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An Investigation Into the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Among Veterans Essay


There are numerous issues facing American veterans returning home from war, both past and present. They are taught how to transform themselves into different people who are better adept at performing under severe war-zone stressors. They are prepared physically and sometimes mentally for what they will be entering into on foreign territory but not often enough for the challenge of re-entering civilian life. Soldiers are falling through the cracks in our system upon returning home, shown through an increase in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse among veterans. Two theories that I will be exploring in this paper are Conflict Theory and Phenomenology Theory. There is more conflict everyday over what our troops should be doing and why.

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Any doubt of following the path to become a soldier is critiqued as going against the protection of our country, yet once they come out the other end of this journey the supported soldier is gone and in its place is either the glorified hero or sympathized victim. The phenomena of PTSD can create confusion for everyone involved. There is rarely a great understanding of a soldier’s mind and how it interprets their experiences into reactions after war. These experiences have a real effect on their lives and how they care and handle themselves after war. The way society has constructed what a soldier should represent does not include asking for help and makes them appear weak when if they show vulnerability. This issue is important because even today with easier access to treatment, many veterans today won’t or can’t seek out help. To many it is easier to turn to substance abuse to self-medicate and erase confusion from past experiences.

Book Examination

In the book Fields of Combat, stories are told of how soldiers are trained to kill and understand that to be a true soldier you must accept you own death. Author Erin Finley describes what it is like for soldiers who came home and developed PTSD, and puts their experiences into a social and cultural perspective. She paints a portrait of PTSD to reveal to readers that there is no comprehensive way to understand or experience it. “As an anthropologist, I find the web of tangled arguments over PTSD fascinating because these conflicts are in many ways about the nature of war-related suffering itself” (Finley, 2011). She describes how to understand PTSD, we must listen to the experience and concerns of the veterans before we can begin to help them.

Theory Exploration

The Conflict Theory can be applied to many aspects of a veteran’s life, the individual, their families, communities, and organizations around them. These troops return home without knowing how to integrate back into society. The families who should be overjoyed about the safe return of one of their members are displaced without having proper resources to help their loved ones mental health. They are not given the same stress and trauma training the soldiers is given, nor do they know of the experiences causing change in the soldier. There is not often enough knowledge available to the family of what it will be like for the family to have a soldier return home and can be caught off guard by what the soldier will experience upon return. Communities are affected by having one of their members experiencing side effects of war form attempting to re-enter the work force to social events and even the death of such troops of veterans. There is much debate about how war is handled in the United States. It is generally agreed upon that protection of American citizens is of importance, but from there on out there is little agreement among groups. When thinking about this debate I cannot help but recall driving up to an intersection in my hometown and seeing picketers on either side of the street.

Pro-war protesters held signs on one hand that said “FREEDOM IS NOT FREE” while anti-war protesters fought back with signs that reminded drivers of the ever-growing death toll of soldiers and civilians. Each side questioning the motives behind the other, from wasting America’s resources to question one’s loyalty to America. While these groups have different interests about sending our troops off to war, they should be able to come together when the troops return in order to offer services to help return to a life as normal as possible. From a Marxist view, veterans can be seen as an exploitation of the government by using the troops to their advantage and profit. While the troops are deployed the government basically owns them, but when they return they must often fend for their own mental and physical well-being.

Capitalism has created a class division in this case. The bourgeoisie of our government sit back passively and brush off the symptoms of PTSD as a common experience expected after war. The most common symptoms of PTSD for veterans are thoughts of suicide, domestic violence, substance abuse and panic attacks. These symptoms would cause concern from anyone else but they are brushed under the rug for veterans because it is simply assumed that war experiences will have these kid of severe affects on those exposed. To critique the theory that a small elite group is responsible for deploying troops, we must acknowledge that many groups with similar interests come together to enable war to take place.

Propaganda is imposed among society from interest groups on either side of the fence on war. Troops do not simply decide to pack up and head overseas to kill people, nor are they currently forced into deployment; it is their choice to enlist. The people in higher government position who can declare war do not just wake up in that position, they are elected there by the people of this country knowing, for the most part, what views they stand behind. This theory is consistent with social works ethics because it represents the working class and wants to bring consciousness to those who hold power and how we can reduce conflict, ignorance, and inequality.

Article Examination

In the book, David Grossman tells readers how soldiers killing patterns have changed over time. During previous wars years ago soldiers were more reluctant to kill and fired their weapons more as a warning instead of a kill shot. The Army has since taken steps to increase the percentage of shorts fired to be directed at the actually enemy. Since it was shown to have be easier to get soldiers to kill from a distance instead of up close, machines were provided to allow for distance physically and mentally. The soldiers are basically be dehumanized to be better weapons to the government. He refers to this as Acquired Violence Immune Deficiency, where people have such a fear of what they are experience that their brain reverts to classical and operant condition, which the government has replaced by weakening the part of the soldier that does not want to kill and inserting the actions they prefer.

Theory Exploration

This action represents yet another way that higher ups are using soldiers as their own material resource, in context to the Conflict Theory. The exploitive subordination of soldiers allows the government to profit by actually influencing how the soldiers think. The government understands that changing the social behavior of a soldier will lead to more power over them and their actions. This theory would show clear winners being the government who benefits from soldiers subordination and the soldiers who suffer.

In contrast, you cannot presume that every action the ruling government takes over soldiers is for their benefit alone. The actions, while not always moral, are taken to protect the entire country. Treatment is provided for returning soldiers, even if it is not know or easily accessible to all. The emphasis is not solely social control but consensus and conformity. To go to war is a decision made by different group, not only elites, and a general agreement must be reached before actions are taken with soldiers or deployment. Soldiers are not forced into employment; they conform to the position because their attitudes, beliefs and behaviors are similar to those around them in the Army.

Article Examination

In the article by David Zucchino, it tells about a soldier who opened fire from his home without warning because he felt he was under attack. This event took place after he received inadequate treatment for PTSD after being diagnosed at “high risk” for the disease. He was sent to a prison that did not offer him any further treatment for PTSD since they were not affiliated with the military. He is one of the many veterans that has not being given proper treatment after being diagnosed to be at rick for PTSD and ending up in civilian prison where they cannot access further help. He is now left in prison where his symptoms and condition will only worsen.

Theory Exploration

From the Phenomenology standpoint we would look at expectations of his experience to understand and describe this phenomena. Looking at what appears to be instead of reality, his subjective experiences show emotions he is not fully aware of. His actions, like those of other veterans, stem directly from past and present sensory experiences and cannot defined the same way for each person. The appearance of returning veterans is seen as this joyous moment where they step off a plane in to the loving arms of family and are then forgotten about by most of the culture. Families and communities are left to deal with the veteran’s actions without knowing the driving forces behind their appearance of their actions. The government sees what it wants to see and transfers that to the public. We are shown this ideal soldier who is deployed to protect us and comes home a hero, which our consciousness retained as a singular memory of a soldier.

That is what society wants to believe about war because our consciousness does not want to identify killing, death, and destruction with our freedom or it would not be as easy to ship off members of our own community to their impending death. Once they return they are given a pat on the back for a job well done and turned over with the intention of re-entering a community as a normal member once again. We define the content of our consciousness as making this place, America, better by using an object, the soldier, to do so. “Central Prison has done a good job of treating Eisenhauer’s physical wounds” (Zucchino, 2012).

We treat what we can see, but leave what we do not understand unattended. In this theory we can only see one side of the situation at a time, and we are stuck on this glorified soldier but cannot combine with him the vulnerability and confusion he returns home with. In critique to this theory, there are things outside of our memory and consciousness that do exist. Just because we cannot fully grasp what is happening to these veterans does not mean that it is not happening. They are sent essentially sent to another world to deal with hardships and are thrown back into reality without being reprogrammed. There are not always theoretical structures that will allow us to understand the phenomena of what the veterans will go through.

Carter, A. C., Capone , C., & Eaton Short, E. (2011). Co-occurring posttraumatic stress disorder and alcohol use disorders in veteran populations. Journal of Dual Diagnosis, 7(4), 285-299.

Finley, E. P. (2011). Fields of combat: Understanding PTSD among veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Grossman, D. (2009). On killing: The psychological cost of learning to kill in war and society. New York: Back Bay Books.

Levinson, N. (2012). What really happened to america’s soldier, The Nation.
Retrieved November 20, 2012 from http://www.thenation.com/article/168652/what-has-really-happened-americas-soldiers#

Litz, B., & Orsillo, S. M. (2010). Iraq war clinician guide . (pp. 21-32). Department of Veteran Affairs. Retrieved December 1, 2012 from http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/manuals/manual-pdf/iwcg/iraq_clinician_guide_ch_3.pdf

Stecker, T. (2011). 5 Survivors: Personal stories of healing from PTSD and traumatic events. Center City: Hazelden Foundation.

Zucchino, D. (2012, June 24). Accused soldier is a prisoner to ptsd; believing he was under attack by insurgents, he started firing from his home. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on December 1, 2012 from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.uvm.edu/docview/1021854523/13AE8FF837D23A623BE/7?accountid=14679

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