abuse and unfortunately more suicidality. Sleep, pain and mood management are critical to improving total force fitness. Our challenge is that trauma is unique to the individual. What is traumatic for one, may not be traumatic to someone else, which is why it is so difficult to detect. Our military members are the best trained and well-equipped in the world, and can take on every enemy, except for the one within. Quite simply, we’ve got to start talking to each other, and asking tough questions.

Would it surprise you that we’ve had 479,000-plus service members seek treatment for PTS, TBI over one year? For hundreds of years, we’ve remained silent. But silence does not and will not make the changes we need to protect the greatest weapon we have—our people! Would it surprise you that 85% recover within the first six months, which highlights the importance of early intervention and treatment? An investment in our people will pay dividends—INVEST through direct involvement, coordination of care, and reaching out. A great poet once said, “there is a crack in everything…that’s how light gets in.” To the Air and Space professionals who stand watch, thanks for breaking barriers every day! I have no doubt you will SHINE and make the invisible, visible. Really, the only question is, what would YOU DO to shed light on invisible wounds, to protect and defend Air and Space Professional AND the institution he/she works for?