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PTSD and Iraq Veterans: Getting Soldiers the Help They Need

written by: Daniel P. McGoldrick • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 6/1/2011

When PTSD and the Iraq veterans who experience the symptoms and behaviors associated with it are left untreated, lives can be destroyed and tragically lost. Assistance is available and we all play an important role in helping vets seek out treatment.

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    The Responsibility of a Nation

    The correlation between PTSD and Iraq veterans is strong. What we are doing to help those vets (no matter how long it takes for this condition to present itself or the time it takes for them to decide to seek help) is a measure of our worth as a nation. A tiny portion of our nation takes on the herculean task of upholding and defending the constitution and many die in that effort. Many more are afflicted by the physically and emotionally exhausting experience of war which leaves the mind of no combat soldier unscathed in some way.

    PTSD can take lives and leave others numb, angry, and severely depressed shadows of their former selves. But the fact is that there is help available, and many vets can attest to recovering well from the lowest depths of PTSD after receiving treatment. Tragedies can be averted, but we all play a part in making that so. Treatment needs to be a priority to make certain our military personnel are integrated back into society as much and as quickly as possible.

    Furthermore, identifying the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder in veterans, no matter how long that soldier has been home from the war, could save lives and prevent senseless and avoidable tragedies that devastate families and communities. Once PTSD is identified and conveyed to the vet who has it, it plants a seed that they should make use of the mental health services that the Federal Government owes them.

    It is the responsibility of every last citizen to inform, encourage, and reach out to every veteran because the violent, unpredictable, and emotionally taxing nature of war changes the psyche of combatants permanently. The majority of us can’t imagine what they’ve seen and been exposed to in environments where death lurked around every corner and bombs were hidden on the streets for their supposedly liberating efforts. They answered the call and put their lives on the line having no say in when or where a war was to be waged; so please show them that you care about what they sacrificed, no matter what.

    Iraq - IEDS Getting a vet to seek help can prevent a slide into a miserable life full of rage, depression, family-destroying substance abuse or even a suicide (of which there has been way too many). Risky behavior is found frequently in PTSD and Iraq veterans, frankly because once a soldier has been exposed to the extreme adrenalin rush inherent in combat, everything else in life seems rather dull and even senseless.

    Therefore, pushing the envelope to the brink of death can often become the only thing that makes a combat veteran feel alive anymore. This is also why some vets have trouble holding down jobs, because jobs seem like a phony and fabricated invention where people gather and seem to pretend what they’re doing is important. The major depression that PTSD can cause will make any job, along with every other thing in life, appear absolutely meaningless. This is especially the case when suicidal ideation is leading them to believe that life itself is a pointless exercise in futility.

    Make no mistake, this is as much of a life or death matter as it was on the battlefield. A few years ago I heard a combat vet scoff about the existence of PTSD. Recently I read about him taking the life of his wife and himself, with the kids in the house. We can’t be a nation in denial. How many times do we have to hear “he/she was never the same since the war" before we realize there is something we can do to get that vet back to a place where they can feel healthy and fulfilled again; back in this la-la land we live in?

    Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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    Remain Vigilant: It Can Take Years for PTSD to Appear or Even Longer for the Vet to Seek Help

    When they’re still in the military, most soldiers don’t want to admit they have any trouble or might need to find successful treatment plans for PTSD . What’s more, at least in my Army infantry unit when we returned from Iraq, seeing any of the trained mental health professionals meant waiting in a long line when the other option was to be released for the day.

    The former option never had a prayer, because most of us weren’t too keen on lines by that point in our military careers. Moreover, PTSD might not occur until a combatant is far removed from war and the military. This is very often the case when the former soldier begins to realize that combat turned something on in them that can never be turned off. One prime and telling example of how long it might take for a vet to seek help was cited in the article Lifetime Cost of Treating Latest Generation of Veterans Higher than Predicted on USMedicine.com: The Voice of Federal Medicine. “Disability claims for WWI veterans did not peak until 1969."

    scan0022 Many veterans don’t even exhibit any signs until they return and even then, it can be months or years before signs of the disorder crop up. Veterans themselves might not have any clue that what they’re experiencing is PTSD. That is why we all must understand the common behaviors associated with PTSD so we can lend a helping hand when it’s needed.

    It’s a delicate situation; the veteran may indeed resent interference or labeling, so trying to find the right messenger to plant the idea that they should seek help is the key. You never know who that might be; another vet who has been through it, a trusted friend or family member, or a trained counselor or therapist.

    Now that you understand why it is imperative for Iraq veterans who appear to have PTSD to receive help, please read the second article to learn how to get vets help. You’ll also learn how the VA (US Department of Veterans Affairs) is doing in helping the patients they have now, and the many more vets who will come in seeking help later.

    Image courtesy of the author

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    Sources

    Lifetime Cost of Treating Latest Generation of Veterans Higher than Predicted on USMedicine.com: The Voice of Federal Medicine. http://www.usmedicine.com/physicalmedicine/lifetime-cost-of-treating-latest-generation-of-veterans-higher-than-predicted.html

    Expect High Rates of PTSD Among Iraq Veterans: http://psychcentral.com/news/2009/09/15/expect-high-rates-of-ptsd-among-iraq-veterans/8365.html

    US Department of Veterans Affairs: National center for PTSD: http://www.ptsd.va.gov/

PTSD in Iraq War Veterans: Getting the Help they Need is On Us

Well after the war in Iraq is over, veterans of the war will experience PTSD and need assistance or treatment to cope with it. This series conveys how important it is that we look after our vets. Find out about PTSD rates and projections, where to get help, and how the VA is handling record numbers.
  1. PTSD and Iraq Veterans: Getting Soldiers the Help They Need
  2. Rates and Projections of PTSD in Iraq War Veterans

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