Research Blog

Veterans Suffer from PTSD

Posted on Jun 9th, 2009

In recent weeks we've been plagued by soldier homicide and suicide stories in the media. First, was the horrific case of Army Sgt. John M. Russell, who slaughtered 5 of his fellow comrades at an army based counseling center. Then, not even a week later, we were told of the suicide epidemic at the army based boot camp, Fort Campbell (better known as 101st Airborne), in Kentucky. In less than a year, 11 soldiers have committed suicide. This is absolutely unacceptable.

However, homicide and suicide aren't the only issues facing these emotionally scarred soldiers-there is also the widely ignored drug addiction issue, which, in reality, is a slower form of suicide. It's because of all this that I have decided to address the issue in another manner.

Let's take a look at the underlying issue.

The major portion of the war in Iraq was supposed to have ended in May of
2003. Clearly, this declaration of freedom from Iraq did not occur. Soldiers
already stationed in Iraq were ordered to stick around and keep an eye out for
acts of rebellion against U.S. military forces. Others enlisted in the armed
forces, who were sent home on the basis of their ETS, (end of term service date)
were “stop-lossed,” an inhumane, knavish clause in the contract of a person
signing up to perform their act of patriotic duty. Even more soldiers, fresh out
of boot camp, were sent out for deployment.

The fear of rebellion by Iraqi citizens did turn out to be legit; over 4,000 U.S. soldiers have been killed by various al-Qaeda insurgents over the six year span of the “war on terrorism.” More recently, and perhaps more devastating, is the high number of soldiers coming back from Iraq with PTSD, an anxiety related disorder that occurs after a traumatic event, such as military combat. Many of these soldiers are being either dishonorably discharged, or put on inactive duty. This seems to be the right call.

According to the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, there are four types of symptoms associated with the disorder; reliving the event, avoidance, numbing, and feeling “keyed up.” These symptoms generally start shortly after the traumatic event, but may not become visibly present for months or years after. They can also come and go over several years, and have a tendency to seriously disrupt the affected person’s daily life, causing a parlous of delusional episodes. An unfortunate example of this horrifying truth is the recent rash of media coverage regarding soldiers killing their comrades.

Still, even with all the media coverage, and the plethora of Hollywood
produced Iraq war movies (most notably, 2008’s Stop Loss, and 2006’s Home of the Brave) it’s been hard to fully empathize with the situation because of how
surreal it all seems; that is, until I encountered the disturbing disorder first
hand.

About 15 years ago I knew a boy, a sweet boy, whose adoration for Jim Morrison, and The Doors symbolized his laid back persona. In that time we shared a single moment, a moment that saw us lying on the pavement in the parking lot if the condominiums I resided in at the time. It was an unusually quiet summer day, not even the sound of traffic was present. It was just “me, you, and the birds.” He carried that moment with him all these years, and about two years ago he re-located me on MySpace, but it wasn’t until recently that we were able to
re-acquaint ourselves. Over the phone he had revealed to me that he had been put on “in-active duty” and that during his visits at the VA hospital he had been diagnosed with PTSD. “Did they prescribe you any medication?” I asked. “Yeah, they tried to put me on a mood stabilizing/ anti psychotic agent but I self medicate,” he replied. I took his response with a grain of salt, and picked him up a few days later.

When I arrived at his home, I walked in to see nearly the whole floor covered with beer cans. He had just woken up, and was shaky. While this was a shocking site to see, it was nothing compared to the ride back to my house. We picked up a six pack on the way back, and as we drew closer to town his symptoms really began to show. He was extremely nervous, red faced, shaky, and his eyes were constantly shifting back and forth, as if he were expecting someone or something to attack. At one point, in a tourette’s syndrome like fashion, he crunched himself into a partial fetal position, his arms protecting his face, saying “IED, IED” (Improvised explosive device). My only response to his behavior was, “I can’t imagine what you must have seen out there”, to which he replied, “You don’t want to know.”

By the next morning, he had gone through more than a 12 pack of beer, and
upon waking was shaking and twitching violently; A symptom, no doubt, of a combination of withdrawals and extreme anxiety. From a personal standpoint this was certainly hard to watch, but a truth even harder to swallow, is the fact that he is only one of a growing number of soldiers who are suffering.

There are thousands of men and women who are in his exact predicament and the VA hospitals don’t seem to be the proper solution. Settlements from the army aren’t going give these soldiers their lives back either. So, just what is the solution? It seems the only sentiment left to give is a thank you, thank you for giving your life as you knew it for our great country.

Annabella Hargrove
is a freelance writer and resides in Murfreesboro, TN. Among
projects, she is currently working on a memoir.

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