Thursday, February 15, 2007

Guest Post by Bill Arnett

posted by The Sailor @ 6:17 PM Permalink

Takin' care of the Troops - except when we don't

A year ago on Thanksgiving morning, in the corrugated metal pole barn that housed his family's electrical business, Timothy Bowman put a handgun to his head and pulled the trigger.
He had been home from the Iraq war for eight months. Once a fun-loving, life-of-the-party type, Bowman had slipped into an abyss, tormented by things he'd been ordered to do in war.
"I'm OK. I can deal with it," he would say whenever his father, Mike, urged him to get counseling.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is facing a wave of returning veterans such as Bowman who are struggling with memories of a war where it's hard to distinguish innocent civilians from enemy fighters and where the threat of suicide attacks and roadside bombs haunts the most routine mission. Since 2001, about 1.4 million Americans have served in Iraq, Afghanistan or other locations in the war on terror.
The VA counts post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, as the most prevalent mental-health malady to emerge from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
End quote.
So begins a rather excellent article from the Seattle Times, written by Chris Adams of McClatchy newspapers.

The article is extremely well researched and lists a litany of problems awaiting returning veterans of two wars that are being woefully shortchanged when it comes to services provided for care of Post traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD), a particularly insidious form of mental illness suffered, obviously, by those subjected to great stress and horrific images that bombard the senses until all reason is pushed aside and ugly things happen.

The story of Tim Bowman is emblematic of the worst that can happen, I personally can attest to the many other symptoms of this illness: depression so crushing that you find yourself crying morning tears at having to face another day, evening tears that you somehow didn't die that day no matter how miserable you feel and how badly you wanted to, panic attacks that grip and paralyze the mind into "shutting down", anxiety attacks that put you right back out into that space where you know you can never be safe nor protect those that love you so that you cannot feel human and deserving of life, and a stupefying inability to process normal information in a normal way and arrive at daily decisions that are not detrimental to yourself and others; that "I'm okay, I can deal with it ..." lie that you tell yourself and that, despite all evidence that you are not okay and that you can't handle it, in your delusional state you believe the lie and rationalize the "snap decisions made in a fraction of a second" attitude that may have served you well in combat, but that is now so very dangerous to yourself and others. 

Those snap decisions can lead to a life-altering physical confrontation where your desire to feel safe can lead to savage attacks against family, friends, and especially strangers. The shame from such reactions, even in an absence of violence, feeds back into the Mobius Strip of your mind for reliving again and again.

And the thought that maybe you just weren't cutout for handling such violence, stress, and horrific images that don't seem to bother many of your fellow soldiers embarrasses you, so you never seek or you actively decline treatment, so you may stay an American Fighting Man defending the nation.

In his article Mr. Adams details an exhaustive study done by McClatchy newspapers that reveals the inadequacy of the VA Medical system to deal with the hugh numbers of soldiers returning from multiple deployments.

The small number of hospitals and clinics with personnel trained in PTSD recognition, the shortage of funds provided to the VA (just because Jim Nicholson, VA Secretary says they have sufficient funds doesn't make it so. Two years ago after his assurances of sufficient funds the overwhelming load of new patients caused congress to approve almost $2-billion in emergency funds. The new budgets are even worse), the differences and availability of care, the costs of that care, and great differences from area to area in waiting times to be seen.

I encourage everyone to read this fine article and view this problem from just the care perspective and quality of care here in the United States.

Then take the time to learn how our government is pressuring active duty physicians to "change the diagnosis" from PTSD, which would prevent the return of the soldier to combat, to other lesser diagnosis' such as mere depression, combat fatigue, and other mental illnesses not so severe so that they can load the soldier up with antidepressants and return them to combat.

The returning of mentally ill soldiers to combat gives the lie to the bush/cheney maladministration's position that they "support the troops", for I am now and will forevermore be convinced that it is not only dangerous to the troops to pursue such folly, it is extremely dangerous for the indigenous population of Iraq.

Mental health experts keeping track of this report that 14% of army personnel and 28% of marine personnel that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have, because of the mental stresses imposed by multiple tours, have been involved in the death of an innocent civilian. The numbers are hugh and a national shame.

A logical result of putting those that are ill back into high stress situations requiring split-second decisions. People who in many instances care not whether they live or die or whom they have to kill to try and maintain some psychic cover to provide an illusion of personal safety.

For more reading on this side of the subject of PTSD and returning sick soldiers to combat, there are excellent articles here and here.


At 6:54 PM, Anonymous Tom Smith said...

Mr. Arnett,
Thank you for writing about PTSD. I call your attention to my "Talking Post Trauma Blues" as a kind of video response to your aricle.

"With one in four of us returning with 'hidden injuries', what is going to happen when our injuries run ouot of places to hide"?



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