A reader writes:
Glad to see this subject make it on your blog. You have been fairly consistent in talking about a lot of these issues that don’t get reported on a ton in other media venues. I just want to jump in though and speak a bit about my own experiences – if nothing else, just for the catharsis of it. This country’s nonsupport of their veterans is borderline criminal. Whether it’s the stigma that gets attached to PTSD thanks to the machismo mentality of the military or the constant stereotyping of veterans with PTSD by Hollywood, or the out-and-out hostility of the VA towards the veterans who they are supposed to help.
I returned from Iraq in 2003 and left the service in 2004. For the next three years, I fought tooth and nail to get help from the VA for PTSD. Every chance they had they denied that any of the symptoms I was suffering from were related to combat; they hilariously told me that they were pre-existing conditions and that they wouldn’t cover it. I spiraled down in those years, drinking myself to sleep pretty much every night and somehow staying in school.
I finally got serious about seeking help after friends of mine sat me down, after a violent outburst followed by some cutting, and helped set me straight. Since then it’s been a constant battle with myself and many times with the VA. Pretty much every day is a struggle and yet the organization that is supposed to be on my side seems to excel at antagonizing and obstructing. For years, my only recourse was the VA because I didn’t have health insurance, and it’s only recently since I’ve gotten an actual job with insurance that I’ve been able to really start addressing these issues.
This story is replayed every single day, thousands of times across the country. Instead of seeking help, veterans will often commit suicide because there is no one there for them. Yet the VA is continuing to repeat the same mistakes. Instead of confronting the issues head-on, they are working actively to downplay the suicide numbers. It’s only recently in the last few years, with the help of veterans organizations, that the totality of the problem is coming out. (There are a lot of great organizations out there who are doing great work; Give An Hour has been a huge help to me.)
Unfortunately, nothing will happen until people start being held accountable and start losing their jobs or elections over this issue. The only way that will happen, as hard as it can be, is for those of us that are struggling with this to start a conversation with our friends, loved ones, and strangers. Only then can the totality of this issue be realized by people who have no connection to these wars and there effects. A clumsy way of saying it is that we need to come out. We need to show that yeah, we may have issues, but we’re not broken. We did our part and held up our end of the bargain – now it’s time for you to fulfill yours.
My grandfather landed on Normandy Beach and never talked about it and struggled with it his whole life. My father was in Vietnam and came back the same way. It’s time for us in this war and generation to be more open and talk about these issues and seek help. Only then can we force the country and our leaders to keep their promises to us.
I am the forty-one year old adult child of a Vietnam veteran diagnosed with PTSD. In my own experience, the effects of “secondary PTSD” can feel almost as debilitating as actual PTSD itself. As a child, my father was loving and engaged at times, but also unpredictable, swinging from violently abusive to depressed and withdrawn, as he attempted to come to grips with what he saw and did in Vietnam. He also struggled with a host of substance abuse issues – another common symptom of PTSD sufferers.
It took me a number of years to finally connect my own free-floating anxiety, guilt and depression (not to mention my own struggle with drugs and alcohol) with my father’s war experiences. I make no excuses now – trauma affects everyone differently and my father and I both remain responsible for our actions. But to think that the effects of combat (and the costs of our wars) end when our soldiers return home is naïve at best. We are still paying for Vietnam 40 years later and I suspect we will be paying for our current wars for years to come, in one of the currencies that is most valuable to us: the well-being of our families. The trauma of war is now inextricably interwoven in the fabric of my family, and I suspect even filters down into the lives of my own children.
We work hard to heal, and my father and I are both much different now after so many years have passed, but the wound is real, and sometimes still raw. There is great honor in the service and sacrifice our soldiers provide and I remain proud of what my father did in Vietnam, just as I am proud of soldiers today who risk much. But it is a real sacrifice, both for themselves and their families. When we calculate the costs of war, we would do well to remember how long those costs linger.