Growing up in my household, we all knew that asking my Dad about serving as a Marine in the Korean War was futile. On very rare occasion he might talk about playing baseball as a reprieve from the “action”, but never about the horror of war that he experienced. The only photograph of him in service that I remember is one where he is in his baseball uniform with older soldiers, holding their bats.
“First ones in and the last ones out”, is one of the sparing remarks he made about the Marines. His emotional shutdown is typical of an entire generation of tough guys – dealing with whatever tragedy came their way with little or no emotion and certainly not able, allowed, or willing to talk about it.
It is now apparent that much more is underneath the surface of his unemotional façade. How could war not change a husband, new father, brother, uncle and aspiring classroom teacher? He was obsessed with the growth, education and progress of children whilst waging war against an unknown opponent in a battle zone permeated with anguish and death. For Latino soldiers and other soldiers of color, they experienced the additional pain of discrimination and exclusion upon returning home.
My father and thousands of other soldiers are owed a debt of gratitude by a nation that too rarely expresses thanks for their own safety and freedom, and instead, failed their fighters by not making available more health services, both physical and mental.
The Department of Veterans Affairs seems to be making important strides in addressing mental health conditions. It is imperative that communities support their troops dealing with trauma, especially conditions such as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.
The PTSD Journal defines Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, as a mental condition in reaction to a traumatic event over a sustained period of time. Though an official diagnosis may not occur for months after trauma or never diagnosed at all, for many soldiers, the very act of returning from a conflict zone leads directly to the condition which can manifest in a variety of ways:
• Reliving the trauma through nightmares and flashbacks
• Emotional denial and avoidance as well as avoiding situations that could trigger recall
• Insomnia and increased agitation or anger
For the current generation of returning troops, there is much more encouragement to discuss their ailments. Case in point, the Veterans Administration’s ‘About Face’ online project which features veterans, clinicians and families all talking about the effects of PTSD and the importance of treatment. In one video, Edward Renta, who served in the US Army in three tours in the Middle East, talks extensively about his resistance to admitting he had the mental condition, how his family has supported him through the process of treatment, and the positive outcome of seeking and receiving treatment. The numerous videos on the site and the diversity of those portrayed offer a stark reminder that regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, or military duties while in service, anyone can be stricken with PTSD. It is promising that a new generation of troops are more readily diagnosed and much more likely to receive treatment for the condition.
I hope it is not too late for my father’s generation to receive the message that talking about their mental state with counselors is good for them and their families. This Veteran’s Day, I will be spending some time with my father, expressing my thanks.
PTSD Journal, an online resource. Tips for supporters of the afflicted can be found at the following link: ^www.yourmedicalguide.info/10-tips-for-coping-pstd-you-should-know*
Veteran’s Affairs clinics and hospitals across the state and country offer PTSD treatment. Offices in Grand Junction, Colorado Springs and Denver all house programs. 303-399-8020
In the most severe cases, PTSD can lead to suicide. To talk with a trained counselor, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255).