About Our Vets – Am I home? Who am I?
“In war, there are no unwounded soldiers. ” Anonymous
PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. What is it? An uncomplicated definition is that it is an anxiety disorder that usually develops as a result of a terribly frightening, life threatening, or highIy unsafe experience.
It can affect anyone, any place, at any time. It is most commonly associated with combat soldiers due to their potential for extremely high levels of stress exposure over long periods of time. Depending on certain trigger mechanisms, symptoms can be immediately apparent, or they can take weeks, months, or, in some cases, even years to exhibit themselves. Although, most assuredly around since man’s first traumatic experience, PTSD was first diagnosed as a medical condition, referred to as “Shell Shock”, by a Civll War doctor but wasn’t formally or “officially” diagnosed as PTSD until 1980.
According to government statistics, 30% of Viet Nam vets were/are aftlicted with PTSD; GulfWar, (Desert Storm), 10%; Afghanistan, 6%-11%; Iraq, 12%-20%.
Why so high from Viet Nam? Just a guess here. I couldn’t find any hard facts to validate the ratios. In Viet Nam, for the most part, we were up against a hidden enemy. Much of the time we couldn’t see whom we were fighting against. In all wars the stress level is through the roof. In Viet Nam, it was to the moon! I believe the stress level in later “wars” was/is mitigated, in my opinion, in part, by a couple of major factors: Marvelous advances in medical technology-our soldiers knew, and currently know they were/are going to receive the best of care. And improved medical evaluation capabilities-they were/are confident that, in most instances, their extraction from the field, if necessary, would/will be reasonably immediate. Terrific morale boosters.
Once the troops had retumed home from Viet Nam, Congress was curious to leam how “well” (or not) America’s soldiers had been filtering back into society. So, in 1983 they commissioned the National Vietnam Veterans’ Readjustment Study. A wealth if information was amassed from that comprehensive, statistical profile of Viet Nam returnees’ societal behavior.
Among one of the more significant findings was one that matches an identical and more recent declaration professed by Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD. She concludes that some sufferers [soldiers] have a small hippocampus (an area of the brain that participates in memory function), than others who may not have been traumatized by the same event(s). This may help to explain why some war returnees
are able to accomplish a fairly seamless transition back into main stream society to continue in their pursuit of their American Dream, while others punch a ticket for an express pass to their own private hell …one filled with nightmares in the dark, as well as instances of frequently reliving the causative event(s) (e.g. flash backs) during awake hours; feelings of detachment; lack of interest in normal activities; feelings of guilt (I can relate); avoidance; difficulty concentrating; frequent irritability and outbursts of anger, lack of intimacy; hyperviligence; if single, never marrying. This, of course, is a partial list. Let’s not forget substance abuse. On and on it goes.
Without question, untreated, the affliction can — and usually does-have devastating affects in many areas of the soldier’s life, such as family, the ability to engage in social discourse, employment, and sobriety.
Although I am curator of a sizeable emotional vault of graphic images of the horrors of war, as a Viet Nam vet, I am one of the fortunate ones. And, although such memories will be forever entrapped in both my consciousness and subconsciousness, I returned as basically a “whole being.” My only occasionally, obvious physical aftliction resulting from my 14-month tour in Viet Nam seems to be a permanent condition called “Startler Response Syndrome.” It likes to exhibit itself-depending on volume and/or decibel levels-at celebrative fire-works displays, balloon poppings, car back-fires, and the like. At times, my reaction is an autoneurological response of instantly dropping whatever happens to be in my hands, hitting the ground to begin crawling frantically, aimlessly, in no particular direction beneath the curious eyes of bemused on-lookers.
Yes, I am lucky. Perhaps it is because in the “farcical play” with real life casualties, called the Viet Nam Conflict, which was directed by D.C. arm chair politicos, my “role” was not to kill the enemy, but rather to try to patch our guys up and keep them alive till they could be evacuated to a safe, well-equipped, “behind the-lines” medical facility.
At home, I was apolitical. I never watched the news or read the newspapers. Too busy partying. Didn’t know anybody who’d been sent over there, let alone been wounded or killed there — where ever there was. I arrived in Viet Nam as a kid … A good-bye kiss from my girlfriend, Suzie, still fresh on my lips. Still angry at the CHP officer who had given me a speeding ticket on the 101 Freeway on my way home from her house … on the night before I was supposed to leave for that God-forsaken country, 10,000 miles away, that I knew next to nothing about. I returned home as a man. Feeling a whole lot confused and feeling a whole lot guilty, to be sure. (And that’s a whole other story.) But very much aware of who I was.
The same can not be said for many of those despondent, psychologically disenfranchised warriors who, upon returning home from Viet Nam, or any war in the past as well as today, might be faced with the reality that they may have sacrificed the deepest essence of their very being.
However, as previously stated, I was extremely lucky because it wasn’t long after I came home that I was able to meld into my new 3rd Spirit.
My new 3rd Spirit? I have a theory…
…watch for the Conclusion, Part 2, in December.