PTSD Affects More Than Just Veterans In The United States
By Andrew Curtis. You can contact Andrew via email : firstname.lastname@example.org
A MISUNDERSTOOD COMPLEXITY
When I was a soldier, serving in the US Army’s 3rd Special Forces Group, it was at the height of the Global War on Terror (GWOT). Deployments were relentless. The operation tempo was at an all-time high. No sooner, a unit would return from one combat deployment; they would be training up to embark on another. Across the military, units were taxed out, and the toils of war were taking its toll from the troops which waged it. Upon returning from battle, it was not uncommon for the troops to engage in drinking sprees. Each night, military men and women would head to the bars, clubs, and other establishments of debauchery to cut free from the ties of the stress they were experiencing.
For some, the responsibilities of the things they had done in combat while draped in the colors of their country had been just too much to handle. For others; they carried the guilt of surviving something that “they shouldn’t have”. It was the loss of a comrade, a brother, sister, husband, or wife. The weight of divorce because their duty removed them from their marriage and the spouse could no longer wait for their return. There were the physical wounds that ached and had not healed. Some took these mental, physical, and psychological taxes and drowned them in alcohol. Others chose drugs and even abused the medications prescribed to them for their wounds and injuries. Many, chose promiscuity, the pleasures of the flesh and the comfort of strangers as their coping mechanism. Others continued the fight in the bars, on the street, and at home.
I recollect the military having difficulty dealing with a sudden rise in behavioral and disciplinary problems. The number of non-judicial and court-martialed punishments had risen exponentially. Many military personnel was tried, punished and then separated from service. The term Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) was a frequently coined term. This term was often associated with mental instability and being, “CRAZY”. Those diagnosed with PTSD were considered weak, cowardly and often treated as pariahs. The fact is that the military was reaping what it had sewn, and the establishment had no idea on what it was dealing with.
UNDERSTANDING COMBAT STRESS
As a young man, I had heard of PTSD in relation to combat veterans who had served in Vietnam. Growing up in the hills and mountains of Upstate New York, our hillbilly lifestyle meant that not only did we sort of live in areas where we were surrounded by family, but we also considered many of our neighbors as extended family members. The road I grew up on consisted of approximately 14 properties. Of those properties, 10 were owned by my blood relatives. The others were close friends of the family. The adjoining and connecting roads maintained a similar pattern. There was an occasion, when I was a boy when my family had hosted a “Family get together”. Everyone on the hill was invited, blood or not.
One member of our “extended” family was a Vietnam combat veteran. He was known to have “incidents”. I had never-before witnessed one of these incidents but was told stories of how he would suddenly “snap” and get violent flashbacks from the war. They called this PTSD and “Shell shock”. During this event that our family had hosted “Mr. H” had been drinking. He was a ripe, jolly soul. However, something suddenly changed after he’d been drinking a while. I recall he started screaming and grabbed a cutting knife from the table and was slashing it about. He had an incident, and I was a witness. This event laid the foundation of what I believed PTSD was from there on until I read a book “On Killing” by Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) David Grossman back in 2000.
Grossman was an Army Psychologist who had worked extensively in the field of Combat and Post Traumatic Stress. His work “On Killing” does an excellent job explaining what PTSD is as well as how certain personality types can be affected by combat stress. He also explains the concept of there being a certain threshold in which can be reached under specific types of stress. His book explains how various societal impetus on specific persona types can lead to personality dysfunctions, resulting in columbine or other mass shooter events. Grossman explains how properly engineered and applied training can assist military and first responders in inoculating against and dealing with combat and post traumatic stress. Most importantly I learned that PTSD is manifested in many different ways.
Later on, while attending the US Army Special Forces Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape course (SERE Level -C), we were taught about the psychology of captivity. This included the mindset required to survive captivity and dealing with the aftermath and Post Traumatic Stress resulted by captivity. We learned once more about psychological thresholds and human breaking points. Once more these teachings expressed that everyone has a breaking point or a threshold and that by reaching this point, it doesn’t mean one is weak, unstable or crazy. It just meant, that person had reached their threshold and it isn’t something that is considered an unrecoverable state.
The importance of these factors cannot be stressed enough. By the height of GWOT, the US Army had undergone, the Revolutionary War, Civil War, Spanish American War, World Wars I & II, the Korean War, Vietnam Conflict, Grenada, Panama, the first Gulf War, Somalia, Bosnia and now GWOT; and they STILL HAD NO CLUE ORGANIZATIONALLY HOW TO DEAL WITH PTSD. It wasn’t uncommon for soldiers affected by PTSD to be given bad conduct and dishonorable discharges, discharges for mental instability or worse. Soldiers who had clearly reached their threshold, had tried to exercise their stress by other means and had failed were too afraid to come forward for help, because it meant they would be treated as if they were insane or worse. Many who did come forward were either punished or cast aside.
This was shocking, considering the nature of the business that the military is involved. They are “MASTERS OF WAR” yet didn’t have an effective system in place for preventing and treating Post Traumatic Stress. Everything has a price and war is no different. There’s a special human price for war. As a former soldier and a professional in a field that works in high threat areas of the world, I work with former Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, Law Enforcement, Security and Fire professionals. What I have found is that PTSD is a very common thing. Everyone is susceptible to it and it doesn’t have to be permanent.
MY BROTHER’S KEEPER
In the post GWOT era of media blasted mass shootings, PTSD is vastly becoming a daily term in our society. I teach, work with and engage a great deal of people who have experienced trauma and they are all dealing with it or have dealt with it in their own unique and individual ways. The veteran community has typically done a pretty good job in helping their own in overcoming the daily challenges associated with PTSD. This comes from several reasons but begins with comradery. Many veterans have experienced trauma particularly associated with battle and their sense of brotherhood / sisterhood compels them to look out for their comrades who may have trouble dealing with these issues.
They understand the importance of reaching out to one another and being that platform that another may need to be able to stand tall again. Literally, several groups have been established with the entire purpose of assisting fellow veterans in dealing with the mental and psychological scars associated with war. Unfortunately, the veteran community has also been associated with the “22 a day” veteran suicide rate. This is tragic in that the “22/ day” number isn’t really a fair number when much of it is being
focused on the GWOT group of vets. This number is compiled from the total number of veterans stemming as far back as the remaining World War Two Survivors.
This is something that should be looked at comparatively and numerically. Let’s take World War II for example. It is estimated that roughly 16 million Americans served in the military in World War II. Approximately 497,777 are alive today. According to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs “America’s Wars” document (2017’), there are 2,275,000 living Korean War veterans, 7,391,000 Living Vietnam vets, 2,224,583 Gulf War Vets and according to a recent Rand Corporation study there are 2.77 million GWOT veterans. The 2016 census estimates a total veteran population of 18.5 million. According to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, 2017 statistics reveal that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US. In 2017 47,173 people died by suicide and 1,400,000 attempts at suicide were made.
According to Google, the latest numbers provided by US Census updated in April 2019, estimate a US population of 327.2 million people in 2018. According to the Department of Veteran’s affairs information released 18 June 2018, Veteran suicide rate was estimated at a constant rate of 20 a day equaling 7300 veteran suicides annually. This calculates to .0003945946 percent of the overall 18.5 million-person veteran population in the US. This also equals 18 percent of all suicides in the US. Comparatively overall suicide affects .000128612 of the non-veteran population.
We are being engineered to believe that veterans are mentally unstable because of the scars of war and that veterans are virtually suicide time bombs waiting to go off at a moment notice. Although the number of 20 a day lost by suicide is terrible, it’s an even more menacing sound bite than an actual statistic. Nobody is sounding the alarm of the 129.24 non-veterans a day who commit suicide. No one is bugling the 3835.6 attempts at suicide each-and-every day by non-veterans. The reason is simple….. there’s an agenda. Perhaps I will discuss this agenda in later articles, but we should be aware that the numbers are being used to scare you.
SOMETIMES DISORDER DOESN’T MEAN DYSFUNCTION
There’s hope for people struggling with the effects of traumatic stress. It should also be stated that just because someone has been through a traumatic event, doesn’t mean that they are prone to suicide or that they are unable to cope. I was recently introduced to Dr. John King. Dr. King is the author of a book about coping with the effects of PTSD and succeeding in life. My friend Dr. Katarina Lindley sent me a copy of Dr. King’s book titled “Deal with it” some time back. She has an understanding of my field and thought that Dr. King’s work could provide me with valuable insight into a common issue faced by members in my profession.
Dr. Lindley couldn’t have been righter. After reading “Deal with it” so much context was brought to the concepts of PTSD that I had previously learned from other books and in my SERE training. What made his book different and gave it unique insight is that it was written by someone who struggles with the effects of traumatic stress. Without going too far from the subject, Dr. King is a survivor of Traumatic, Sexual Abuse. His writings go in-depth on defining the issue of this discussion and in simple terms reveal a playbook for recovery and how to thrive after the event.
His view of PTSD is a “Glass half full” approach where he looks at what many consider a dysfunction to be a blessing in disguise and the revealing of one’s true powers and capabilities. For example, some may consider the hypervigilance often associated with PTSD to be negative, on the contrary, it doubles as a heightened sense of awareness that many are short of. Having a keen sense of awareness is absolutely essential in this world.
NOONE IS IMMUNE
In 2005, I had been going through some administrative matters in the military. And one of the members of the B Team at the unit was going through his out-processing. In several previous deployments, his vehicle had been struck by IED. The last time he had been hit by IED, he had (unbeknownst to him) reached his threshold. Then, one time after that when his team was ambushed, he found himself frozen, unable to function. He didn’t even know what was going on with himself. He just knew he wasn’t able to bring himself to do what he thought he should do. One day he came to me and asked if I wanted to go to lunch with him. I agreed to go to lunch. He knew I was going through a hard time at the unit and wanted to lend some moral support. Up to this point, I had hardly ever said a word to him or him to me.
We decided to take his truck to lunch. During the ride, he looked over at me and said, “I know what you must think of me……. I mean you think I’m a coward, right? Everyone thinks I’m a coward.” I was a bit taken back, but I knew what he was referring to. I just didn’t feel that he was a coward though. Some guys did, or at least that’s what they convinced themselves to believe. To me, this guy is a hero. He fought bravely EVERY TIME he was asked until he just couldn’t. He didn’t ask for what happened to him and it’s not his fault that the establishment we were under had no concept of how to deal with the issue. Listening to him tell me what happened and for him to open up to me about what was going on inside him, broke my heart. He was my brother. He was going through something I couldn’t possibly relate to, but something that I was every bit as susceptible to.
We opened up to each other that day and became friends ever since. Not long after that, he was separated from service for the condition. It wouldn’t be for another few years that the military started to get it’s act together pertaining to the effects of PTSD. Unfortunately, it is still very misunderstood and poorly diagnosed. We live in a world where some vets make the PTSD claim because they think it’s a free paycheck from the VA when they get out. They act and dramatize and play the part of the misconceived stereotype. While others suffer in silence. The establishment still doesn’t seem to understand that just because someone is dealing with PTSD they aren’t sick and likely aren’t a danger to themselves or others.
TRUTH WILL LIGHT THE WAY
In conclusion, it is important that we as a society shed light on truth. The truth of the matter is that many of us have likely experienced a traumatic event. We have probably experienced times of trying to deal with suppressed trauma through sports activities, excessive work, drinking, sex, or extreme acts such as skydiving, bungee jumping swimming with crocodiles in the Nile river or chasing wild water buffalo. We need to understand it’s okay to feel a certain way, its normal to try to act things out in a healthy way. We need to bring to light that the politicians and the media are trying to sell PTSD for something it isn’t. They are selling PTSD and those afflicted as unstable, mentally sick suicide risks. And that just isn’t the truth.
The truth is we have to allow our brothers and sisters who are dealing with the effects of traumatic stress to get it off their shoulders. If we want to prevent issues we must become our brother’s keepers in a sense. Something as simple as a platform to speak freely goes a long way when it comes to preventing the very worst-case scenarios associated with traumatic stress. The truth is our military and law enforcement professionals are not the only ones dealing with traumatic stress in its various forms. Until the truth of this matter is made known a false narrative will be the voice of authority for this concern.