Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has many names: shell shock, soldier’s heart, and battle fatigue. Many, including service members, think of PTSD as negative. That preconceived notion can result in people treating veterans like damaged goods, and it can change how service-members feel about themselves right down to the core.
When I first joined the military, I like so many others, was naive to the consequences of active warfare, and I did not understand the implications of PTSD. I saw some people making false claims of PTSD to apply for and obtain disability benefits, even if they had never deployed. As a result, I was cynical about it until I witnessed first-hand the impact that PTSD had on friends and acquaintances who had experienced live combat. Over time, my eyes were opened to what happened to the people around me. I observed changes in my friends, their relationships, and their lives after coming home from kinetic overseas tours.
The taboo surrounding PTSD in the military is a serious problem. Many military members will never receive the treatment they so desperately need for fear of being discharged or, even worse, for fear of being treated by their friends or colleagues as if they were fragile or damaged. There is so much embarrassment associated with others finding out about a PTSD diagnosis.
There were many times my buddies would come home from deployment, go through the motions of their psychological evaluations, and proceed to check themselves into the local bar for weeks following their deployment — drinking to the point of blackout. When they were alone, I would find them crying or eventually, when there was a moment alone and no one was looking, they would tear up telling me about what they had seen, friends who had died, and even having to do some of the things they did. It was always a deep sense of guilt they carried.
They felt they could never reveal their truths at work. Even when leadership was aware that there were issues, they could not or would not document it for risk of risk of the victim getting put on a medical hold or worse case, not being able to deploy. For these men, the only thing remaining of their self-worth was their work. It isn’t uncommon for those who have seen combat — who are not even 30 years old — to be on their second or third marriages.
It is largely because of this that many veterans who have seen combat go untreated and, after discharge, experience high rates of suicide. A recent Veteran’s Administration study found that at least 20 veterans commit suicide every day, averaging about one every 70 minutes.
The military is quick to medicate, but their hands seem to be tied when it comes to getting veterans the necessary psychological therapy that PTSD survivors need. Why? Bureaucracy and paperwork. Anecdotally, survivors often seem to do better when they get together, drink, talk about what they’ve gone through and share their experiences.
It is crucial for our combat veterans to know that they are not alone in any of this and to know they can talk to other veterans and teammates — people who, in many cases, become closer than their own family and spouses.
This is the type of therapy veterans need. If the armed services truly hopes to combat PTSD, it needs to stop treating veterans as though they are broken and unfixable. In doing so, even PTSD survivors begin to believe it as well. They have made too many emotional and physical sacrifices to be subject to that treatment. We, as service members, understand the sacrifice needed to serve and protect one’s country. We do not need to be treated like damaged goods because of our experiences. We need to reframe the characterization so that veterans are respected, their sacrifices are acknowledged, and so they are reaffirmed in their self-worth and have the ability to heal from the trauma of war. There must be explicit acknowledgement that these men and women are America’s heroes, not broken soldiers.
Only then will combat veterans receive the treatment they need and be enabled to lead healthy, fulfilling lives without the stigma of PTSD. Only then will they begin to heal from the inside out.
Anna Paulina (@RealAnnaPaulina) served in the Air Force as an E-4 senior airman and is presently the director of Hispanic engagement for Turning Point USA, a conservative nonprofit aimed at encouraging student civic engagement.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.