May 8, 2015
I heard a powerful story yesterday about the lives of Veterans suffering in silence with PTSD. The term is said so regularly that it can be over used while minimizing the trauma and impact on the lives of our soldiers. The article “How PTSD Became a Problem Far Beyond the Battlefield“ I support is worth reading. The article illuminates the lives of our service people from the point of view of a soldier.
Sebastian Junger in Vanity Fair said, “Though only 10 percent of American forces see combat, the U.S. military now has the highest rate of post-traumatic stress disorder in its history,” this is I suggest relevant to youth today not in war but in social battles. How can we begin to change society when the similarities of battle streets not similar but representative of small to large shock that trigger anger, shock, anxiety and more.
Junger shares, “The first time I experienced what I now understand to be post-traumatic stress disorder, I was in a subway station in New York City, where I live. It was almost a year before the attacks of 9/11, and I’d just come back from two months in Afghanistan with Ahmad Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance. I was on assignment to write a profile of Massoud, who fought a desperate resistance against the Taliban until they assassinated him two days before 9/11. At one point during my trip we were on a frontline position that his forces had just taken over from the Taliban, and the inevitable counterattack started with an hour-long rocket barrage. All we could do was curl up in the trenches and hope. I felt deranged for days afterward, as if I’d lived through the end of the world.
By the time I got home, though, I wasn’t thinking about that or any of the other horrific things we’d seen; I mentally buried all of it until one day, a few months later, when I went into the subway at rush hour to catch the C train downtown. Suddenly I found myself backed up against a metal support column, absolutely convinced I was going to die. There were too many people on the platform, the trains were coming into the station too fast, the lights were too bright, the world was too loud. I couldn’t quite explain what was wrong, but I was far more scared than I’d ever been in Afghanistan.
I stood there with my back to the column until I couldn’t take it anymore, and then I sprinted for the exit and walked home. I had no idea that what I’d just experienced had anything to do with combat; I just thought I was going crazy. For the next several months I kept having panic attacks whenever I was in a small place with too many people—airplanes, ski gondolas, crowded bars. Gradually the incidents stopped, and I didn’t think about them again until I found myself talking to a woman at a picnic who worked as a psychotherapist.
Because PTSD is a natural response to danger, it’s almost unavoidable in the short term and mostly self-correcting in the long term. Only about 20 percent of people exposed to trauma react with long-term (chronic) PTSD. Rape is one of the most psychologically devastating things that can happen to a person, for example—far more traumatizing than most military deployments—and, according to a 1992 study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress, 94 percent of rape survivors exhibit signs of extreme trauma immediately afterward. And yet, nine months later 47 percent of rape survivors have recovered enough to resume living normal lives.
Oddly, one of the most traumatic events for soldiers is witnessing harm to other people—even to the enemy. In a survey done after the first Gulf War by David Marlowe, an expert in stress-related disorders working with the Department of Defense, combat veterans reported that killing an enemy soldier—or even witnessing one getting killed—was more distressing than being wounded oneself.
Suicide by combat veterans is often seen as an extreme expression of PTSD, but currently there is no statistical relationship between suicide and combat, according to a study published in April in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry. Combat veterans are no more likely to kill themselves than veterans who were never under fire. The much-discussed estimated figure of 22 vets a day committing suicide is deceptive: it was only in 2008, for the first time in decades, that the U.S. Army veteran suicide rate, though enormously tragic, surpassed the civilian rate in America. And even so, the majority of veterans who kill themselves are over the age of 50.”
I share this because we have service persons returning and in need of our nation’s help. Junger commented on MNSBC Morning Joe that there needs to be another term than PTSD as many need help in other ways. I respond that these soldiers could be assisted with immersion therapy. The ability to aid soldiers back into their lives.
Junger qualified that soldiers spend so much time together that when they return they are alone. This shift from family all the time to alone is a shock that can only be combated with care.
The call to support these soldiers is a critical care issue that is relevant to the sustainability of our nation. Moreover Junger offers “America is a largely de-ritualized society that obviously can’t just borrow from another society to heal its psychic wounds. But the spirit of community healing and empowerment that forms the basis of these ceremonies is certainly one that might be converted to a secular modern society. The shocking disconnect for veterans isn’t so much that civilians don’t know what they went through—it’s unrealistic to expect anyone to fully understand another person’s experience—but that what they went through doesn’t seem relevant back home.”
I say every time “Thank YOU for YOUR Service”when encountering a military person. It is said in honor and respect for their service but yet it is not enough. How do we honor them and support their re-entry.
I have gone skydiving. Jumping out of a plane and there is re-entry moment when breathing is not an option as the body acclimates to pressure changes. We ask our soldiers to skip that breath and dive in happy. The soldiers of other countries have less stress as they are acclimatized to the threats or as in Israel everyone serves as a part of national service.
The need to give mental health to our military vets is essential as well as training to immerse themselves into the non-military life. The inability to engage our vets is unsustainable and a loss of generations.