I recently watched a 2 hour CE (made free by the APA until 12/31/12) about the common stresses of military personnel and their families. While it didn’t have any information on particular counseling interventions, it did do a decent job giving a brief overview of military lingo and differences between the branches (e.g., why you would NEVER want to refer to a Marine as a soldier). The speaker is from the Deployment Psychology training institute and that site will provide you with ample clinical training continuing education. Some of the on-line trainings are free (unless you want CE credits).
Tag Archives: Military
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.
I’m thinking about brain injuries today. On Sunday one of my son’s teammates got carted off the diamond after falling on his head while trying to make a play. Though scary, it seems he did not sustain an injury other than a headache. At least that what the initial scans suggest. Then today I heard a story on NPR about brain injuries of soldiers experiencing a “concussive” event–those who survived roadside bombs. These soldiers may not have been pierced by shrapnel and may not have had their heads slam into something (two obvious causes of TBI) but may have experienced injury from the impulse of the blast of energy hitting their brain. Pro Publica explains the injury and has the larger story about the many soldiers who fail to be properly diagnosed and treated in military care centers.
It stands to reason why this would happen. Minor brain damage is hard to quantify. Brain scans may not pick up these minor changes. The person isn’t missing a limb which visually reminds others of injuries. Some of the symptoms are similar to other mental health problems and so providers may wonder whether injuries are physiological or psychological.
Some of you have been around long enough to remember MBD or minimal brain dysfunction. This was a term used in the 1960s for a wide variety of problems that now go under the name of ADHD. MBD was a way of signaling that something wasn’t right in the brain even though no one could actually pin point where the problem lay. At this point we may not have ways to identify damage to cells (rather than whole structures) and cell communication and so much use the term concussion or minor TBI (mTBI).
Worse than missing the diagnosis is not having great solutions to deal with the wide variety of symptoms. Our best solution for civilian sports related concussions is to avoid having a second, even minor, head bump. We do so by banning participation in sports for a couple of weeks. It is often these second or third bumps that do the worst of the damage. But I suspect that having a soldier sit in Iraq for a couple of weeks after being dazed by a blast will not be anyone’s desire.
Caught a portion of the PBS Frontline show, The Wounded Platoon, documenting the extensive combat trauma in the 3rd Platoon, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry stationed in Fort Carson, CO. Click the above link to watch it on-line if you missed it.
It is heartbreaking and mind-boggling to consider that so many of these young men are now in jail or dead due to suicide. The PTSD is evident to all. The men admit to massive drug and alcohol addiction, trauma, domestic violence, etc. What is even more mind-boggling is the interviews with some of the platoon leaders–some of whom are quite matter of fact. Yes, they say, it is bad. But it is part of what we get. Too much demand for soldiers, too few to meet the demand. This equals spending longer rotations in theatre thus more PTSD.
They discuss the amount of psychiatric meds prescribed for these soldiers while in Iraq. While this means they are getting some treatment, others see this as merely allowing them to suffer more damage while still being able to fight the next day.
I’m thankful for my freedom in the US. But never forget the cost. And do remember that few of these men get any decent treatment once they return.