There were several military (Army) personnel on our flight to Charlotte yesterday. They announced over the loudspeaker that these men were returning home from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. The cabin filled with applause and many passengers personally thanked them for their service to the country. A couple of people in first class gave up their seats so some could ride in style on their journey home. Most of us felt warm and fuzzy. Certainly this is a better “welcome home” than Vietnam veterans received.
But beneath the good feelings are many trauma wounds that most of us cannot see. As the information trickles out about the rampage killing of Afghanis, we come to find out that the alleged shooter was on his 4th tour of duty and had suffered injury in 2 of the previous tours, including a traumatic brain injury. On top of that he may have been having some marital problems (4 tours could do that to nearly any marriage!).
While nearly all military vets do not go on shooting rampages, we do see that suicide rates have markedly increased, especially among females and reservists in active duty. One newspaper reported that an US vet kills him/herself every 80 minutes–but Iraqi vets do so every 36 minutes. Startling!
One barrier to getting help for symptoms of PTSD is that veterans are less likely to talk to civilians about their struggles. If you haven’t had to kill, it feels like you can’t understand what it is like to live with guilt, memory, of killing. This is understandable–even though civilians willing to listen can be of great help. Thus, it makes sense for every church with active military (or recently discharged) to find someone with street cred to take up the cause of talking to vets as well as their families. Most likely, someone on the front lines comes home significantly changed. If married, you can imagine how that would stress a family. This “chaplain” to vet families could be that person who is able to hear the struggles, point to God’s handiwork, and point to local services when needed.
PTSD is a destructive disease of the whole person. But, it can be treated, managed, and coped with. There are a couple of newer forms of treatment (Prolonged Exposure) that hold much promise. Let us not let these men and women continue to suffer silently. A first class seat can be a wonderful present but an ongoing presence and pursuit once home will have more lasting results.