Tuesday, November 11th is Veterans Day. It’s a day to reflect upon those who have served our country. Not to be confused with Memorial Day. This is a day where many stores and restaurants offer up free meals or appetizers to those with a military ID card to thank those who have served or are serving. But this isn’t really a way of helping veterans even though it is a nice gesture. What if I told you we could actually help vets returning from war? What if I told you more and more veterans returning from war and being diagnosed with PTSD, or may have PTSD but aren’t seeking help for it? If you’re able to find it, Pivot is airing a documentary about PTSD on 11 November titled That Which I Love Destroys Me. I haven’t seen it, but will try to find it.
PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is something that seriously needs greater attention. The American Psychological Association (APA) refers to PTSD as “an anxiety problem that develops in some people after extremely traumatic events, such as combat, crime, an accident or natural disaster,” . War isn’t the only traumatic experience that would give someone PTSD. It’s normal to feel afraid when in danger. This is generally when your fight-or-flight response kicks in to either prepare to defend against the danger, or avoid it . Back in 1980, the APA added PTSD to it’s third edition of it’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) and trauma was considered something as a catastrophic stressor beyond the normal realm of usual human experience. Such catastrophic stressors considered were war, torture, rape, natural disasters, Nazi Holocaust which are very different from stressors like divorce, failure, or even a serious illness .
I’m not writing this to inform you what PTSD is, but rather writing this to show the lack of care the military seems to have for those returning home from war that have been diagnosed with PTSD. Let’s look at some numbers. Back in 2012 the government spent around $3 billion to treat veterans with PTSD and $294 million on service members and they have no evidence to show it’s working. It has been estimated that somewhere between 7-20% of veterans of recent wars have suffered from PTSD at some point. Oregon did a study and found that male veterans aged 18 years to 24 years old had a suicide rate eight times higher than citizens in the same age group. There is a correlation although not 100% of the time, that those with PTSD commit suicide while not every suicide is PTSD related.
The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs showed that OIF/OEF veterans diagnosed with PTSD has been a risk factor for suicidal ideation. While I’ve seen reports upwards of 30 veterans a day commit suicide, the VA reports an estimated 22 veterans a day commit suicide. There are triggers that those diagnosed with PTSD get that may cause them to commit suicide. Some of these include night terrors and flashbacks. What if I told you that many may actually value human life and that’s why they may have developed PTSD to begin with, because they took another human life? This is very different from someone who is a psychopath or serial killer as they do not value human life, they don’t have that ability to do so and therefore are unaffected by taking lives. While many return, there are some that transition to civilian life while others do remain active duty or guard/reservists. Not enough is being done to help them transition back to the states after being at war. Military members spend months training and preparing to deploy but the same care is not spent on members coming back. When I came back from a deployment, I had two meetings with the mental health clinic. Two…that’s it. They asked me some standard questions and sent me on my way. Six months later I was back for round two of the same questions. It’s very easy to lie. Luckily for me, while I did spend time on a base that was getting attacked, I felt I came back unscathed. Nothing was ever really truly close enough to make me feel like I was in danger with the exception of some overhead rockets as I stumbled out of my hut in a half asleep stumble to the restroom.
The point is this. Our military members need to know people are there to help them even if the Department of Veteran Affairs severely lacks in this ability. There are programs out there for those whether they are remaining in service or transitioning to civilian life. I stumbled across Operation: I.V. in writing this article (operationiv.org). I understand some are afraid to reach out due to having the stigma of a mental disorder so they’d rather keep quiet. Please know this, if someone discusses suicide, please do not leave their side. Seek immediate medical help or call 911. The VA does have a 24/7 hotline (1-800-273-8255, opt. 1), and a website to reach out. If you know someone who may be experiencing PTSD like symptoms, please encourage them to seek help. Let’s take care of our vets the way they do for us overseas whether or not you agree with the war.
Written by The Doctor