PTSD: A defining moment for the US

Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, PTSD, is being bandied about through the news, with prejudices and misinformation confusing the issue. While there are many roots to PTSD, and they are often blatantly misrepresented, my concern here is with the PTSD produced by our continual wars that plague our returning veterans.

Our country expects veterans to be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives, yet many then face insurmountable hurdles to receive the help they need to deal with searing memories of the acts of war and rebuild their own lives. We are at a defining moment in the US.

Despite claims to be bringing democracy to other countries, the reality that confronts us has more to do with the US need to control other countries. We have a long history of complicity in the elimination of democratically elected officials, i.e. Lumumba in Africa and Allendez in Chile, leaders who may have generated independence. We still seem to be after the natural resources a country has, and a lust for power over them.

We raise our children to respect others and then train servicemen and women to kill innocent children and others, to destroy their homes, their communities, their water supplies, the simplest rudiments of living. And then our veterans are expected to come home after however many tours of duty and get on with their lives. They bring unfathomable memories home with them along with the unanswered questions: Why did we have to do this to those people? How are their lives better?

For veterans, the final insult is to have themselves denigrated as having a mental illness that maybe started before they joined the military, or because they were using drugs that no longer helped block those memories. PTSD may not kick in for months or years later, when some new situation or interaction floods their mind with those memories, and  becomes unbearable, causes irrational outbreaks. To qualify for treatment, veterans must document specific evidence that their PTSD  is due to incidents which occurred during their tour of duty.

Currently, USA Today reports that there are 22 suicides per day among veterans of all ages. About 3,000 active-duty troops have killed themselves since 2001. NPR noted that while 95% of vets were seen as quickly as they were supposed to be, nearly 100,000 patients had to wait much longer. At the VA center in SalisburyNC, the average wait was 3 months.

The October 1 issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology cited a PTSD study, led by Eric B. Elbogen, of 1388 combat veterans, which found that 23 percent of those vets had been arrested since their combat deployment, due to difficulties dealing with their anger. The study also found that current VA treatment of PTSD did not include therapy designed specifically to reduce irritability. Evidence based treatment needs our ongoing moral and financial support to conduct and respond to such studies whether provided by the VA or privately.

Veterans often avoid treatment for fear they will be perceived as weak, or will be mistreated, or will have difficulty documenting the necessary forms for treatment.Calling PTSD mental illness is also seen as a way of attributing it to something other than the atrocities of war and confuses both the public and veterans in need of help.

Missing from the call to rush military aid to other countries is the call to fully provide the PTSD treatment programs our veterans deserve. Missing is the consideration that war may not be the best remedy for the world’s problems, given the overwhelming problems generated by war itself.

How might congress respond to a landslide of calls and letters prioritizing research and treatment for our veterans? Endless wars do not bring peace to anyone.

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