September 29, 2008

PTSD, Combat and the Guilt of a Nation Mediated by the Media's Lip Service

I had recently posted an article over at A Soldier's Perspective that I had originally posted here on September 6, 2008 about the attachments that soldiers develop during combat. A commenter informed me of her belief that our soldiers were getting the proper help with psychological issues and addressing PTSD, that all they had to do was ask. It seems as thought she is trying to assuage her conscious and justify her beliefs that all will done to help our soldiers and veterans.

Here is her comment,
I agree that combat experience will bring soldiers together. These soldiers will often share things and feel an attachment like none that they have probably experienced in their life. However, the military does not view PTSD as a weakness and goes a long way trying to identify soldiers that have problems and get them the necessary help to allow them to continue to soldier or become responsible productive citizens. The choice to become a citizen or continue to soldier on is the soldier's choice. Initially the Army was not prepared to deal with PTSD or with traumatic brain injuries. Recently that has changed. You cannot sign into a new unit or Army School without going through medical screening and part of that screening is psychological screening. This screening is done in private so that soldiers can feel free to disclose any concerns without feeling ashamed. PTSD is not a weakness but an illness like any other condition you can develop over time. Additionally, the band of brothers that develop in combat owe it to each other to ensure that they are looking out for one another. Part of that is making sure any brother in arms receive treatment if you think they might have a problem. As brothers, you have to make sure your brothers are not suffering needlessly. If a brother is having trouble make sure we get him the treatment he needs and not allow him to try to grit it out. You can get help in private and not have your career affected. The Army is doing a better job of providing help we just have to make sure those who need it get it. Take care of each other and be safe. This is my own opinion and does not represent the Army's point of view.
to which I commented,
To the Common Masses,

Are you a mental health provider in the military, the VA or in civilian world? It sounds as if you have bought into the media portrayal that everything that can be done has become the norm. I know that the military has become more aware of problems associated with psychological trauma and have begun to implement some changes. But not on the scale of making significant changes in the soldiers and families lives that have been impacted by psychological trauma. Do you really think that our soldiers have a choice in becoming a citizen or soldiering on? This is the EXACT kind of thinking that alienates and stigmatizes our soldiers and veterans. "Hey you are the one who signed up for this! Suck it up soldier and drive on!"

This is EXACTLY what we face as a nation in overcoming PTSD and enriching our soldiers and veterans lives, people who believe in the benevolence of our nation to help the "heroes of war" (those of us who survive war do not consider ourselves a hero, just lucky. By calling us heroes all we can think about are the ones who did not make it home). The trouble becomes perfectly clear to the veteran or soldier who faces the daunting task of recovery from PTSD when they seek help. The nation does not dispense much needed education and treatment of PTSD, the institutions of bureaucracy weigh the task of defending the budget verses helping "those bastards who do not deserve help, suck it solider!" I can still see the look of disbelief on the VA therapists faces when I tried to get help, many times did I stare into that penetrating mask of "you are lying to get benefits" before I could get through the rigorous process of getting a diagnosis of PTSD which you need to receive treatment. Most of the times I was suicidal or homicidal when I was on the other end of the scorn and skepticism of the VA doctors, nurses, therapists and practitioners who were supposed to treat the veterans.

Go ask a veteran how or if they were helped, most will say it was like pulling their own damned teeth so I gave up.

If you want a true accounting of what a soldier goes through with this "enlightened" process of psychological screening you believe so much in, go read the harrowing account of Colby Buzzell, an author and a veteran diagnosied with PTSD. In his article in Esquire who had to go through the ordeal of being reactivated and sent back to Iraq after being out of the military for almost four years: The Army Wants You...Again! (Yes, Really.). The article is long, but soldier on if you really want to give some attention to the problem you believe is being taken care of.

What they have done is not enough to break the stigma behind the thinking in the military of PTSD being a weakness. This belief has been ingrained into the mindset of generations of soldiers and cannot be overcome by a screening or the CO standing up in front of the troops and saying it is OK to have PTSD and to get help for it. Decades of indoctrination have to be overcome; the only way to do that would be to implement training and education on the psychological impact of war on the mind and the possible ramifications they may face.

Hell, even before the troops enlist they have been taught that PTSD is a problem of moral fiber. Look at what we have done as a nation to our Vietnam brothers and past veterans, how many of them have become homeless because of trauma that has overwhelmed them? 200,000 veterans are homeless on the streets of America on any given night. Half of them have a mental illness, a third of them have been to combat. Tragically we throw away good people who need extensive help in getting their life back together. We venerate and honor the soldier but betray the veteran.

The culture of the military, the Army and Marines especially indoctrinates soldiers to become and believe that no one can oppose them with an air of invincibility. Soldiers have been trained to think that they can overcome any obstacle. But how does he/she defeat a problem without any substance other than mental manifestations that get in the way of normal functioning and affect life in general. In a battle with no solid enemy and no apparent battleground the warrior having been trained to combat the physical comes in contact with a foe that can over shadow the imagination.

The soldier usually does not understand or recognize the changes that have transformed them into a different person than the one who left and came back. They have just survived the impossible situation of combat, how can they troubled by some little problem of thinking or behavior? The biggest trouble of screening in the military does not take into account of the issue of longevity and accumulative effects of psychological troubles. Most veterans with PTSD can function enough to convince themselves, usually not their families though, that they do not have a problem until they accumulate to proportions that disable and debilitate them possibly taking years to decades.

The lip service in the media today talks as if the programs they report on has national impacts on our soldiers and veterans. Do not believe the hype; the programs being discussed have only begun to address a problem that has plagued our veterans and soldiers since the founding of our country. In the last five years different programs have been developed to treat PTSD sporadically across the nation, and the high demand for these services pale in comparison to the soldiers and veterans who need them. 300,000 war veterans and soldiers from the current conflicts have been estimated to need psychological help and treatment; this does not take into account of the veterans already in the system or the ones who do not have the capacity to go through such a rigorous process.

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