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View Diary: Iraq and Afghanistan vet suicides may EXCEED combat deaths (79 comments)

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  •  I worked in the VA system in 2003-04 (33+ / 0-)

    Met a lot of Vietnam and Gulf war vets with PTSD.  The ones who did well were almost exclusively those who had treatment in good VA-sponsored PTSD groups with an experienced provider.  The groups served in a way as units for these vets, in which they fought their common enemy together.

    Sadly, these groups were surprisingly hard to find, especially in satellite clinics and small towns where many suffering vets live.  And that was before the Iraq war vets started coming home in large numbers.  

    To save the lives of these deeply suffering vets the VA should be engaged in an aggressive hiring and training program for therapists to run groups.  But they didn't do it after Vietnam until it was too late for thousands, and they didn't do it after Gulf war I at all.  This upcoming election is a matter of life and death for thousands of vets who have served their country in George Bush's misbegotten war.

    Hanoi didn't break John McCain, but Washington did.

    by Dallasdoc on Mon May 05, 2008 at 08:08:52 PM PDT

    •  the earlier the intervention, the better, (21+ / 0-)

      as stress- or trauma-related brain plasticity can actually get worse over time without any further trauma.  I'm talking about hypertrophy of neuronal morphology and function (e.g., enhanced long-term potentiation) in areas related to emotional processing.  It sort of starts walking around on its own.

      We don't have time for short-term thinking.

      by Compound F on Mon May 05, 2008 at 08:18:15 PM PDT

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    •  I'm beginning to think they should proactively (19+ / 0-)

      treat ALL returning vets on the assumption they may have ptsd or emotional problems. Those with no problems showing up after a couple of sessions could be "absolved" from further consideration/treatment if they wanted. Wouldn't this and testing catch them early? I remember watching hearings and questions about screening for those returning soldiers because a year or two ago they didn't have any screening.

      Thank God the Democrats won control of the Senate... otherwise, think of how different everything would be. -G.Greenwald

      by Gorette on Mon May 05, 2008 at 08:19:32 PM PDT

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    •  Agreed (13+ / 0-)

      I didn't work at VA, but have worked with some vets who felt they couldn't stand being in groups. (Although, I did try to encourage them.)

      In my experience, it's very difficult to recover from chronic PTSD. It may be that those patients who are doing better, i.e., don't have great social anxiety, or are psychotic, or are agoraphobic, etc., are the ones who populate the groups, so the success rate seems better because the attendees are self-selected, of a sort.

      I remember one World War II vet I saw -- had been "buried alive" by Nazi troops -- who didn't want to go to groups because everyone was much younger than him, and he felt uncomfortable. (I still thought he would have benefitted. I told him so, and he did go for a little while, but stopped for the reason already stated.)

      Be that as it may, the VA can do a lot more, including providing as many groups as demand requires, and also individual psychotherapy with professionals, and not just interns (assuming one gets even that).

      War is the statesman's game, the priest's delight, The lawyer's jest, the hired assassin's trade Invictus

      by Valtin on Mon May 05, 2008 at 08:47:04 PM PDT

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      •  I think groups have to be war-specific (8+ / 0-)

        Each war is an entirely different experience for the vet, and I don't think mixing vets from different wars together is likely to be therapeutic.  The healing seems to come from a bonding experience that is very much like the unit cohesion the military depends upon, and is something vets naturally understand.  In this way the war experience can be relived in cathartic ways that open the door for some kind of healing, incomplete as it often is.

        Some vets are so damaged as to be almost beyond any help, but many are not so bad.  It's a tragedy and a crime that good groups are so hard to find, and that it takes so long for the VA to get its act together to meet this need.

        Hanoi didn't break John McCain, but Washington did.

        by Dallasdoc on Mon May 05, 2008 at 08:51:18 PM PDT

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        •  yeah, maybe you're right (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          peraspera, Dallasdoc, planetclaire4

          It definitely helps if they can relate as far as generation, and war, and even similar duty or type of unit.

          It's been difficult for my Vietnam Vet husband to relate to the dangers of Iraq, to see how the everyday stress of possible IED or suicide bombings can contribute to PTSD, compared to constant shelling and aerial bombings, patrolling rice paddies and villages, and combat with the North Vietnamese Army or guerrillas.

          So many non-combat troops from Iraq are having PTSD. But maybe the non-combat Vietnam Vets are on the rise, too, since only now some are coming forward, 40 years later. My husband waited until the late 1990s to approach the VA for help and benefits, most Korean War and WW2 combat vets never were treated for PTSD, most just self-medicated with alcohol.

          I'm glad that at least psychologists are studying new treatments to "debrief" troops returning home, so that these young Iraq and Afghanistan vets won't need to wait over 30 years for treatment.

      •  This is just slim anecdotal evidence, (6+ / 0-)

        but I've seen Viet Nam vets suffering terrifically from PTSD, yet finding a way to cope in large part by feeling an accepted and seen part of the community.  The ironic part is that where I've seen this done is in the strongly anti-war area of Vermont where I live.  The vet I knew best felt acupuncture was his lifeline.

        From Chile to China to Iraq, torture has been a silent partner in the global free-market crusade. - Naomi Klein

        by geomoo on Mon May 05, 2008 at 09:16:18 PM PDT

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    •  my husband is a Vietnam Vet (7+ / 0-)

      with PTSD, and he's been at the VA hospital and local VFW chapters, reaching out to returned Iraq and Afghanistan war vets. The VA is trying to say they all have pre-existing mental illnesses, rather than PTSD! Arrgh. Thanks for your work in the VA system with Veterans, Dallasdoc.

      Thank you for this important diary, dday. We had three Iraq war veteran suicides from New Mexico, a couple of years ago Thanksgiving. It was quite a shock, and such a tragic loss.

      I wrote about it in a Veteran's Day diary linked in my signature, Life is Precious, excerpted here:

      My husband and I were honored to attend the memorial service for Taos peace activist Sarah Battreall as a contingent from Veterans For Peace. As a veteran of the US Army’s prestigious Berlin Brigade, Sarah had been a member of Veterans For Peace, as well as a real gold star mom and amazing supporter of the troops. She ended her life in July having never found relief from the pain of losing her son, SPC Robert O’Connor who served two tours in the Iraq war.

      Sarah’s dedication to serving the troops and their families in wartime will be sorely missed. She could always be called upon whenever the local National Guard unit needed assistance. She happily set out to deliver last Thanksgiving’s prize turkeys to families, only to find out later her son shot himself. Suicides amongst active duty military are at their highest rates in 16 years, and the deaths of returning vets are not even counted. Neither group is added to the official number of war casualties.

      Robert served with the 10th Mountain Division and worked as an Army recruiter after returning from Iraq. He had originally enlisted to take part in his family’s tradition of military service. As Sarah explained at a peace rally marking the first anniversary of the Iraq war, "Robert does his job well, but he doesn’t believe in Bush’s military empire." Yet he loved the Army and talked of joining Special Forces. Fellow combat vets like my husband say the rush of battle lures soldiers to volunteer for multiple tours, but the thrill is difficult to find after they’re home from war.

      •  That's a beautiful diary (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        CalNM, peraspera, planetclaire4

        Thank you for writing it and sharing it with us.

        Hanoi didn't break John McCain, but Washington did.

        by Dallasdoc on Mon May 05, 2008 at 09:41:20 PM PDT

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      •  my husband was a vet from vietnam (7+ / 0-)

        I didn't know him before the war but his family always said "you should have known him before".

        Years later, after that marriage fell apart, I dated more vets as that was my time.

        Now I work with many refugees from many wars.

        No one is ever the same.

        When I hear McCain talk about his heroic life, I always think that there are only a few who really come away from war without life destroying wounds.

        War defines us now. I want to live in a time of peace.

        Yes, we can.

        On hrc: "She has learned how to be ruthless," said Robert B. Reich, "I doubt that it came to her naturally, but she has learned."

        by lascaux on Mon May 05, 2008 at 10:24:40 PM PDT

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