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Those in uniform honor the fallen

By Dr. HARRY CROFT and SYDNEY SAVION

Publication: The Day

Published May 26. 2014 4:00AM

Memorial Day is a time marked for remembrance of our fallen heroes who made great sacrifices to defend our way of life. Additionally, Memorial Day is also a celebration of the pinnacle of patriotism for our nation.

It's estimated there are 2.3 million U.S. servicemen and women who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and transitional forces in Operation New Dawn in Iraq. Unfortunately, the scars of these wars remain with us today, and will linger for many years to come. According to a recent report compiled by the Congressional Research Service, the latest count for those U.S. servicemember causalities resulting from combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan is 6,775, while 51,810 U.S. servicemen and women were wounded in action.

These wounds aren't always of a physical nature, however, and often present in the form of mental health related issues. Approximately 20 percent of these veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD and/or depression, and more than 287,000 have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (TBI) as a result of their time spent in the combat theatre.

Unfortunately, qualifying for disability and receiving the right treatment is an often tedious process. In 2014, the total number of disability compensation claims awaiting adjudication stands at a whopping 700,000 across the country, with some 400,000 facing protracted delays of more than 125 days.

Despite facts that would seem to lead many to brush-aside the thought of joining the U.S. Armed Forces and pursue an alternate occupation, there remains a segment of the population poised not only to celebrate patriotism, but live it by volunteering to join the U.S. Armed Forces. This is evidenced by the strong retention numbers the military continues to experience.

The Department of Defense recruiting and retention statistics for the active and reserve components released for fiscal year 2013 indicate all four active services (Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps) met or exceeded their numerical accession goals. The reasons people join vary. Some people are drawn to one service by a family member who previously served in that particular branch. For others it's something they've seen growing up. Maybe it was a commercial or a billboard. Maybe they have an interest in flying so decide to join the Air Force, or are fascinated by ships and submarines so they chose the Navy. Or maybe they know the military can provide them with a world-class education and leadership skills.

The combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan have pervaded our homes and consciousness through streaming media hype - some positive but mostly negative - over the past 14 years. But for many who step through the recruiter's door and volunteer to join the U.S. Armed Forces, it is more than just an allegory in a commercial or on a billboard, and it is more than just a job; it is a duty to defend our very way of life and freedom in America.

This Memorial Day, however you reflect, remember that the rise of our future heroes is a tribute to the sacrifices of our fallen heroes. Let us never forget those who paid the ultimate price, while showing our appreciation, support and respect to those who continue to serve. Perhaps the best way to honor the fallen and injured is to continue their legacy in our future heroes.

In echoing a famous quote of John F. Kennedy that still reins true today: "My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

Dr. Harry Croft is a former Army doctor and renowned psychiatrist who has seen more than 7,000 veterans diagnosed with PTSD and co-author of "I Always Sit with My Back to The Wall: Managing Combat Stress and PTSD." Sydney Savion is a retired military officer, applied behavioral scientist and author of "Camouflage to Pinstripes: Learning to Thrive in Civilian Culture."

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