PTSD & How Its Being Swept Under The Rug

Normally, I would post some sort of news item for discussion or something of the sort, but recently, I’ve been made aware of certain troubling events back home which I thought might interest the SEB Community. It concerns PTSD and the military’s solution to the disorder.

Prior to his arrival in Iraq, my brother Justin was an exemplary Marine. He was never late for drill, nor did he receive any form of disciplinary measures. In point of fact, he was even commended for preventing the rape of a fellow Marine while he was on watch during his MOS School. In the summer of 2004, his unit was activated and he was promptly shipped to California prior to his departure for Fallujah. Shortly after his arrival there, the Marines stormed the city in what was to become one of the single largest offensives of the war. While there, he was both witness to and a participant in a great many terrible things. To this day he will not speak of what he did while there. Any information myself or my family has received of his actions came from members of his unit who credited him with 25 confirmed enemy kills and a commendation for his work while in country from his Unit Commander. When he returned to Texas, however, he had changed. He became apprehensive and, at times, violent and unpredictable. He fast became an alcoholic and couldn’t hold down a job. To add insult to injury, he was so severely traumatized by his experiences in Iraq that he now hides from members of his unit and once curled into the fetal position and began to cry when he heard the sound of a helicopter over the house. Unfortunately, he is not the only veteran who suffers from this disorder. A number of Marines from his unit have been discharged from the service with an unfavorable discharge code because of their behavior. Justin is no exception. This February, he will be subjected to non-judicial punishment where his Unit Commander is expected to demote him to private and recommend that he be given a discharge under other than honorable conditions. Granted, his behavior would normally warrant such a punishment as he is guilty of what he has been accused. He has been absent from scheduled drill 20 consectutive times. However, his previous service and the military’s refusal to recognize his condition as a legitimate form of mental illness is sickening. Under current directives, he will be stripped of any benefits gained through military service, including healthcare through the VA. Were this a case of a single Marine under these circumstances, it would be terrible. Given that almost twenty Marines from Justin’s unit have suffered the same fate is unforgiveable. As his brother, I was made fully aware of his intentions prior to joining the Marine Corps. He had a desire to join so that he could receive enough training and pay to start his own business as a diesel engine mechanic. He had no desire to deploy and yet he went without question and now he is permanently scarred by his experiences. Add to that the military’s answer for “dealing” with troubled veterans and we’ve a situation that must be dealt with. I am in the process of transferring back to Texas and hopefully I will have an opportunity to testify on his behalf, but I can only hope that my transfer comes in time.

What are your thoughts?

13 thoughts on “PTSD & How Its Being Swept Under The Rug

  1. If the type of warfare going on in Iraq can do that to a marine, the average soldier doesn’t stand a chance. I have read articles which had letters home and you could see even hardened personel slowly changing, this particular case was a suicide in iraq. That PTSD should affect such a significant portion shows this new nature of war is not something that can be fought long term without continual replacement, and there seems no end in sight

  2. My thoughts are that your brother deserves all the help he can get. Insofar as your story tells, Justin gave his productive life for his country at a young age and remains a shell of who he once was. The disrespect shown to him by giving him a demotion and other-than-honorable discharge is a slap in the face.

    Are there veterans’ affairs groups in the area that will support him? support from psychiatric evaluators and psych nurses?; they should be very clear on stating that this IS a mental illness. I know a handful of medical professionals who deal with PTSD on a regular basis.

    I can do little for him or you, but I hope for the best. Shame seeing good – exemplary – soldiers pissed on.

  3. To add insult to injury, he was so severely traumatized by his experiences in Iraq that he now hides from members of his unit and once curled into the foetal position and began to cry when he heard the sound of a helicopter over the house.

    Neo, is he seeing a psychiatrist yet or does he still say there’s nothing the matter with him … if you can get him to say anything at all?
    I’m not psychiatrist but as a ‘sufferer’ of PTSD I know a bit about it.

    I woulda thought today’s soldier was better understood but I was dreaming.
    War fodder will always be war fodder whilst the generals and politicians munch their cigars in deep thought and understanding.

    He couldn’t relate to me any more than I could relate to a WW2 veteran but if he won’t talk to men from his own time he will be alone and that stewing in his own juices is as dangerous, psychologically, as anything can be.

    Somehow the military needs to be made aware of the responsibilities they bear in his mental changes and he’s the only one who can do it, otherwise he’ll be fucked for life.

    You think he’s bad now? I can promise you that if he doesn’t kill himself he’ll be worse as he gets older UNLESS he gets help now.
    He needs to register his condition ASAP.

    AND
    just a little something I found when I was a psych hospital a few years ago … sorry it’s so long but I think it’s important.

    A soldier’s story

    It was not until WW1 that specific clinical syndromes became associated with combat duty.
    In prior wars it was assumed that such casualties were manifestations of poor discipline and cowardice.
    During WW2 psychiatric casualties increased by some 300% compared with WW1.
    British, French and even German soldiers who were hospitalised as such casualties were judged to be ‘hysterical’, ‘anxious’, malingering cowards’ or of ‘weak character’.

    By this time electric shock therapy had been introduced and a brisk application seemed to be an effective way of returning men to the front. The treatment was extremely painful and continued to the point at which the deaf could hear and the dumb could speak. Needless to say one treatment was usually sufficient. A lot of these men committed suicide, and apparently no records were ever kept on how many survived the war.

    However by 1922 50,000 British servicemen were on war pensions for mental problems, by 1029 that number had risen to 65,000.
    During the Korean War the approach to combat stress was addressed more clearly.
    On site treatment was provided to affected soldiers returning them to duty in the shortest amount of time. The results were incredible, in WW2 23% of evacuations were for psychiatric reasons but in Korea they had dropped to just 6%.
    When Australian involvement in Vietnam became apparent military planners looked at previous war experiences to help solve the problem of psychological disorders in combat.
    The theory being that long-term exposure to stress of war resulted in a higher incidence of breakdown amongst servicemen.

    In Korea a point system was introduced, when a soldier had accumulated a certain amount of points he was rotated back home regardless of the progress of the war.
    A similar system was implemented in Vietnam, America referred to it as DEROS [date of expected return from overseas]. Australia adopted a similar, if not the same, system. Servicemen knew that the system promised a way out of the war other than as a physical or psychological casualty. The advantages were quite apparent, just hold on for one year and then once home the war would be left far behind.

    It took a long time for the disadvantages to become apparent. To many men this system became a very personal thing as a lot of soldiers were rotated on their own with their own date for return to Australia. Most of our units stayed in country for the entire campaign (Armour, Signals [I was a cook attached to a Signals unit], Engineers, Transport, etc) only their personnel were rotated. Even our Infantry Battalions had a lot of numbers made up from REOs [replacements for men (boys) who had DEROSd].  Because of this individuality, unit morale, unit cohesion, and unit identification suffered tremendously.

    Many veterans of WW2 spent weeks even months with their units on ships, returning to Australia from all over the world. They had the closeness and emotional support to work through the especially traumatic episodes they had experienced together.
    For many Vietnam veterans the epitaph was a solitary plane ride home with complete strangers [27 November 1970 – I sat next to a Texan named Hondo – I remember we didn’t talk much – arrived in Melbourne at 10 PM], and a head full of grief, conflict, confusion and joy.
    For every soldier, the date he expected to return to Australia became a fantasy, a fantasy that on that date all problems would cease as he returned swiftly home. 
    Most veterans believed that neither they as individuals nor Australian society had changed while they were away. Thousands of soldiers lived this fantasy every day. Evidence of this could be found in the use of 365-day calendars. These were intricately marked to show the number of days remaining ‘in country’. To complete the calendars in all types of colours and design was the aim of almost every soldier in Vietnam. A popular catch cry was ’28 and a wakey’ or ’14 and a wakey’ as the days wound down, to many this was a daily ritual.
    Short timers (those with the shortest amount of time left) would be held in awe of others.
    They led their peers on a fantasy journey of how great and wonderful life would be back home.
    “How great life would be at home!!” … what shit.
    Society was changing in behaviour and ideas:
    Dissent was a popular form of protest.
    Street marches and moratoriums were taking place.
    The domino theory was a popular belief.
    Conscription was a controversial issue.
    And of course, Vietnam was a television war.

    There are some other unique aspects about this war, in WW2 we were clearly threatened by a uniformed and easily recognised enemy, in Vietnam it was quite the opposite, and it appeared the whole country was hostile. There was no front line and arguably no back line. There were no battle lines and a rarely uniformed enemy, just about any area was subject to attack.
    As in any guerrilla war the same ground could be fought over many times, complex tunnel systems allowed ‘Charlie’ to appear and disappear and even survive underground.

    Women and children were quite often Viet Cong or at least sympathetic to their cause.
    This was often apparent after a ‘contact’, evidenced by age and gender of the dead.
    Wounded or captured.

    The local villagers also suffered heavy casualties as they wandered into ‘free fire zones’ or ignored curfews. They were aware of where and when they could move about so when these ‘mistakes’ happened it was assumed they were either Viet Cong or VC sympathisers.

    Surprise firing devices or booby traps and land mines caused heavy casualties on both sides; often our own mines were used by ‘Charlie’ against us.
    Whilst military training was necessary to teach us to fight and survive, it also brainwashed us. Something our parents [and society] drummed into us from early childhood, ‘men don’t cry’, ‘only babies cry’, ‘grow up’, ‘don’t be a coward’ and so on. The army taught us to close out emotions, rational logical thinking was the only way to act. Hell! If you break down in the middle of a shit-fight you’re going to get killed, so are your mates.

    We were taught that the Vietnamese were not humans but rather ‘slopes, slants, gooks, noggies, VC or Charlie’. It was easier to kill [and/or hate] a noggie or a slope than a human being. Gradually this dehumanisation generalised the whole Vietnam experience.
    Military training did not teach us to deal positively with feelings of ‘anger’, ‘frustration’, ‘rage’ and other negative emotional responses. We learnt to be immune to ordinary human emotions.

    As I said earlier, there were no battle lines and any area was subject to attack. Because of this, every individual was vulnerable with the constant possibility of becoming a statistic. So for our non-combatant troops, civil aid workers, medical advisers and our entertainers the ominous threat was ever present. Examples being, mortar attacks on bases, mingling with Vietnamese while on leave, white mice [South Vietnamese Police in white uniforms – they shot first, then they said ‘Stop’], and exposure to the possible danger of satchel charges when in bars or travelling on military transport.
    No amount of training can prepare a man for actual combat. “THE REAL THING”. The Fear. The craziness. The killing. The suddenness of a contact. The feeling of being so pumped up you think the adrenalin will burst your veins. The power of pulling the trigger. Mates being killed or wounded. The body counts. The scale of misery and death. The bullshit orders that at times placed one in extreme danger. The feeling of being so close to your mates and the incredible and overwhelming flatness when it’s all over.

    Vietnam was a different war, with helicopters, search and destroy missions, booby traps, napalm, tunnel systems, body counts, and AGENTS blue, white and ORANGE.
    The Vietnam conflict was a ‘DIRTY WAR’, unlike other ‘GLORIOUS CAMPAIGNS’.

    Back in Australia the civilian population of the Vietnam era were treated to the horrors of the war on the 6 o’clock news. As the conflict dragged on they became tired and angry, confused and misinformed at the whole affair. Many veterans were witnesses to this fact.
    WW2 vets came back home to victory parades and deservedly enjoyed hero status.
    Some, along with their loved ones were accommodated for a number of days in luxury hotels at the expense of the government.
    Parcels of land were on offer under the Soldier Settlement Scheme.

    Vietnam vets came home to anti war marches and protests. We were spat on and bombarded with eggs and tomatoes etc. Ex Service Organisations shunned us and the catch cry “How many babies did you kill?” stopped all attempts at communication forever.
    To a lot of vets the fantasy of what home would be like was just that, “fantasy”. They had drastically changed; what they had experienced in Vietnam and on their return to Australia had left an indelible mark on them that for some would never be erased.

    Many vets have been continuously depressed since their experiences in Vietnam. They have sleep disorders, psychomotor [don’t know that word] retardation, feelings of worthlessness, difficulty in concentrating etc. Too many, death is no stranger and the possibility of suicide is always present.

    After their return, many vets found their only defence was to search for a safe place. Many of us thought we could move away from our problems. By repeatedly moving you could effectively isolate yourself from establishing any long- term friendships with others.
    I myself have moved 48 times in 18 years and in excess of 70 jobs. The stress this caused my family was immense. My wife, to this day, has kept records of these events. However, the past 12 years has been spent at the same address and ironically has now become a safe haven. With the use of sheds, aviaries and screening plants, I have effectively isolated myself and most often feel comfortable in my own little world. However I still patrol the perimeter at night and early hours of the morning, smoking my cigarette in cupped hands, waiting for the adrenalin rush when someone unsuspecting penetrates my privacy. Am I crazy? Or is this another legacy of Vietnam?

    Some blokes will often stay in the house and avoid any interaction with others; they may also resent any interaction their wives may initiate. The veteran’s rage can be quite frightening, to both himself and others around him. For no obvious reason he can strike out at whoever is near, this can include wives and children. Some vets are at times quite violent; others have been able to substitute their rage by breaking inanimate objects around them or punching holes in walls.

    The spouses of many vets will complain their men are cold and uncaring individuals, and the veterans themselves will recount episodes where they did not feel anything after a mate was KIA [killed in action], this numbness continues today with the death of a friend or family member. I am somewhat troubled by my own response to tragedies. Many vets go through life with an impaired capacity to love and care for others. They have no feeling of direction or purpose in life. Sometimes I am not even sure why I exist?

    The question-: How is it that I survived and others didn’t?
    Survival is an especially guilt invoking situation. It is not based on anything hypothetical but it is the harshest of realities. Often the survivor has had to compromise himself or the life of someone else in order to survive. The guilt of such an act may eventually end up in ”self-destructive behaviour” by the survivor.

    Most Vietnam veterans are hyper vigilant their autonomic senses, even today, are tuned to anything out of the ordinary, a car backfiring, the sudden ring of the telephone, some are uncomfortable when people walk close behind them, others sit with their backs to the wall or in corners where they can see everyone in the room. Remember the cigarette being smoked in cupped hands; needless to say all of these behaviours are learnt survival techniques. Sleep deprivation is another, the uneasy feeling of being caught asleep is apparently very hard to master even 30 years after the event. I still only sleep 2 to 3 hours at a time and when I’m awake, I’m wide-awake. Dreams, nightmares, sleep disturbances, night terrors, whatever, all seem to be inherent of the Vietnam experience.

    Intrusive thoughts are always present and are quite often triggered by everyday events, a song from the 60s, the sound of a helicopter, pop corn cooking, rainy days and of course Asians.
    A number of vets find the memories provoked by these and other stimuli so uncomfortable that they go out of their way to avoid them. Flashbacks can last from a few seconds to hours.

    In the last few paragraphs I have touched on, depression, isolation, anger, guilt, avoidance, anxiety, sleep disorders, [and triggers] and flashbacks. In fact many of us veterans have never been the same and now 25 years and more after the war the problems we are experiencing seem to have a new level of intensity.

    It was not until 1980 that the diagnosis for PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] was included in the DSM 111 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual).

    At last people with delayed stress reactions did not have to be diagnosed as SCHIZOPHRENIC if they had flashbacks or PARANOID if they were hyper vigilant or angry.

    One thing for which the entire world can thank Vietnam veterans is the focus of energy and research on PTSD.

    Now other people, veterans of previous and future conflicts, crime victims, rape victims, survivors of car crashes and natural disasters, those who have shot someone or have been shot in the line of duty, and the list goes on, all have benefited from this research, and Research has helped sufferers realise that their problems are not the result of personal failure.
    [I think the author was being far too optimistic]

    ======================================================================

    Powerfully written wasn’t it?
    Did you get a tear? I did. It’s a real downer for me every time I read it.
    Up until I read that in about 2002, 3 or 4 (I can’t be bothered trying to remember when I was there) I really thought I was alone and … quite mad.
    Blokes don’t talk about their feelings.
    I thought if I don’t tell anyone they’ll never know I’m a stubby short of a six pack.
    I added a few explanations in [brackets].

    =============================================================

  4. I just find it incredible th eUS army does not recognise PTSD.  I’m sure there is loads of money being made by lawyers suing for distress in every-day situations- it certainly appears to be here.  Unbelievable that the most traumatic event someone goes through- warfare – doesn’t show up anywhere in officialdom in the states.

  5. I read somewhere that this is happening throughout the military; military doctors are diagnosing traumatized personnel with “personality disorders” because it’s quicker and easier (according to their bureaucracy) than taking time to diagnose PTSD.  Families have had to hire psychiatrists and lawyers to fight for a proper diagnosis and treatment to keep their loved ones from being discharged like your brother.

    It’s a horrible scandal, and is the last thing our troops deserve for all they have done.  I hope you can transfer in time, and maybe you can muster some more help for him.  I wish all the best for him.

  6. even though I don’t believe in god in my thoughts are Bush and his cronies should and will Rot in Hell for what they have done!

  7. Typical of the military. As one who suffers ptsd, I am convinced the Johnson and Nixon administrations and the military considered all of us to be expendables. The Bush administration is no different and probably a lot worse. I think they all should be impeached and then shipped to The Hague for trial for crimes against humanity.

  8. Everyone should read LuckyJohn’s comment again, slowly.  I have major depression and at my worst, I was a basket case.  In danger of losing my pension, I could not fill out the paperwork nor ask for help.  Those with ptsd who admit they have a problem are still helpless to stand up for themselves against a beurocracy.  It is often hard enough just to get through a day.  What is disgusting is that they must fight for the help they need.  It should be forthcoming.  I have no idea how to help.

  9. LJ:—everything—

    Holy fuck.  I had no idea.

    Neodromos: What are your thoughts?

    I’m not in the military – so I won’t presume to speak about their motives.  On the other hand, I know that the VA appears, at least, to treat PTSD as a real issue.  I would suggest that you find a lawyer that has experience with veteran’s issues and PTSD in particular and fight like holy hell for your brother.  He sounds like a hero to me.  We should be giving him the keys to the city, not the cold shoulder and a boot in the ass.

  10. Sorry for being so late on the reply but here are your answers. The Marine Corps “officially” recognizes PTSD as an illness. However, they’ve done nothing to treat it. Justin is currently receiving counceling through the VA, but it was only after our family forced him to go. His unit wanted nothing to do with it. In fact, they tend to ignore the problem entirely. As to the issue of dehumanization, there are two distinct roads which most of these Marines have taken. You can accept it, or you can fight it. There were only a few things Justin ever spoke about doing and some of them were worst for him. Although a Marine, Justin was more sensitive than he would admit. While he was in Fallujah, his unit was gathering chickens for some locals that had broken out of their yard and one of the Marines kicked one in the head. Well, the chicken fell over and began coughing up blood so another Marine promptly began stomping on its head to kill it. It might not seem like much, and he would never admit it, but just seeing that bothered him. Another more serious incident involved an Iraqi boy. For anyone who has not been down range, there are places where the Iraqi children roves in packs and behave like wild dogs. They randomly attack soldier with whatever they can and they even bite. I saw a twelve-year-old outside of Ramadi bite through a corpsmans DCU and draw blood. Anyway, Justin and his unit were patrolling the outskirts of Fallujah when a group of boys began throwing glass bottles and rocks at them. Given the fact that several of the Marines with him suffered broken noses, eyesockets, and gashes that needed staples to close them, you can imagine just how vicious they were. Anyway, instead of shooting them, Justin and a few other Marines tried to scare them off by throwing some small stones at them to run them off. Well, a stray thrown by Justin hit a small boy in the face and “knocked his eye out”. It punctured the boy’s eye and so Justin and the members of his unit took him to the medical station and had him treated. The last incident he spoke of involved a 17-year-old female. She had been walking through the streets around the security patrol for some time. At one point, she found a discarded AK-74 and picked it up and started walking towards the Marines. Their translator warned her to drop the weapon but she refused and so Justin shot her. He blames himself for her death everyday because although he knows she could have killed him or the members of his unit. He’ll never know if she was hostile, or simply trying to turn the weapon in to them. He never would tell me about anything else. We heard the rest from the members of his unit. I think there’s also a huge misconception about the conduct of soldiers overseas. For instance, I think there is a misconception that they enjoy killing. Of course, there are those that do. But for the Marines of Fallujah, most would take photographs of what happened throughout the day and sit in the company tent at night watching the slideshow and crying. No one would speak through their silent ritual but almost all of them sat in silence and cried. It was probably one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever seen. As far as trailrider’s comments, well, that’s exactly how Justin behaves. He will not seek help or fight for himself because he is terrified of conflict both emotional and physical.

  11. Justin was more sensitive than he would admit.

    Killing’s tough if you’re not a cunt.

    there is a misconception that they enjoy killing.

    Fucking Civvies know shit.
    ‘Normal’ people don’t ‘enjoy’ killing but we can all be trained to do it given the right carrots. It’s the aftermath that’s psychologically dangerous.

    he is terrified of conflict both emotional and physical.

    Then it’s up to others to fight his fight.
    And I don’t mean casually.
    You have to go in with every weapon at your disposal.
    You need witness statements (before, during and after), CO statements, psychiatrist statements as well as a push from legislators and the press if you can.
    We have our own Vietnam Veterans’ affairs councellors/advocates.
    Do y’all have Iraq Veterans’ affairs councellors/advocates?
    You need to draw up a battle plan – the object is to win every right he’s entitled to, including those he’s entitled to in 40 years.
    This is not a game.
    If he doesn’t get his entitlements, plan on his getting much worse.
    He has a few options in dealing with his pain; Mind altering substances, legal or otherwise (that was my preferred method); Killing others for temporary relief or himself for permanent relief (those thoughts almost consumed me for over 30 years); Psychiatric help which is the hardest and the least satisfying initially cos it takes hard work; Group therapy (with others suffering the same as he, caused by the same as he … there are many the same as he – it’ll be the hardest to get him to but once he’s there and talking openly, like me, he’ll be delighted in the number of times he says: You too?)
    Right now he ‘knows’ he’s the only one who feels what he feels.

    He will not seek help or fight for himself because he is terrified of conflict both emotional and physical.

    An old girlfriend asked me last night to come to her mother’s funeral today.
    I declined saying: I don’t do reality.
    Having known me for 3 decades she accepted it as a wise woman would.
    A few years ago I’d have promised to come and just not shown up and told more lies to justify it all but she still would have forgiven me unconditionally.
    I’ve grown up a bit.

    Think about getting a group of friendly lionesses (eg mothers of war damaged cubs) to explore the battleground – they scare the fuck outa cigar munching men who think they’re men.

    Don’t mind me.
    I’m just raving in sorrow, frustration and tears for your brother.

    Here is a simple rule you can follow – I have it on my key ring – WHATEVER IT TAKES.

  12. Being that I have a friend from the Marines, who is going through rough times, and has PTSD, I can certainly sympathize.  All I can say is that you need to get Justin to open up and talk.

    The shit he saw that really truly bothered him is the shit he doesn’t want to talk to you about.  My friend didn’t realize it till a couple years later, but my listening to him and his talking, might have saved him from a terrible path.

    Being that Justin is a Marine I know it will be tough, but keeping that shit bottled up will eventually destroy him.  Either physically or mentally, and both are equally bad.

  13. I have served in the Army National Guard for 9 years (during the 80’s), and did not see any time in battle. However, I currently work with 2 true vets. One that served as a Submariner and a Gulf War vet. Due to my service, I can see some small signs of conflict. I see myself as a VERY FORTUNATE TO KNOW THESE INDIVIDUALS. The one that served in the Gulf War, has received papers indicating that he was exposed to a toxic substance and is now been rendered Sterile and is still getting grief from our beloved DOD. I suffered a loss of a great friend in June of 2006, that was taken by an IED over there. Due to my work schedule, I was unable to attend the service in person. However, I was able to contact my sister and she was able to hook-up the Patriot Guard Riders to represent me at the service. Over 100 riders attended the service in my place. The family was overwhelmed with joy for the showing that was made. The continued denial of the US government over things such as PTSD is right on par with the Agent Orange thing. I have an ex that her father died (directly associated with Agent Orange) and our illustrious government still won’t admit that there is anything wrong. I feel our current State of the Union is in some WAY DEEP SHIT. I just couldn’t bring myself to watch the SELF SERVING BASTARD’S meaning less dribble tonight. The post interview’s are as I thought they would be. Iraq, Iraq, Terror, Terror. He don’t give a RAT’s about the administrations policies here at home. Wake up America!!! Here in Alaska, we feel that it would be to good to shoot his ass, He needs to spend a lot of years with a cel mate named BUBA!!!

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