PTSD

A character in an award nominated, war based novel Iwrote says to his comrades: “Damn. Death takes all the fun out of war.” 

The intensely elevated threat of the death to one’sself and friends, and the concurrent fear and misery that come with all wars dohave a way of taking the fun out of them, particularly for veterans.

For many this results in post traumatic stressdisorder, PTSD, what was called delayed stress syndrome, combat fatigue orshell shock in earlier times.

I served in Vietnam as an army helicopter pilot. Inten months there I was often exposed to enemy gunfire and was forced down by itthree times. The third occasion cost me five months in an army orthopedichospital stateside. Earlier in my tour, I lost two buddies to crashes, oneby accident, one by combat. One of my two childhood best friends, a navymedic, earned the Medal of Honor the hard way. I was scalped by a rotorblade in a freak accident, and did four weeks of recovery in-country. I wasshelled occasionally, and was shot once in a relatively minor way. I flewnumerous combat assaults and I medevaced countless butchered and dead soldiers,citizens and children month-in and month-out, watching some die as Iflew. 15 logged flight-hours and three hours sleep in a day were toocommon. I witnessed and participated in what most people would define ashorrors, regularly.
Yet, compared to some of my fellowsoldiers especially infantrymen – “Grunts” with a capital G – I had an easywar. Moreover, I had only one tour at war, as opposed to the two to eight thatare common for modern American vets.

I relate this only because I am about to offer someunpopular thoughts about PTSD, and I want to beg that I do not remark withoutsome experience and empathy.

As a police officer after Vietnam I encountered toomany vets who claimed the war was the cause of their crime, addictions,unemployment, divorce, spouse abuse, child abuse and/or suicide attempts. Inalmost all these situations, it was my opinion that their war experience wasbeing blamed for weaknesses or failures in the individual that would haveoccurred had they not served. Even then, PTSD was widely sold and boughtas an all-purpose excuse and as a ski-lift ticket to a veteran’s disabilitypension.

Much research has been done on PTSD in the last 40years and much well intended and expensive effort has been made to understand,diagnose and treat the increasingly defined variants of the ‘disease.’ In thattime, military PTSD claims have skyrocketed over 30% while combat deaths peryear of war have plummeted nearly 90% (10 years of Vietnam vs. 10 years ofIraq+AFG). I fear this is in part because it is human to want anostensibly noble excuse for our shortcomings, and in part because the treatmentindustry has found PTSD to be a vein into federal vaults.

It is vitally important to never forget what shouldbe obvious. Some PTSD is agonizingly, destructively, unequivocally real. Forthese genuine sufferers, enough support, treatment and subsidy can hardly besummoned and are dearly earned.

I have different questions. To what extent are thehugely proliferated claims of PTSD legitimate? How much of it is traded asa commodity by the weak and the treatment industry? And how harmful for vets isthe resulting ‘Napolitano stigma’ that virtually all vets suffer PTSD in waysthat render them potentially risky as employees, spouses or parents?

As another character in my novel warns in a speech tofellow veterans: “To be sure, there are those of us who are drastically andindelibly affected by Vietnam. Still, the notion that we as Vietnamveterans are any more entitled to sympathy or privilege than veterans ofprevious or subsequent wars is a dangerous one for us to entertain. Such anotion invites self-pity. Self-pity corrodes one’s sense of responsibility forone’s self, and therein lurks the ruin of recovery.

Let us bevery careful how we blame agent orange, or delayed stress syndrome, orflashbacks, or anything else for what may simply be our own shortcomings. Maybe. Let us always look first to ourselves for the cause of our woes orfailures. And only when it is clear that we have exhausted that examination,let us explore the possibility that ‘our’ war is at the root.

Then, let us reach out to help the unduly affectedveterans of all America’s wars.”

Writer’snote: Veterans, the novel referenced above is For Whom To Die (www.forwhomtodie.com), which I tell youbecause I wrote it to be not only entertaining to all readers but therapeuticfor all war veterans. If you read it and it does not help you, I’ll buy itback. If you want it and cannot afford to buy it, I’ll give you a copy forso long as I can afford to do so. If you need to talk, I’m always available. williamslusher@live.com.

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