American and Canadian soldiers with PTSD are being redeployed back to combat duty, say CBS and CBC reports.
“Many soldiers and their families are treating their own Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, known as PTSD,” says military doctor Harry F., speaking off the record. “There are successes, yes, with self treatment. Especially with the help of family or spouses. But it’s about time that PTSD be recognized by our military for what it is — an age-old problem that in this day and age should get more proactive treatment by the very governments that ask our brave men and women to serve in foreign battlegrounds.”
In the First World War, it was called Shell Shock. In the Second World War and Korea, Combat Fatigue. And Veterans usually handled it with alcohol.
“It’s been typical of young soldiers to fire over the heads of the enemy when they first go into combat,” explained Dr Harry. “Despite a centries-long cultural history of adventure literature, pulp fiction, Hollywood action movies and today’s violent video games, the military has always had a problem with making most men into trained combattants. That’s why first-timers had such a problem with killing the enemy. But when they see their own side taking casualties, that philosophy quickly changes, and their training takes over. But the experiences of war still take a lot out of the combattants. They feel like they are not living up to the image of the Mythic Hero.”
He calls PTSD “Panic Attack Disorder on Speed.” Symptoms can include flashbacks, difficulty sleeping, feeling emotionally numb, memory troubles, avoiding activities once enjoyed, irritability or anger and self-destructive behaviour. As with Panic Attack Disorder, the symptoms can include: shortness of breath or hyperventilation, heart palpitations or a racing heart, chest pain or discomfort, trembling or shaking, choking feeling, feeling unreal or detached from your surroundings, and fear of dying, losing control, or going crazy.
As CBS News said in a report titled “Healing the invisible wounds of war,” from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center: “Since 2003, more than 4,400 Americans have died in Iraq. Many who survive combat face a new battle at home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Their spouses often suffer along with them.”
Col. Charles Engel, who set up a trial PTSD treatment program at the Deployment Health Clinical Center, says the military is only now coming to grips with the effect PTSD can have on families.
“We’ve been at war for a decade at this point and on some level even for those of us who are in it it’s sort of shocking that we continue to learn as we go,” Engel said. “Sometimes we’ve got to swallow hard when we realize that we’re this far in and we’re just seeing some things.”
To date, the military has diagnosed 78,000 cases of PTSD. But the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has cited estimates based on Veteran’s Administration data that put the real number close to 800,000. To catch up with numbers like that, he says, there will have to be programs like this in communities all over the country.
American Larry Syverson has been fighting to draw attention to the practice of redeploying soldiers who suffered from PTSD by the U.S. army. His son, Bryce, served in Iraq then suffered a breakdown and ended up in an American military hospital on suicide watch.
“PTSD is not something that just goes away,” says Syverson. “You have it for the rest of your life. And to think that, ‘Oh well, they’re doing OK now we’ll give ’em a gun, we’ll send ’em back,’ who knows when that’s gonna happen that it comes back. And it will come back.”
In a CBC News report titled “Canadian military redeploying soldiers with PTSD,” the news channel reported that the practice of redeploying soldiers who suffered from PTSD partly stems from a decades-old military rule called Universality of Service. It states that members of the Forces must be fit or capable to deploy on operations. Many soldiers refuse to admit to their symptoms, in order to remain in the Service.
Ottawa psychologist Ken Welburn, who counts current and former soldiers among his clients, used to help soldiers redeploy after suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, but now believes that was a mistake.
“I think that soldiers with PTSD should not be re-deployed into a war zone,” said Welburn, director of the Ottawa Anxiety and Trauma Clinic. “If you go back on another deployment it’s like going into the sun after a bad sunburn. You are going to pay for it.”
The Canadian Forces’ senior mental health adviser, Dr. Rakesh Jetly, says the military ensures soldiers get treatment and have time to heal before redeployment. Before a Canadian Forces member who suffered from PTSD is sent on a tour, they must successfully complete six to nine months of predeployment training.
The outspoken Dr Harry F goes further. “It’s about time that our government takes full responsiblity for the men and women it sends into harm’s way. Our nation has an attrocious history in the way it abandons it’s soldiers when it no longer needs them. Tens of thousands of World War Two veterans were dumped back into society after 1945 and told to live normal, productive lives. They didn’t. They couldn’t. It’s time that PTSD be given the recognition it deserves. Right now, there are still thousands of young veterans who are getting the best treatment, not from our medical facilities, but from loving family members. The government has to step up.”
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