Disability 101: Why you should care
February 26, 2008
OK, now you’ve read a few of my columns. You know a little bit about where I’m coming from and a little bit about what I’m shooting for. But why should you care? Why should you keep reading Disability 101 and put in the effort to really understand what I’m talking about? I mean, after all, there really aren’t that many people with disabilities out there, right?
Actually, there’s getting to be more and more of us due to the increasing numbers of veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan with permanent injuries. Due to improvements in protective gear and medical treatment, more soldiers are surviving wounds that in previous wars would have been fatal. The New England Journal of Medicine reported on Dec. 9, 2004, that while 76 percent of American troops survived combat wounds received in the Vietnam War, that number is now at 90 percent with our current conflict.
However, our veterans are surviving with disabilities such as traumatic brain injury, amputations, spinal cord injuries including paralysis, and vision and hearing loss.
As of Jan. 31, 2008, the Department of Defense has officially listed the number of U.S. soldiers wounded in Iraq at 29,038. However, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reported that as of June 2007 there were approximately 202,000 claims filed for VA disability benefits from soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to records released by the US Department of Veterans Affairs on Oct. 10, 2006, 1-in-4 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan is at least partially disabled.
These soldiers face enormous struggles in recovering their lives. In addition to dealing with their physical and mental wounds, they often have difficulty obtaining adequate health care and disability benefits. Some find themselves unable to return to the jobs they held prior to their service. The financial impact can be devastating.
The last thing they need is to deal with people whose attitudes demonstrate a total lack of understanding.
Are you going to show respect for our wounded warriors by actually taking the time and energy to get to know what they really need and really want? Or are you just going to rely on your tired, old stereotypes of what you think a disabled person needs?
I’ve met a few disabled veterans at Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center. I think it’s pretty safe to say that these soldiers do not want your pity. They do not want you to race in and push their wheelchairs for them as if they are totally incapable of doing anything for themselves. They do not want you to treat them like they are elderly.
Despite their disabilities, I expect they want to be treated like the soldiers they are.
You now have a problem though. How are you going to tell which one of us with a disability is a veteran and which is not? Keep in mind that many of the returning disabled veterans are women, so gender is no longer your clue.
I would like to challenge each one of us to take the time to get to know our returning disabled veterans. If we talk with them and ask questions, then we will discover what they need and want. Until then, we really can’t know. Let us honor our soldiers by taking this time and effort.
So stick with me by reading Disability 101. I’m not a veteran, but I do know a little something about living with a disability.