First of all, I want to thank everyone who posted comments on my last entry. I appreciate more deeply than I can express the kind words and thoughts, as well as the honesty and openness about how wide a swath PTSD cuts.
What I talked in public about issues relating to returning vets, those who suffer from PTSD as well as those who are either undiagnosed or whose symptoms don't place them into PTSD category, I invariably get the question, "what can we do." The most important thing, I think, is to simply listen. (And I think this is true of anyone suffering from PTSD, regardless of the cause.) After that, let's make sure that they get the help they need, particularly those in crisis.
I think veterans learn early on that very few people really want to hear about what she or he has experienced. If they are honest, their stories rock the very foundation on which many non-veterans build their images of the military and their government. It's difficult, I imagine, to sit and listen to someone who is angry, depressed, and who has lost something of him/herself describe the conditions that led them to that state. It's much easier to fall back on the images of the brave, heroic, honor-bound warrior that seems to permeate our culture. Speaking only for myself, I honestly don't expect anyone to "understand" my experiences. Hell, I don't understand those experiences; I'll be trying to make sense of them, no doubt, for the rest of my life. Outside of my wife, therapist, and other veterans, however, I have found very, very few people who are willing to sit and listen to me talk about Iraq. To listen honestly and without judgment is difficult; but to listen honestly and without judgment shows true compassion. So just...listen.
Of course, not everyone is going to come into contact with a veteran (of any war) who wants to talk about his or her experiences. There is another way, however, that I think we all can support our vets. My wife and I testified before a hearing of our state legislature last year about issues related to returning combat veterans. Before we spoke, a representative from a nearby county presented what his communities were doing. Every first responder in the county -- police, fire, emergency medical personnel, social workers, etc. -- receives several hours of training in how to spot the signs of PTSD in a veteran, practically a combat veteran, who is in crisis. What an idea! What if every are first responder in the country had an understanding of the behaviors associated with PTSD? Think of how many suicides could be prevented (especially those suicides termed "death by cop")? Think of how many instances of alcohol and drug abuse could be referred to mental health professionals rather than prisons? Think of how many families suffering from domestic violence could have it put to an end by healing all members of the family? While certainly not a panacea, I can't help but believe that we could reduce the amount of suffering by simply becoming more aware of what PTSD looks like.
Let's do something concrete: let's bring combat-induced PTSD into the open, watch for those in need of help, and then see that they get it.
"Every instance of severe traumatic psychological injury is a standing challenge the rightness of the social order"
-- Judith Lewis Herman
1990 Harvard Trauma Conference
(quoted in Achilles in Vietnam, by Jonathan Shay, M.D.)