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Doing more to support veterans

Rob’s Barbershop Community Foundation opened a single-chair barbershop in partnership with the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training, which serves homeless veterans. (Jay Reed, Baltimore Sun video)

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Nov. 11, 1918, Armistice that ended World War I, a war that resulted in an estimated 40 million military and civilian deaths, ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history. When the treaty ending hostilities was signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, people welcomed the peace, relieved that the carnage was over. That day became an international holiday, and in the United States, it is now observed as Veterans Day, honoring all veterans who have worn the cloth of our nation.

World War I proved to be a war fought on a scale as never before. It forced medical progress, resulting in a record number of injured soldiers surviving, and a large population of wounded service members. At the start of the war, amputation served as the sole solution to treating the injured with severely fractured limbs and vascular injuries, but by its end, ambulances were transporting the wounded to military hospitals, where soldiers injured by artillery, barrage shelling, poisonous gas and machine guns were anesthetized (a novel medical development) and disinfected. The need to keep up with the treatment of these myriad injuries spurred the development of facial reconstruction surgery and brought dentistry into combat surgery and advances that have benefited everyone, not just service members.

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The men and women in our military often find themselves facing an array of moral decisions and compromises for which they may be unprepared to address, and in the chaos of the moment, they may take — or witness — actions that will later haunt them, leading to what we call "moral injuries."

Across the years, war inspired new equipment and medical interventions, including but not limited to, triaging mass casualties, treating casualties on the front lines, the use of tourniquets to stem blood loss, fluid resuscitation and blood transfusions, the advent of antibiotics, advanced wound care and nursing techniques. The VA has been on the front line of treating war-injured veterans with comprehensive rehabilitative care long after the guns and bombs have stopped.

But the physical, psychological and spiritual injuries of war can still linger. Treating these wounds, and helping veterans return home and reintegrate into family and community, remain both the chief goal and challenge of the VA. We now understand and recognize that true healing involves family, friends, loved ones and neighbors. We understand that visible and invisible war wounds can leave a lasting scar and lead to depression, hopelessness, suicide, and for this reason, we all must exercise vigilance when it comes to caring for our veterans.

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We can demonstrate our commitment to care when we say, “Thank you for your service,” but also by getting involved with veterans’ assistance programs, volunteering at a local VA medical center or outpatient clinic, assisting veterans struggling with homelessness at a VA Stand Down and hiring veterans. We can always do more to acknowledge, honor, encourage and celebrate our veterans and their families not just on Veterans Day, but every day. To get started, call 410-605-7102 or send an email to VAMHCSVoluntaryService@va.gov.

Dr. Adam M. Robinson Jr. is director of the VA Maryland Health Care System. He can be reached at vamhcspublicrelations@va.gov.

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