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.
Tonight I will assigned my Counseling & Physiology students a response paper to the following case study. As you read this fictional case, consider how you might answer these two questions:
- What are the spiritual issues in this case and how do you consider Tim’s limitations in considering these spiritual issues? What is his personal accountability in light of his functional limitations and injury?
- How might you advise Tim’s wife and pastor as they struggle to understand and respond to Tim’s inappropriate behavior?
Tim is a 34-year-old, married man and deacon in his church. Prior to a serious car accident 2 years ago, Tim was a successful general contractor generating income over $200,000 a year. 2 years ago, Tim suffered a traumatic brain injury when a drunk driver, traveling at a very high rate of speed, slammed into his vehicle. Damage to his brain was located in the frontal and temporal lobes. Tim spent a total of six months in the hospital and in rehab. Initially, He was in a coma for 3 weeks and not expected to recover. However, he did emerge from unconsciousness and with rehab regained his capacities to walk and talk. His memory is mostly intact, missing only the week prior to the accident and the five weeks post accident. He seems to be able to form new memories but complains that he has to write everything down or he will forget tasks. He also complains that it is hard for him to find words. His friends notice that his speech is slower now. He is oriented to person, place, and time.
Tim’s wife and pastor ask you to meet with him. Tim complies. In session he is affable, talkative, but unsure why others think he needs counseling. He notes that he works hard every day, uses his daily contacts in business to talk about God’s miraculous work in his life. He admits that he smokes now and should quit but that shouldn’t be reason enough to warrant counseling. He signs a release to talk to his wife and pastor.
You learn from his wife that Tim has numerous problems that did not exist prior to the accident. Most notably: he doesn’t complete work; fails to bill clients properly; seems to over-estimate what he can complete; work done does not meet his pre-accident quality; he is easily angered and even aggressive; he curses and smokes 2-3 packs per day (none prior to accident); he drinks; he spends beyond his means; he has periods of deep depression; he engages in foul language about sex; is demanding of sexual activity with his wife (but cannot perform since the accident); he flirts with other women.
Tim refuses to return for further appointments. His wife and pastor come to you to discuss options and how to think about Tim’s behavior. The church board has removed Tim from his diaconal position this week and is likely to initiate church discipline after it was discovered that he made a sexual comment to an 18-year-old girl (he commented (spoke admiringly) about her breast size).