On average, 30% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have a mental health issue once they return that needs treatment. Of those 30% however, less than half will go on to receive it. Nearly twenty-two veterans die on average each day due to suicide, accounting for one in five suicides in the country. Why is all this the case though? Why are these shocking statistics not being taken care of? To better understand the issue, and the questions that come from it, an exploration of the history, treatments, and availability must be made. The support of Veterans once they return home needs to become a top priority of the country to ensure they can re-adjust normally to civilian life post-deployment.
It has become an unfortunate reality that more Veterans die from self-inflicted harm and suicide in this day and age than in actual combat. In 2015, twenty-two personnel were killed in the line of duty. While any number is too high, when compared with the 6,115 suicides of personnel in the same year, the issue becomes clear to see. The military has been criticized for training men for war, but not de-escalating that and preparing them to return to civilian life after their service. Many come back into the “regular” world with experiences and traumatic events that prohibit them from truly being the same person ever again.
PTSD has gone through many different forms in the eyes of the public in the last one-hundred years. Known as “shell-shock” commonly in World War 1, it was seen as a sign of cowardice and lack of character. Many men who displayed the symptoms and characteristics of modern day PTSD were even put on trial due to it. Court Martials and even execution was a likely outcome for any men who displayed such traits as the “thousand-yard stare”,and an unwillingness to fight any longer due to their mental state. Moving into the second World War, the term shell-shock was banned by the military, and was replaced with “battle fatigue” and “operational exhaustion”. While the words may have changed, the thoughts and sentiments of those in power and the general public did not. It is known the famous General George Patton himself publicly stated he did not believe this was a real phenomenon. In 1983 with the Vietnam War having ended eight years prior, the United States Congress finally requested that the VA conduct a study on the prevalence of PTSD in veterans of the war. This was the first study of its kind, and brought the seriousness of the issue into the limelight, as it was found that fifteen to twenty percent of those tested showed symptoms. This discovery led the government and experts in psychology to delve further into the topic, leading to the better scientific understanding available today.
While everyone has heard of PTSD, what is the actual definition? According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (commonly shortened to VA), “PTSD is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault”. With this definition as a basis in mind, it becomes easier to focus on how combat PTSD is formed. As stated by National Center for PTSD “Service members are at risk for death or injury. They may see others hurt or killed. They may have to kill or wound others. They are on alert around the clock. These and other factors can increase their chances of having PTSD or other mental health problems”. The looming fear of death is a constant during deployment, even including friends. This constant state of stress alone is unhealthy, but when coupled with an actual death nearby from either friend or enemy, is where the psyche starts to crumble. Symptoms vary from individual to individual, but common issues include insomnia, depression, bipolar disorder, night terrors, anxiety, and eventually substance abuse as the individual attempts to escape issues without medical treatment.
Possible solutions for PTSD symptoms are, like any treatment, not foolproof. Treatments of course include medication, such as Fluoxetine (Prozac), Paroxetine (Paxil), Sertraline (Zoloft), and Venlafaxine (Effexor).These are not a solution on their own, as everyone experiences PTSD and the symptoms of it differently. Therefore there is no one pill to fix everything, and a combination of medication is most likely required. They however can mitigate some of the issues to make quality of life better, such as eliminating insomnia. A therapy treatment is also on the rise as a possible option,
Living in the South, where the majority of military enlistees originate from, it is easy to know a Veteran, most likely even a family member. Most southerners and locals in the immediate area would consider themselves patriotic, but when these people come home, what kind of support can they expect to receive?
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