April 10, 2012

Cardinal Politics: The long-term effects of PTSD

By Lee Cole–

War comes to us in images, in video montages with accompanying statistics. We hear names and numbers, accounts of atrocities, but the horror of war cannot be captured in a five-minute segment on a 24-hour news network, especially when placed alongside stories about the Kardashians. For those of us safely tucked away in our homes, war goes away when we turn off our televisions. For so many of our veterans – especially those who have recently served in Afghanistan or Iraq – the traumatic experience of combat remains vivid long after returning home.

On the night of March 11, 17 Afghan civilians were murdered, nine of them children. Staff Sergeant Robert Bales is accused of committing the massacre. His attorney has cited traumatic events triggering anxiety and depression as the causes. Whether or not Bales turns out to have been under mental duress, the case highlights a growing problem in the American military: post-traumatic stress disorder.

PTSD affects as many as one in five veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Symptoms include recurring nightmares, jumping at loud noises, flashbacks and severe anxiety and depression. In addition, the suicide rate among veterans is high, with more than 2,000 committing suicide in the past 10 years.

The military has done a lot in recent years to make help available for veterans suffering from PTSD, but the problem persists. Some of these men and women have served multiple tours and have witnessed extraordinary violence.

It seems that at this point, the surest way to prevent as many cases of PTSD as possible is to bring our troops home and out of harm’s way. President Barack Obama is in the process of removing our forces from overseas, but recent difficulties may ensure American presence in both countries for a long while. It is unacceptable to ask our servicemen and women to continue fighting wars in the Middle East over oil. As a country, we have been at war now for over 10 years. Is it any wonder that our troops are coming home with PTSD with the kind of burden that is being placed on them?

As ordinary citizens and civilians, we can’t understand the kinds of sacrifices our veterans have made. The best we can do is think twice before we offer our support to a political candidate that would send us to war carelessly or hastily. As long as there are wars to be fought, the trauma that gives rise to PTSD will be there for our veterans. The best prescription for PTSD among veterans might be a dose of peace.

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