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After the Civil War and through World War I, our combat veterans, unaided and untreated, had to deal with the memories and after-effects of unimaginable battlefield horror that was simply explained away as “shell shock.” In WWII, the term “battle fatigue” was used as a catch-all explanation for the multitude of psychological afflictions returning with our GIs, as if a good night’s sleep was a cure.

Only after Vietnam did the negative effects of the residual memories from one or more tours of duty on a person’s conscience and personality rise to the attention of organized medicine as a distinct and treatable medical affliction. The term “post-traumatic stress disorder” (PTSD) was developed to help clarify the invisible but debilitating physiological symptoms that many of our warfighters suffered as a result of their service. While PTSD is mostly attributed to some combat veterans, the condition is also found in many non-military men and women who have experienced severe abuse or traumatic events.

“These are fellow Americans who are hurting and in need of help and understanding.”

Many of our modern warfighters returning from battle in the Middle East have suffered from traumatic wounds, including loss of limbs, and lingering disabilities from explosive concussions, causing traumatic brain injury (TBI). These veterans are very much at risk for severe PTSD, just like the unmarked warrior who, like his WWI, WWII, Korean War and Vietnam predecessors, experienced fear and horror that cannot be forgotten. This affliction expresses itself as disturbing recurring flashbacks of memories of the event or events—usually paired with high levels of anxiety—that continue for more than a month after the traumatic event. The severity of this issue can be understood by the simple fact that more veteran warfighters have taken their own lives (as many as 22 per day) than were ever killed in action in both Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

Elder Heart Cares

Elder Heart is an organization created by a group of veteran special operations warfighters to help fellow veterans heal from PTSD and related conditions. These warriors who have succeeded in changing from warrior to civilian and recovered through their PTSD are best suited to helping others who are suffering. They help by successfully reintegrating veterans back into society, especially with citizens who do not fully understand the mental strain and hidden post-combat trauma our warfighters must deal with daily. Elder Heart also strives to increase awareness for PTSD, TBI and, in particular, the epidemic of suicides by recently returned veterans.

Part of Elder Heart’s efforts to raise awareness for the needs and challenges of our hometown veterans is their Nashville, Indiana, Art Project. This 15-foot tall sculpture contains leaves of every color, and it will be a beautiful asset to the community of Nashville that helps focus visitors on veteran issues. Planned to be installed during the summer of 2014, the sculpture will be in the town center, which is visited by an estimated 3 million tourists every year. There will be a custom QR code located on the base of the sculpture that will take viewers to the Elder Heart website, where they can get statistics and find out how to get involved with the organization’s efforts, projects and events. With the guidance of a respected local artist, Jim Connor, and the work of Southern Indiana veterans, Elder Heart will create this art piece to help express that the effects of defending freedom are not necessarily a veteran’s problem, but a cultural, community and human problem.

“… these warriors deserve the help of all Americans, and Elder Heart is leading the quiet charge.”

Elder Heart, a certified 501(c)3 non-profit organization, is managed with sound business practices intended to make it self-sustaining so that dependence on future donations are lessened or not needed. Its goals are designed to be achievable at each step of the way, with planned and sensible growth allowing for organizational independence from the government, politics and corporations who do not share Elder Heart’s concern with the effects of PTSD. The Elder Heart program is not intended to be a one-time event for participants, but rather a sustained evolution that continues its involvement with each veteran for as long as necessary.

A Sacred Trust

The success of the U.S., which, as a country, affords unparalleled freedom and opportunities to its citizens and people from all over the world, is fundamentally related to its capacity to keep itself and its interests secure. That means our warfighters are essential for maintaining our freedom won by others in the forests of Belleau Woods and the Ardennes, the frozen reservoir of Chosin, the jungles of Vietnam and the deserts of the Middle East, and that commitment should not end with their homecoming.

Our warriors voluntarily place themselves in harm’s way, so it is both a sacred trust and a good investment for the taxpayer; our veterans have the best training, skills and leadership experience available anywhere, and helping adapt them to civilian life is good for them and great for our businesses and industries. These are fellow Americans who are hurting and in need of help and understanding. By any measure of patriotic duty or basic care for our fellow man, these warriors deserve the help of all Americans, and Elder Heart is leading the quiet charge.

RELATED: Forging A Community For U.S. Veterans

For more information on Elder Heart and to join the organization’s cause, please visit ElderHeart.org.

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