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Never leaving a fallen comrade behind

Tammy Duckworth
Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran, is Assistant Secretary for Veterans Affairs. This essay accompanies the video, 'On being a 'mommy platoon leader.'

The words of the Warrior Ethos are: "I will always place the mission first. I will never quit. I will never accept defeat. I will never leave a fallen comrade behind." I am alive today because my helicopter crew lived by these words. For each of us who made it home from battle, the thought of leaving a fallen buddy behind is simply unacceptable. The job of those of us in leadership roles at Veterans Affairs is to live up to the sacrifice of our fallen comrades by taking care of our battle buddies who need care now that they are Veterans.

In the military, you are part of a close-knit family with constant support around you. You're with other Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, and Coasties, who share what you go through, day-in and day-out. These are your brothers and sisters.

But what happens when a Service Member returns home? That support system - the family that he had in the military and the chain of command from the squad leader to the company commander is no longer ever present. He is a citizen in his community trying to move forward with a "normal" civilian life. Our Veterans can often feel isolated--surrounded by those who have not served, not knowing where to turn, and think that no one understands them.

With Secretary Shinseki as our leader, VA is determined to become the Veteran's new support system so that they get the care they need now and throughout their lifetime. In this case, leading the way means making sure we don't leave our buddies behind.

When you lose an arm or leg during combat, nobody questions if you have been injured. As a Service Member, asking for help when you have a physical wound isn't always easy. But seeking help for a wound you can't see is even more difficult.

Our Warriors are taught to be physically strong and mentally tough. Often times they resist seeking help because they don't want to come forward with a "weakness." But our Veterans must know that an injury to their brain, although they can't see it, is still a combat wound - it's the same thing as if you lost your leg, or were burned, or were shot. It's a wound and they need to get help for it, because if they don't, it can lead to a number of other issues, and unfortunately in some cases, even suicide.

On average, 18 Veterans commit suicide each day. This is tragic and unacceptable, and we at VA will do everything we can to help our Veterans so that they don't feel suicide is their only option.

There's no clear-cut answer to preventing suicide, and we have a lot of work to do. But VA's mental health enhancements and suicide prevention programs are beginning to save lives and we will continue with our progress.

In order to make it easier for Veterans to seek help, we created a hotline, 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) and an on-line suicide prevention chat room, www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org, which enables Veterans, their families and friends to anonymously get the help they need. Both the hotline and the chat room are staffed 24/7 by licensed counselors. The lifeline has already saved over 3,200 lives since 2008, and many of those who log onto the chat room are doing so while still located in a combat zone.

Over recent years, VA has committed unparalleled resources to enhancing and improving our treatment of mental health conditions, and, more importantly, how we may take on a greater role in preventing and predicting them. We've expanded our capacity, especially in Community-Based Outpatient Clinics and subspecialty programs for PTSD, substance abuse, and returning Veterans; improved access by integrating mental health into primary care; and launched a nationwide advertising campaign, raising awareness of our 24/7 suicide prevention lifeline.

I believe that when Veterans return home, they need that sense of family and someone to provide them with clear direction. At VA, we will be their advocate, part of their new family, and provide them with the leadership they need to heal mentally and physically so they can live their lives to the fullest.

A Soldier never leaves a fallen comrade behind - and we at VA will continue our mission to never leave a Veteran behind.

By Tammy Duckworth

 |  April 14, 2010; 6:28 AM ET |  Category:  Federal government leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Where have you been for the last 40 years,,oh studying what each new head of the VA has been saying for 40 years

Posted by: gonville1 | April 18, 2010 2:30 PM

Tammy Duckworth is clearly an amazing woman. To go from flying Black Hawks in Iraq to continuing to serve her country from within the government, despite going through significant personal loss. She is an amazing role-model for soldiers and women everywhere.

Posted by: pennydrdful | April 18, 2010 6:59 AM

Therapy, sounds like you need some...

Posted by: katem1 | April 15, 2010 10:12 AM

Secretary Duckworth ;

Pardon the bluntness - this is the same response that governments give to the media during and following a war. You can look at the UK figures for discharged soldiers - homelessness, unable to hold a job, divorce, domestic violence, suicide, crime, and in prison. I dare say if there was an analysis in the US - equivalent statistics or near equivalent would apply. Personally I think politicians, parents, teachers, church leaders, military recruits have an obligation to give potential recruits the full picture before they sign up and don a uniform, be it US, UK, French, German or whatever. With that information, they can then make a fully educated decision to sign or not. Wish you well in your program of care.

Posted by: michael_ah_oleary | April 15, 2010 10:01 AM

the brutal truth is hard to deny.

tammy duckworth is a physically repulsive whining stump. the loser has no legs. legless government parasites have got less credibility than a wounded worm.

phony praise given to her by phony soldiers and career bureaucrats is not surprising.

how many embarassing tattooes did tammy lose on her day of humiliation?

vive le mission terror on delusional warriors.

Posted by: therapy | April 15, 2010 9:45 AM

Tammy Duckworth is the real deal. We are all, veterans and civilians alike, better for her tireless work. Thank you Tammy!

Posted by: isthisajoke | April 15, 2010 7:09 AM

Thank you, Secretary Duckworth, for your service.

The military's increased respect for brain injuries benefits not only injured vets, but also even the general population. Now, as a result of all the publicity associated with combat-related traumatic brain injuries, if a civilian experiences a similar injury at home, at least he has some chance of his doctor, loved ones and employer understanding its aftermath, instead of blaming him for malingering and having a bad attitude.

Posted by: Itzajob | April 14, 2010 1:30 PM

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