The experiences which are encountered by soldiers engaged in direct combat are perilous, chaotic and contrary to the rules and parameters which protect us in our daily lives. An absence of order and the intensely heightened threat of injury or fatality require soldiers to shed many of the assumptions and securities of civilian life as a means to survival. But for many who succeed in forging the protective behaviors and mentalities necessary to endure the unspeakable horrors of war, the return to civilian life can bring with it a haunting incapacity to return to the disposition of civil society.
This leaves many veterans prone to the condition known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This may be characterized as “an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat. (NIMH, 1) In the particular case of this discussion, military combat is a cause of PTSD that can have devastating long-term outcomes. In the case of the current War in Iraq especially, where the United States has experienced heavy combat losses, where civilian casualties have been massive and where soldiers are under a constant threat of ambush or attack from an unwavering local opponent, the occurrences of PTSD have been extremely high.
There is a real and pressing need for the establishment of a group for veterans returning from the War in Iraq in order to combat the various shortcomings which the military has shown in its attentiveness to PTSD. The absence of any real program or support structure for those coming home with these types of stresses is in direct contrast the scale of this problem. Indeed, “studies estimate that as many as 500,000 troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan will suffer from some form of psychological injury, with PTSD being the most common. (Eliscu, 58)
The outcomes of this condition will run a wide range of symptoms that impact the ability of individuals to cope with the pressures of everyday life, to relate to those who have not experienced the traumas of war, and heightened propensities toward violence, toward crime, toward alcoholism, toward substance abuse and toward depression. Such is to say that the real and tangible outcomes of this condition suggest a detectable sociological problem potentially afflicting in some degree an entire class of Americans.
In addition to the rationale of clearly evident need for service and support amongst those in this category, there is also a problematic dearth of concrete research on how best to address the matter of PTSD. This is to indicate that “studies are needed to systematically assess the mental health of members of the armed services who have participated in these operations and to inform policy with regard to the optimal delivery of mental health care to returning veterans. (Hoge et al, 13) This speaks to the need of fostering the assembly of afflicted veterans is to establish a forum for evaluation of the empirical factors relating war service to PTSD and, consequent, PTSD to readjustment following war. There is, in addition to the strictly psychological implications of PTSD, a connection between physical and emotional illness. For those suffering a broad range of elusive symptoms relating to service, PTSD is an issue often lost in the shuffle as some veterans struggle even for support for basic physical conditions.
Such is to say that “many veterans clearly are experiencing medical difficulties connected to their service in the Gulf War. Continuing to provide clinical care to evaluate and treat their service-connected illnesses is vital. However, a causal link between a single factor and the symptoms they report remain elusive. ” (Barret & Gots, 1) This connects the demand for more extensive research with the need for greater lucidity on the subject of PTSD both separate and related to the presence of persistent medical symptoms.
It is true that the military itself has historically grouped symptoms related to PTSD with some of the physical manifestations of exposure to combat conditions. This causes an obscurity of causative factors relating to conditions both mental and physical. An immediate example of this perpetuates in controversy today as thousands of service men and women have returned from the first Gulf War (1992) suffering an array of symptoms that run the gamut from physical and genetic to emotional and neurological.
These are individuals who would demonstrably benefit from the availability of group contexts where support discussions can help to elucidate patterns relating symptom sets. Indeed, this discussion recurrently yields evidence of the military’s poor official record on the subject. Whether accurate or not, official Pentagon findings would contend that this array which included the development of respiratory problems, certain types of cancers and birth defects in offspring was a consequence of stress related to war service.
That is to say that “even when the war was over, many veterans experienced post-deployment stress on their return from the Gulf. These included financial and employment difficulties, unresolved military pay issues, the revelation of cases of leishmaniasis and the consequent temporary ban on blood donations, increasing numbers of health complaints and ‘unexplained illnesses,’ and media accounts of apparent increased numbers of birth defects and cancer. ” (Barrett & Gots, 1) The grouping of these symptoms together represents a problematic and distorting approach to these conditions which has allowed the military to shift responsibility.
This is just one of the reasons that many soldiers feel so markedly alone upon returning home, with the military effectively abandoning those who have served it. This discussion is further informed by an article from the April 2008 issue of Rolling Stone Magazine, which details the troubled homecoming of Blake Miller, a Marine who became an icon of the current War in Iraq when a photo of his weary and weather-beaten face with a fresh lit cigarette on his lips published in the New York Post and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Eliscu, 56-58) The photo earned Miller the nickname ‘The Marlboro Man,’ but this image belies his experiences upon his return from the war.
Today, “Miller’s nightmares, insomnia, heightened alertness, self-imposed isolation and persistent recollections of his seven months in Iraq are all classic symptoms of PTSD, an anxiety disorder that results form exposure to an event so psychically frightening that the aftershocks continue for months or even years. (Eliscu, 58) The article in question is selected for consideration for a number of reasons, most particularly for its focus on the proclivities of Miller and others suffering from PTSD to seek out company and comfort from fellow veterans experiencing this same postwar set of aftershock conditions. Accordingly, Miller keeps company with a biker gang constituted primarily of Vietnam veterans who decades later continue to suffer stunted lives as a result of the disorder and a failure of the military to acknowledge or treat the disorder.
This is a dually informative condition, first providing the cautionary detail that, indeed, there is a palpable threat that a failure to attend to the needs of these veterans will cause many of them to never return to functional or normal lives in society. For so many veterans that are prone to mental illness, marital difficulty, alcohol and chemical addictions, vulnerability to criminal activities and a general feeling of isolation from society, the absence of support in the immediate aftermath of service can cause lifelong stigma.
Secondly, the Miller case offers anecdotal evidence of a larger pattern showing that many veterans are only able to find a place of comfort amongst those who can understand and related to the experiences and post-traumatic conditions of wartime service. As a purpose of this discussion, it is an overarching and long term objective to elucidate through internal and external discourse regarding policy and military funding, the central importance of the needs facing those returning from war under the emotional and psychological pressures which inordinately appear in those who have experienced combat-related traumas.
The commonality and symptomatic severity of incidences of PTSD in veterans from the current war in Iraq demonstrates its clear correlation to service conditions. And for so many young men and women for whom the military has been an authority, a family and a provider of structure, the combination of war-time experiences and the discharge from this support structure has created a new generation of maladjusted and emotionally strained Americans.
The outcome is negative from the varying perspectives of long-term military recruitment and retention, for America’s socio-economic disposition and from the humanist perspective that those being trained and deployed to defend us are nonetheless cast aside by the American system one used. Therefore, it should be considered a primary objective for the military and American policy-makers to ultimately take responsibility for the many afflicted veterans who experience the day to day devastation of war even once they have attempted to make a full return to civilian life