The 9/11 attacks and the conflicts that followed re-invigorated the study of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders version 5 (DSM-5) criteria for PTSD can be found here CLICK.
Instead of discussing the scientific angle I am going to discuss my two gripes, one opinion, and four suggestions.
Gripe #1: Your recruiter didn’t tell you about this.
I really think Armed Forces Recruiters should talk to potential recruits about PTSD. In high school we talk about sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy in sexual education classes and people still have sex. We should talk about PTSD during the recruitment process — people will still enlist. Even a simple statement to the potential recruit to the effect of “you will never, ever, be the same after you complete your enlistment” would be helpful. I knew a Vietnam-era Marine who rose to the rank of First Sergeant. The various recruiters offered him everything under the sun to enlist while the Marine Corps recruiter said “Son, all the Marine Corps is going to give you is a chance to die for your country.” The truth set him free.
Gripe #2: PTSD Stigma and Hollywood’s Poor Portrayal of Veterans
Since the beginning of time there have been wars. People return from war forever changed. We know this. I fail to understand why there is a negative stigma associated with having PTSD. Additionally, Hollywood annoys me beyond belief because they repeatedly depict the “Struggling Veteran” who lashes out against society or his loved ones. Does anyone remember “First Blood” with Sylvester Stallone or more recently “Brothers” with Tobey Maguire? The way films like these depict Veterans does nothing to help those struggling with PTSD. Hollywood is out for money and making a film about a returning Veteran who adjusts back into society with few issues probably wouldn’t sell tickets.
Your mind records all and plays back whenever it wants to. Accept this.
1. If you are a Veteran and having some problems adjusting you need to get help. Talk to someone. You owe it to those who did not come back to live your life to the fullest simply because they cannot. Do not let pride stop you from asking for assistance. Your situation is not new in the history of the human race. Many have come before and many will after. They survived, so can you.
2. If you want to read an outstanding book about re-adjusting to civilian life after a war check out “The Road Back” by Erich Maria Remarque CLICK. This is a continuation of the classic “All Quiet on the Western Front” as those who survive the first book find themselves struggling to define themselves at the end of World War I.
3. If you want to see an outstanding movie about re-adjusting to civilian life after a war check out “The Best Years of our Lives” CLICK which portrays Veterans returning home after World War II. Roger Ebert said “As long as we have wars and returning Veterans, some of them wounded, “The Best Years of Our Lives” will not be dated.” The film is said to have inspired one of Samuel Goldwyn’s famous Goldwynisms: “I don’t care if the film doesn’t make a nickel. I just want every man, woman, and child in America to see it.”
4. If you have a friend, relative, or loved one who is a Veteran and you want to try to understand what they went through check out Six Word War CLICK. This website captures Veterans descriptions of their experiences in six words. The content simultaneously fills me pride and saddens me every time I visit.