During a decade of war, 32,000 military veterans have come home wounded -- left with visible scars. But more than 500,000 others have returned home with invisible scars -- suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Now, one woman is using her power in Hollywood to get our service men and women the help they need on the inside and out.
Marine Corporal Aaron Mankin was the first patient for "Operation Mend," a team of doctors who donate their skills to giving veterans like Aaron a chance at a normal life.
"I've had 60 surgeries in six years," Aaron said.
It's heroes like Aaron that motivate actress Ruta Lee, known for her part in classics like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. It's her role in The Thalians that has her focused on raising awareness for our wounded warriors and Operation Mend.
"We don't take the best care of them. They have to be healed in body. They have to be healed in mind in order to heal their spirits," said the actress.
Help for vets like combat medic Megan Krause. Unlike Aaron, her scars are invisible. She's fighting PTSD.
"If I went into a restaurant with a group of people, I always had to make sure I was sitting in the corner with my back against the wall so that no one could get behind me," said Krause.
Since the beginning of the Iraq war, 20,000 female veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD. Research now shows it takes women five years to recover compared to two for men.
"They don't want to expose their family members to what they're going through, so they withdraw," said UCLA psychiatrist Patricia Lester, M.D.
Lester is part of Operation Mend, helping to heal wounds we can't see.
"They all struggle with reactivity, increased vigilance. They constantly monitor their environment. They're more reactive to sounds," Lester said.
Counseling helped Megan, and Ruta Lee hopes to help others and give our returning vets everything they deserve.
"I need to honor these young people that have put their lives on the market. Go out and shake their hands, and kiss their a&%, and say, ‘Thanks for what you've done,'" said the actress.
About 45 percent of discharged troops have received some type of physical or mental treatment after returning home. The VA projects the cost to continue to treat these troops to be more than $500 billion over the next 40 years.
If you would like to donate to Operation Mend, you can log onto TheThalians.org.
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