Our newest generation of returning combat veterans may have left the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, but a new war rages within. Every day, one US soldier commits suicide. Why?
Repeated and long duration combat tours that our "War on Terror" veterans endure have never occurred prior to this generation. Some of our veterans have served in five combat tours of 9 months or longer. Only now are we beginning to understand and comprehend the compounding negative impact this has on post-combat-service civilian life re-integration.
Take a ride on the post combat civilian reintegration tour: Nightmares, flashbacks, cold sweats, anxiety, depression, helplessness, = violence, alcohol, drugs, addiction, unemployment, loss of purpose, suicide.
Our combat veterans have been taught through multiple generations of war heroes that "you just don't talk about it", "suck it up", "asking for help is weak". Yet no prior generation has endured the repeated exposure to what combat brings. And no words can begin to explain it.
Remember when you were little and you were afraid of the dark? Remember that feeling you got when you thought the boogie-man was creeping up behind you? Or that feeling you get when you anticipate being hit in a car accident? Yes, now imagine all of that, all of the time and you are just starting to get a glimpse of the issue.
This is not a new phenomenon. World War I, II, and Korean War combat veterans, won't talk about it. Vietnam combat veterans, had know-one to turn to, they were spit on, shamed and still to this day have never been properly addressed, honored or respected. Their wounds are deep. Many have yet to begin to address the scars or the ghosts of their memories. Those generations are no different than today.
But the magnitude today is unlike anything we have ever seen. And the impact on our society, as a whole, is proving potentially disastrous.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a kind of anxiety triggered by a traumatic event causing extreme shock, fear, or a feeling of helplessness. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that approximately 1 in every 30 US adults develops PTSD every year.
The risk for combat war veterans is significantly greater with some reports suggesting that about 1 in every 4 service men and women returning from Iraq or Afghanistan will develop at least one combat-related problem such as PTSD, anxiety, or depression.
Recent studies highlight that “at 12 months following combat, the prevalence of mental health problems among veterans does not abate, and in many cases, increases.” The far-reaching consequences of these disturbing findings touch the returning soldiers, their families, and their peers.
In our next segment I will discuss solutions that are working today to help offset the symptoms of PTSD.
Thomas JL et al. Archives of General Psychiatry 2010; 67(6): 614-23 Hoge CW et al. JAMA 2006; 295:1023-32