While U.S. military action is over in Iraq and is scheduled to end in Afghanistan in 2014, a major battle continues to rage for countless veterans as they battle Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, and Traumatic Brain Injury, or TBI.
On Sunday, the Military Channel will host a four-hour telethon designed to raise awareness about these conditions and money to help provide treatment. The event will run from 7-11 p.m. EST. Actors Joe Mantegna and Alan Alda will co-host the event.
Mantegna, who has long been active in causes to help active duty forces and veterans, told WND this issue has plagued generations of service members but only now are we learning more about what they are dealing with.
"Back in World War II, they used to call it 'shell shock,'" he explained. "These guys would come back from combat, and obviously things weren't right about what was going on mentally with them. Now we found that 30 percent of our vets from Vietnam have had various degrees of it, which explained why we had so much homelessness, alcohol problems and drug abuse and all that among our returning vets."
He said the recent emphasis on proper diagnosis and treatment for concussions in football is a drop in the bucket compared to what returning veterans are confronting.
"Extend this to people who have been in warfare. People ride around in Humvees that get blown up with bombs and people have suffered these kinds of traumatic injuries. You can start to understand that the brain, being the delicate thing that it is, has suffered in ways that we're only now beginning to understand the magnitude of it," said Mantegna, who noted that the grim numbers involving veterans with PTSD and TBI illustrate how serious these conditions are.
"All you have to do is look at the statistics," he said. "It's not an accident why the suicide rate is going up among our returning military, to where it exceeds the deaths that are caused by direct action."
But it's not just data that motivates Mantegna. He knows from his interactions with veterans that they desperately need therapy.
"All I can tell you is with my direct contact with the vets that I've had over the years, I've seen firsthand just how pervasive and how horrible this can be, to drive these people to where suicide seems to be their only kind of outlet. This is not something that's just going to slip away in the night or just something you can gloss over and say, 'Well, they'll get over it,'" Mantegna said.
In addition to Mantegna and Alda, the telethon will feature appearances from celebrities such as Connie Francis, Trace Adkins and Mark Harmon, as well as some government officials.
Mantegna urges Americans to devote just a few minutes to the telethon.
"Do what you normally do on a Sunday," he said. "Enjoy your family, go to church, get ready for the workday on Monday. But tune into the telethon, even if it's for five minutes. See what it's about and support if you can. And know that you've done something really good."