“Sometimes he would cry.” – PTSD
Back in March of 2005, I wrote a post about the Purple Heart. In that post I suggested the criteria for awarding the Purple Heart needed to be changed to incorporate the realities of warfare in today’s environment of terrorism. I was upset because based on the facts then at hand, I felt soldiers, like my nephew, should be awarded the Purple Heart. I have since found out the truth about my nephew’s death. His death was not one which would be eligible for a Purple Heart! However, many other soldiers, who are injured or killed, do deserve that award and are still being denied the medal.
A woman posted a comment on that post recently. Her story about her father’s “41 year” struggle with PTSD before it was “finally” diagnosed is a wonderful tribute to our men and women who develop[ed] this crippling disorder while serving and protecting our nation. What I hope will stand out to all who read her father’s story is two fold. One, we can all see through her eyes how this disorder affects our troops. Two, we also have a first hand, honest account of the impact on our military families of this terrible disorder. Read on:
The Purple Heart
My father is a retired Marine who served two tours in Vietnam. He finished his second tour when he was 26 years old. He is now 67 and has just been diagnosed by two independent VA doctors as having PTSD. He has lived with this terrible physiological disorder for 41 years and never got any help with it because of the stigma against it. He has it through no fault of his own, and his family has suffered terribly as a result of him having it.
He also qualified to be a member of the society of Mensa, but turned it down because he thought it was snooty. I say this just to give at least one data point of a high IQ person suffering from the disease. I don’t take the IQ statement personally, but wanted to throw this data point out there.
I have a lot of childhood memories of my father dealing with this disorder. I remember him waking up in the middle of the night screaming, covered in sweat with tears streaming down his eyes because of flashbacks. I remember him morphing from a playful father to Marine in a state of combat rage because firecrackers went off down the street and instantly catapulted him back into the jungle. I remember the drinking. I remember the verbal and physical abuse as a result of his uncontrollable rages. I remember him falling into a thousand-yard stare and staying there for long periods of time. Sometimes he would cry.
For 41 years he dealt with this alone. His family didn’t understand. We loved him, because when he wasn’t in periods of distress over the past he was wonderful. We stuck by him. But we couldn’t help him. It is terrible to have to watch someone suffer alone and not be able to do anything to help them.
He has not been able to really keep a job. He is one of those in the high percentage of vets who ended up in prison. He has all the classic symptoms of the disorder, and now, at 67 he has become able to face it and get help because he is too old to give a damn about the stigma anymore. With the exception of his family, he has lost everything.
I personally think awarding the Purple Heart to those vets who have PTSD is a very wise idea. It may be a common disorder, but that doesn’t make vets any less worthy of receiving recognition. They have been physically damaged by things external to themselves while engaged in combat, and most of them have never and will never recover from the damage that was done. I think the Purple Heart would also help to remove the stigma of having the disorder and restore honor to men who feel they have lost it. Then they could get help, like my father, and experience some kind of improvement in the quality of the rest of their living years.
Finally, I would like to say that my heart goes out to everyone who has PTSD or who is close to someone with it. I can never understand the horror of having it, but I highly esteem the men who willingly chose to serve their country along with those who had no choice. Civilians will never be able to understand the level of sacrifice you have all made, but for my part, I will say this. Thank you, I’m proud of you, and I’m honored to be numbered among your countrymen.
Rebecca said this on September 3, 2008
I no longer have a petition to address this issue. However, maybe a new petition should be started. It is long past time that we stop ignoring the fact that PTSD is often a direct result of combat. It has nothing to do with cowardice or weakness or any of those many other stereotypes often used to denigrate soldiers who develop PTSD!”
PTSD should be treated as any other head injury. Instead of a bullet, a bomb fragment, or the concussion from an explosive device, it is an “attack on the brain chemistry” by outside stimulus, or trauma. That attack affects the level of brain chemicals that deal with memory and the ability to cope with trauma. Soldiers can’t prevent the assault . They don’t know ahead of time if their particular genetic make-up, life experiences, or coping skills to date will make them more or less susceptible to PTSD than another soldier. Frankly, they are too busy fighting the enemy to care!
But, prompt intervention in the field can help prevent PTSD or lessen the severity of PTSD. A change in the attitude of leaders and fellow soldiers can also help by removing the harmful stress caused by stigmatizing troops who show signs of PTSD. This is where education about PTSD and warning signs before exposure to combat can help. Understanding the true nature and cause of PTSD can have a tremendous impact on successful treatment and cure. Soldiers who seek or are sent for immediate and prompt intervention can, in many cases, go right back to performing their duties as they did before PTSD onset! Not all soldiers will be “cured” and not all soldiers will have mild cases of PTSD. But, the number of troops crippled for life by PTSD can be dramatically reduced. Many more can lead lives that are productive and experience a decent quality of life.
Of course, I am aware that I am speaking in very general and optimistic terms. But, as a person who lives daily with PTSD that was not treated promptly, I can attest to the importance of early diagnosis and treatment. Don’t our troops deserve this after they have done so much and sacrificed so much for our continued freedom and prosperity? Don’t they deserve to live the “American Dream” they so selflessly preserve like any other American?
As to the Purple Heart, well, as far as I am concerned, our troops who develop PTSD in combat deserve the medal as do those who develop the concussive brain disorder that has just recently been diagnosed in troops who were in combat experienced brain damage caused by the concussion from enemy explosive devices directed at them. They may have survived the attack and may even show no outward physical injury. But, the injury to some soldiers’ brains can be or are as devastating as any enemy soldier’s bullet!