In this week when we are honoring our veterans’ service, another major issue was raised by HBO and James Gandolfini, the star of the “Sopranos” series and executive producer of “Wartorn: 1861-2010.” The photo above comes from this new documentary by Gandolfini; you can click on the photo to visit the HBO website to learn more about this film. (And scroll down on the right side of this page to read our earlier posts on veterans, including a multi-media look at the new disabled-veterans memorial.).
My Question today:
Do we honor our veterans, if we ignore PTSD?
Consider these words from a combat veteran: “Many a man has gone crazy since this campaign begun from the terrible pressures on mind and body. Doubt demoralizes me as it does any nervous man … I cannot now endure labors and hardships of the line.”
These words could have been written yesterday by thousands of American veterans—but the author was none other than Captain Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., writing to his parents in July 1864 to explain why he would not be re-enlisting to fight again in the Civil War.
What we call post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD today has gone by many other names in the past: hysteria, melancholia, insanity, shellshock, and combat fatigue. The new HBO documentary exposes the long and disheartening history of PTSD since the Civil War.
We’ve come a long way in the recognition and treatment of PTSD, but it’s clear that we have a long way to go. The military admits that many veterans don’t receive adequate treatment or just get the bureaucratic runaround. Meanwhile, suicides are up over 26 percent.
Officers don’t slap and humiliate soldiers who claim PTSD (as General George Patton infamously did in WWII), but there’s still a stigma for anyone who suffers PTSD and asks for help. A soldier who has PTSD on his or her official record may have his security clearance revoked or denied opportunities for promotion. When the veteran returns to civilian life, employers might think twice about hiring someone with PTSD. Rather than face these consequences, many veterans just tough it out. If they’re lucky, they might recover on their own. Many don’t.
Who is ultimately responsible for our veterans’ health and welfare? The military? The federal government? Families? Employers? Or just the veteran?
I see the progress we have made, but I’m not optimistic for the reasons I expressed yesterday: a subconscious wish that it would just go away and not trouble us anymore. Do you agree?