By Dennis Berg, LtCol USAF (ret)
PTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This condition is more common than many people realize. There are a significant number of veterans that have it yet, either are unaware they have it or just do not want to admit they suffer from it due to the perceived stigma that goes with it. We as veterans tend to rebuke the idea that we may have an injury (yes PTSD is both a condition and an injury) that might imply we are no longer the guardians of society that we once were. We as veterans easily accept physical injuries because often they are visible, thus making the malady, not only acceptable but a badge of our efforts in defending our country. PTSD falls into the category of - ‘Not All Wounds are Visible.'
PTSD has been with us ever since the first battle of man vs man. Only recently has this injury begun to take on a life of its own. Frankly, we as a society are much more enlightened today than days gone by. In the past PTSD was referred to as Shell Shocked (World War I) and Combat Fatigue (World War II). If you are a student of history you may recall one of the most infamous cases of Combat Fatigue that truly represented an unenlightened approach toward this condition was General Patton, a hard driving man who had no sympathy toward his perception of cowardice in battle. General Patton was, of course, old school and a very focused general toward war fighting. For those of you who may have watched the film Patton you will recall his creating a scene in an Army field hospital when he came across a soldier with obvious PTSD. His treatment of this solider was reprehensible and created a very unfavorable opinion of the otherwise heroic image he had at the time. The idea of shell shock and the public's opinion of it was set back decades in accepting the concept and reality of PTSD.
PTSD is not unique to veterans. PTSD can be the result of exposure to any trauma or even deep grief. Often the difficult thing is to recognize you may be suffering from the ill effects of these events and thus have varying degrees of PTSD. We as humans do not have a level playing field in our reactions to events in life, that is one of the unique differences that make us as humans have such a wide range in behaviors. Women are twice as likely to suffer from PTSD than men and one out of 11 people will be diagnosed with PTSD over their life time. The most important thing in any human malady is to diagnose the problem so treatment can begin. To this end here is a brief overview of symptoms you can use as a frame work to begin your self awareness if you suspect you may be suffering from PTSD:
Reliving the event. Service members who have experienced a traumatic event often re-experience those events. The re-living of these occurrences can be triggered by a whole host of everyday activities - people, sounds, places or even smells.
Avoidance. Life style changes in order to avoid the possibility of triggering the re-living of the traumatic event creating the nexus for the PTDS.
Negative beliefs and/or feelings. Mood swings may occur and worsen over time following the traumatic event or events. These swings manifest themselves in feelings of guilt and blaming of yourself. Detachment and loss of interest in activities are a result.
Hyper-arousal. The event that created the PTSD is difficult to reconcile because we humans have a natural inclination to either fight of flight when we are presented with a traumatic circumstance. When service members are deployed for extended duty in this environment of fight of flight it becomes very difficult to acclimate back into the benign everyday civilian life from whence we came.
To help you with your self awareness of this condition please take the time to read and use as are refence this excellent source: (https://www.cumberlandheights.org/blogs/17-symptoms-of-ptsd/)
As a now retired Air Force pilot that has served in Combat (Vietnam) I have, frankly, never given much thought to the possibility of having some PTSD ‘issues.’ Not to labor you with my personal combat, or for that matter peace time, close calls but suffice it to say I have had a few. Following the reading of the 17 symptom of PTSD listed in the source above, I can say with certitude, I too have some of these symptoms. Not to make lite of this subject but just ask my wife. Which brings up a good point, you may not be aware you have some of these characteristics but your loved ones around you could be your best resource of providing you with critical behavioral examples.
As I alluded to earlier in this essay. PTSD is a much misunderstood condition that primarily manifests its self through outward behavioral comportment. This is the key, in my estimation, why PTSD carries a sigma and therefore reduces the efforts toward understanding and initiating effective treatment. Perturbations in behavior brought on by PTSD that are outside societal norms only adds to not only the publics perception of the condition but often renders the victim of the condition as an outcast. Public acceptance through education seems to be the best avenue to inform and thus be more accommodating to those who suffer from this condition. It is imperative that the public and even we as Veterans keep in mind ‘Not all Wounds are Visible.'
Here is my advice for you veterans 1) recognize you may suffer from PTSD. 2) get help and work with the VA in getting proper trained medical personnel to diagnose your needs. 3) lastly, do not hesitate to apply for disability compensation for your diagnosed PTSD condition. DO NOT put this off because you might think you are undeserving of compensation. Your government placed you in the situation (be it combat or peace time) in which you were subjected to the conditions that created your PTSD, thus compensation is deserved and appropriate.
We would like to thank our friend Dennis Berg, LtCol USAF (ret) for providing this important and thoughtful write up for us to share with all of you. If you are someone you know would like to learn more about Veteran resources in our community, please contact us at 435-673-3548 or via the contact function here on our website.