By Vesta M. Anderson
Defining moments change the course of history. The remnants of the 9/11 terrorist attacks are deeply embedded in America’s new way of life, becoming like gravel and nails cooked inside what was once good ol’ fashioned American pie.
The total number of victims—including more than 400 law enforcement officers and fire and emergency medical services personnel— killed in the terrorist attacks is reported to be just under 3,000. In 2013, the Center for Disease Control reported as many as 65,000 had become sick from Ground Zero exposure. One year later, the New York Post reported that approximately 2,500 Ground Zero rescuers and responders had been diagnosed with 9/11-related cancer. These numbers are growing as new cases emerge.
Fear encroached as many came to realize that America was not indestructible and that its citizens share their soil with terrorists. The veil had been pulled, and the world would never be looked at the same.
Americans became united against a common enemy: terrorism. Patriotism pumped through every American vein. Parents watched as their children entered into military service while current military members were “re-upping” for another enlistment. These military members would be the next heroes in line in the wake of 9/11.
“It made me rethink my entire career,” said Carlos De León, U.S. Army veteran and Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) Alumnus, as he recalled the attacks. “One minute, I was ready to get out of the military as a young private. Then, the next minute, I am re-enlisting and serving another nine years.”
Dozer Reed, U.S Marine Corps veteran and WWP Alumnus, shared the same motivation as De León. He is grounded to the belief that 9/11 serves as a constant reminder—a call to action—for every American to protect the lives and freedom of their compatriots.
Both De León and Reed deployed in support of the Global War on Terrorism. They were not alone. Since 9/11, more than 2.6 million troops have deployed in the same fight in either Iraq or Afghanistan – more than 700,000 of those who deployed did so multiple times. All would soon realize America was not the only thing that had changed – war too had evolved.
According to Georgetown University historian Bruce Hoffman, the war on terrorism has no clear beginning nor end, no boundaries, and multiple enemies. Indisputably, the fight continues 14 years later, and many of the brave servicemen and women are returning from deployment with devastating injuries.
With advancements in battlefield medicine and technology, an unprecedented percentage of service members are surviving combat injuries that would have previously been fatal. To date, more than 52,000 service members have been physically wounded in the current conflicts and it is estimated that as many as 400,000 service members live with the invisible wounds of war, including combat stress, traumatic brain injury (TBI), depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
According to the Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) 2014 Annual Alumni Survey—a survey that has been completed annually since 2010, making it the most comprehensive and statistically relevant sample of this generation of injured service members—nearly two-thirds of Alumni (65.2%) had a military experience so frightening, horrible, or upsetting that they had not been able to escape from memories or the effects of it. In a separate study conducted by The Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation, 62 percent of the Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans surveyed revealed that they think about their deployment at least once a week or more.
Still many say they would do it all over again. According to The Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation survey, 87 percent of the same veterans polled revealed that they were proud of their service—specifically, their deployment—and 89 percent said they would do it all over again.
“I will forever be proud of having served my country,” said De León. “I will never forget those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, those who were wounded, and those who continue to serve.”
If history teaches us anything, it is that change is inevitable. The world we live in today is very different than before 9/11, as are the needs of injured veterans. While support and services have progressed from previous generations, gaps in care still exist between what is currently available to these warriors, their caregivers, and families, and what they will need over a lifetime.
Recently, WWP committed $100 million to its Warrior Care Network™, a new and innovative initiative that partners WWP with some of the best academic medical centers in the nation and ensures that injured veterans receive the best mental health care at no cost, and over $65 million to cover both immediate and long-term care needs of 400 of this generation’s most seriously injured veterans, who without this funding are most at risk for institutionalization. Through its 20 programs and services, WWP offers a comprehensive approach to help injured veterans by assisting in physical rehabilitation, aiding in their mental and emotional recovery, assisting them to achieve their educational and employment goals, and helping them maintain their independence and stay connected with their families, their communities, and each other. These services are all offered free of charge to the warriors, caregivers, and families WWP serves. The organization believes that the brave service men and women deserve no less having already paid their dues on the battlefield.
We will never forget.
About Wounded Warrior Project
The mission of Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) is to honor and empower Wounded Warriors. WWP’s purpose is to raise awareness and to enlist the public’s aid for the needs of injured service members, to help injured servicemen and women aid and assist each other, and to provide unique, direct programs and services to meet their needs. WWP is a national, nonpartisan organization headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida. For more information on WWP and its free programs and services, visit woundedwarriorproject.org or call the Resource Center at 888.WWP.ALUM (997.2586), Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST.