Veterans with PTSD: Can We Unite As a Society?

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As one who watched a largely unappreciative nation heap scorn on returning Veterans from our war in Vietnam, I am struck by the contrived efforts to celebrate Veterans who have now served in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.   In particular, I shed a tear for Veterans with PTSD who have difficulty coping with an unsympathetic society that seems far different from the camaraderie they experienced while serving in a war zone.

While I do not doubt that many Americans genuinely honor the sacrifices of young men and women who have served in these wars;  the American flag pin in one’s lapel or tributes to Veterans at major sporting events fall well short of the support these brave heroes deserve.

This point was made abundantly clear by Sebastian Junger in a recent MSNBC interview. Sebastian Junger, an acclaimed war-correspondent and author, has just published Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging. In his book, Mr. Junger suggests that Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan find a deeply divided and “alienated society” and argues passionately that our society may be as much to blame for Veteran suicides and depression as a Veteran’s war experience.

Mr. Junger articulates his views in a very moving Ted Talk that was filmed late last year.


As an anthropologist, Mr. Junger’s arguments are quite persuasive. It is hard to argue with his premise that the incidence of “suicides and depression” tends to decrease during periods of great stress: he cites 911, the bombing of London in WWII and many other similar situations. Junger suggests that people’s behavior tends to become “more tribal” during periods of great stress and that this provides a level of support and comfort that many returning Veterans do not presently encounter when they return home to our “alienating society.”

Mr. Junger concludes that many problems for Veterans with PTSD would be greatly diminished if we “can unite as a society.”

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As we watch an increasingly hostile and bitter presidential race unfold, it is not hard to understand Mr. Junger’s premise.  Imagine a young man or woman serving their country in a hostile and dangerous environment returning home to see a dysfunctional society at war with itself. How discouraging.

Indeed, if the Department of Veteran Affairs (the “VA”) doesn’t have your back, who does?

In an unfortunate analogy, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald stated “‘When you get to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? Or what’s important? What’s important is, what’s your satisfaction with the experience?'” McDonald said Monday during a Christian Science Monitor breakfast with reporters. ‘And what I would like to move to, eventually, is that kind of measure.'”

This is not the first time, Secretary McDonald has been embroiled in a controversy, but I am quite sure that Secretary McDonald wished he hadn’t been quite so candid.  Nevertheless, his “misspeak” provided plenty of fuel to other politicians.

House Majority leader Paul Ryan correctly pointed out that Veterans had lost their lives while waiting in line for someone at the VA to pickup the phone.

This is precisely the type of dysfunctional dialogue engaged in by “tribal leaders” that Veterans – and many others – find so frustrating and largely disingenuous.

Most everyone knows that the VA is not functioning properly.  Rather than simply point fingers to gain personal political leverage, let’s harness our efforts and begin solving the many problems faced by the VA.

One man or woman’s political advantage pales in comparison to the suffering of the many brave men and women who have placed their lives at risk for a society that seems hellbent on tearing itself apart.  How tragic.

Mr. Junger, your heartfelt appeal is noted and I sincerely hope that we as a nation can embrace the challenge.  I pray that our tribal leaders will unite to provide our country with the inspirational leadership that our brave men and women in the military service deserve.  Anything less is tragic.

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SFTT News: Week of May 27, 2016

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Found below are a few news items that caught my attention this past week. I am hopeful that the titles and short commentary will encourage our readers to click on the embedded links to read more on subjects that may be of interest to them.

Drop me an email at info@sftt.org if you believe that there are other subjects that are newsworthy.

Military Suicides:  Most Appear Before Combat
“We found the highest rates of suicide attempts were among never-deployed soldiers and those in their first years of service,” Ursano’s team (Dr. Robert Ursano of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda) wrote in their report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Psychiatry. Six months into a deployment is often when they get their first break. “That six-month time is usually the time most soldiers are taking a visit home,” Ursano said. “They are transitioning home and back again.”  It’s not precisely clear why suicide attempts — as opposed to completed suicides — go up at these times. Other research shows the risk for a completed suicide has little to do with whether someone has been in actual combat.  Read more . . .

VA Restores Benefits to Veterans Wrongly Declared Dead
A Florida congressman says the Department of Veterans Affairs cut off the benefits of more 4,200 people nationwide after they were wrongly declared dead.  Rep. David Jolly says these people were “very much alive” and their benefits were resumed after the VA looked into their cases, which happened between 2011 and 2015.  Read more . . .

VA Secretary Compares Veteran Wait Times to Lines at Disneyworld 
Critics said Monday that Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald had trivialized the long-standing problem of lengthy wait times for appointments at California’s veterans medical centers by comparing them to waiting in long lines at Disneyland. His comments sparked an angry backlash from California lawmakers who felt that he had dismissed the angst and frustration of their constituents. McDonald made the comments Monday during a roundtable discussion with reporters hosted by The Christian Science Monitor.  Read more . . .

VA Secretary Robert McDonald

Five Things to Know about President Obama’s Trip to Vietnam
President Barack Obama is visiting Vietnam, the third U.S. president to do so, for a series of meetings with officials aimed at deepening U.S. ties with the country through new economic and security initiatives. The two governments are expected to announce a host of new agreements. Here are five things to know about Mr. Obama’s trip to the Asian nation.  Read more . . .

Dining with President Obama in Hanoi
Deep in the heart of Hanoi, US President Barack Obama sat down for a $6 meal with celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain on Tuesday. The chef, known for his love of adventurous street food, described the occasion in a series of tweets and an Instagram post.  Read more . . .

Obama Bourdain Hanoi

Former Navy Seal Sheds Light on PTSD
First Sgt. Clint Castro spent 15 months on the front line as a medic in Iraq. When he came home to East Meadow, he faced another kind of battle against post-traumatic stress disorder. He says it led him to drink and lose his temper, and he isolated himself from his family. Castro turned to Northwell Health’s Rosen Family Wellness Center for help. He admits it wasn’t easy initially to ask for assistance.   Read more . . .

Treating Ukranian Veterans with PTSD with Service Dogs

The Coming Changes to the War in Afghanistan
U.S. officials on Monday justified the weekend drone strike that killed Mullah Mohammed Akhtar Mansour by saying the Taliban leader planned to attack American or coalition forces in Afghanistan. But some observers believe the secretive operation that targeted the extremist at a southwest Pakistan hideout represents a shift in how the White House plans to execute the long-running war.  Read more . . .

Feel you should do more to help our brave men and women who wear the uniform or our Veterans? Consider becoming a member of Stand For The Troops.

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