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November 11, 2008 was Veterans Day in the United States, and as a nation honored the men and women who’ve served, there are countless others often forgotten: the homeless, addicted and mentally scarred veterans who’ve had trouble reintegrating back into society.
Celebrated in other parts of the country as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day, the holiday was established to celebrate the military service of dedicated men and women who put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms. It is both a state and federal holiday in the U.S., and President George W. Bush has declared (Nov. 9-15 2008) as National Veterans Awareness Week.
There are an estimated 24.9 million veterans in the U.S. The National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington, D.C. says there are 200,000 homeless vets on the streets on any given night. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said in 2006, more than 354,000 vets received care in clinics for substance abuse disorders.


Alcohol and drug addiction is a serious problem for veterans and those on active duty. The stress of being away from family, combined with the mental and physical scars of battle, can take a toll on the strongest of soldiers. Many return home so psychologically scarred, they are unable to find employment and wind up homeless. The damage can lead to poverty, social isolation, broken marriages and alcohol and drug dependence.
For others, it’s the physical scars that lead veterans and active duty personnel to pain medication. Managing pain from combat wounds can also lead to addiction to opiate painkillers.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says studies have shown that people who experience stressful or traumatic events are more likely to abuse drugs or relapse into addiction. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that is common among service men and women who see combat. PTSD is said to be a major risk factor for substance abuse and addiction. The high rate of PTSD and substance abuse was first reported in war-related studies where as many as 75% of combat vets with lifetime PTSD also have alcohol or drug addiction.


Historically, there is some evidence that drug abuse among military men and women dates back to the Civil War. Though it has been controversial and is disputed to some degree, there are stories of “Soldier’s Disease” from the 1800s. Some say the earliest example of opiate addiction as a social problem came during the Civil War. Though documentation is sketchy, some historians believe widespread addiction resulted from widespread use of opiates to treat pain from war injuries. Some say soldiers were injected daily with morphine and by 1865, some 400,000 young war vets were addicted to it.


The government has veteran’s programs in place to help those addicted to alcohol and drugs. But drug treatment for individuals who return home damaged often comes too late – once depression, isolation and addiction have taken their hold. Every Veteran’s Day, make sure to remember not only those who have served, but also those who’ve died on the battlefields and those who’ve returned home but managed to slip through the cracks.

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