This post was written and contributed by Mrs. Grossman:
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a term used often to describe a multitude of problems suffered by our soldiers coming back to the world from war. Simply defined, it as an anxiety disorder caused by traumatic events. PTSD can actually be caused by any major traumatic event, but it is most often identified now days as a soldier’s disease. This is a great improvement for our soldiers because there were many years when PTSD was either unidentified or unacknowledged as a legacy of war.
Unlike the Vietnam War, today’s Military has procedures to help soldiers reintegrate into society (Such as voluntary classes a couple of weeks before release, tests and screenings for PTSD, etc. In reality, these procedures should be required, not voluntary.). This requires the soldier ask for help. Unfortunately, for the most part, soldiers coming back are in denial, even to themselves, and unable to admit they have any emotional or mental problems. Often, they are in shock from the sudden change of environment, and it takes a long time for that shock to wear off, if it ever does. Combat veterans suffer from survivor’s guilt, and shame. They are afraid to ask for help. They believe their problems are nothing, compared to those that never made it back, and they see their own problems as signs of weakness. So, they suck it up and just try to deal. Some of them struggle for years before breaking down.
Six years after coming back to the world from Vietnam and trying to live with his demons, my husband suffered a psychotic break. He was picked up at night in a North Hollywood Park, cut and torn from racing through the neighborhood, wearing only his underwear. He believed that he had been caught outside his Special Forces camp in the highlands of Vietnam, and had to evade the enemy. It was not until he saw the statue of Amelia Earhart that he snapped back to reality and realized the war had been over six years for him. The only ‘enemy’ he had evaded was the North Hollywood cops that had been trying to chase him down. We were lucky because in 1976 the officers involved were themselves veterans. They may not have known what to call it, but they recognized the symptoms of PTSD and took him to the VA. If that had happened today he may have been just as likely to be shot by the police, instead.
Throughout history, soldiers have suffered from PTSD. In the past it was referred to as ‘battle fatigue’, ‘shell shock’, and ‘exhaustion’. It was not until 1980 that the cause of PTSD was thought of by the world as being from ‘an outside event’, instead of ‘a weakness of character’. Is it any wonder that veterans try so hard to deal with it internally, instead of asking for help? I believe every soldier exposed to the trauma of combat suffers from PTSD, and most are afraid to admit it.
Although the VA claims veterans only need to wait a maximum of two weeks to be seen by a doctor, according to documents released in March 2013 by the Internal Veterans Affairs Department, “At least two veterans died last year waiting to see a doctor, while others couldn’t get primary care appointments for up to 8 months. 49% of new patients and 90% of established patients are able to see a primary care doctor, or specialist within the VA’s goal of 14 days, but first time patients who were not seen within 14 days waits an average of 50 days.” And according to Debra Draper, Healthcare Director at the Government Accountability Office, which looked into the matter in December 2013, “The bottom line is it is unclear how long veterans are waiting to receive care in VA’s medical facilities because the reported data are unreliable. The GAO analysts found that more than half of the VA’s 50,000 schedulers did not know how to accurately report the information needed to determine wait times, which includes logging the data a veteran wants to be seen, as well as the actual date of the appointment. Others admitted to changing the desired date so the time aligned with the VA’s established goals of 14 days.”
According to the Vietnam Veterans of America, a 1990 report by the Research Triangle Institute concluded “…..that 830,000 Vietnam Veterans have full blown or partial PTSD. Only 55,119 had filed claims, and the Adjudication Boards have only believed 28,411 of those claimants.”
Is it any wonder that veterans don’t trust the VA? Indeed, how can we, as Americans trust the VA to care for the men and women who sacrificed so much on our behalf? PTSD is not a veteran and VA problem, it is this nation’s problem, and we need to do much better to help our veterans to heal.