The Blame Game with PTSD and Veterans
Since the beginning of 2012, we have seen an increase of crimes with veterans, and the media is all too quick to tell us about these “monsters” in our midst. It seems it’s been one incident after another starting with the Mount Rainer murder in January to the JetBlue pilot who had a mental breakdown mid-flight. Before there was even any history known about this pilot, an expert said in an interview that PTSD could be a possible cause. “I don’t know if this guy had a military history or a horrible trauma in the past that could have triggered this,” said Una McCann, director of the Anxiety Disorders Clinic at Johns Hopkins Medical Institution. A couple of days later the media reported that the pilot did not have any military experience whatsoever. PTSD being the cause of this melt down was pure conjecture.
The media portrays these veterans as being nothing more than trained killing machines who are unable to stop themselves from committing these atrocities, and they are quick to point their fingers at post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as the common cause. But the truth is, these cases are very extreme examples of violent behavior, and for every one of them that winds up in the headlines, there are hundreds more veterans with no problems whatsoever as well as those who do have PTSD but are getting help for it.
It doesn’t matter how many times the experts say these things are rare, the perception is out there that these heroes have now turned into monsters. It is a stigma that is running rampant in this country. The media is doing nothing but feeding that frenzy, which is apparent with the airing of Dr. Phil’s show “From Heroes To Monsters”. Veterans were outraged at this show.
One veteran said, “The day the show aired I was upset watching it. My reaction (anger, disappointment) came during the part where the guy set the wife on fire. Near tears I said, ‘This is all they will ever see us as now.’ Then watching that wife speak, I flew into a rage when she said, ‘I know when he gets out he will finish the job.’ Pissed now, [I] started yelling at the TV, ‘You don’t even know if he has PTSD, and the wife just put the nail in the coffin with the “finish the job when he gets out,” which isn’t even PTSD!’ Not even 5 min later my family was calling wanting to know even though I am doing better if I get triggered do they need to worry about me doing that to my wife. That is the perception that we are all so upset with. He showed nothing positive or any vets that had been real bad that were doing better. Meant to or not, he just feed into the public perception of us being monsters. We aren’t; we are injured.”
The show caused such uproar in the military and military families community about vets being portrayed as “monsters” that Dr. Phil changed the name of the show. But the damage had already been done.
Part of poor public perception of veterans with PTSD has to do with the stigma associated with the term “disorder.” People with mental disorders are often times viewed as crazy, dangerous, strange, nuts, loony, weird, or sick in the head. The types of disorder with which most people are familiar are bi-polar, obsessive-compulsive disorder, sexual disorders, personality disorders, and schizophrenia. This covers everything from a friend who is struggling with depression to such notable criminals as Jeffery Dahmer and Ted Bundy. None of these disorders are things that were caused by anything that happened to a person. They are conditions that were with the person since birth and manifested at some point in the person’s life. By contrast, PTSD is a condition that is brought about by an external factor, namely a traumatic event or events that causes actual injury to the brain.
Given all that the word “disorder” calls to mind in the average person on the street, referring to the injuries a veteran receives during service to our country by this word is an insult and an outrage. These veterans deserve better. They deserve to have the care they need to function and for the road to that care to be as free of obstacles as possible, and that includes reducing the stigma associated with injury in both the minds of the veterans themselves and in the minds of their friends and family. But the fact remains that many are not getting help, military criminal behavior is on the rise especially domestic violence, and anyone who has a chance to make any real changes are too busy blaming someone else.
Evidence of the hidden problem shows up in the suicide rates first and foremost. Our vets are dying at a rate of 18 per day, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg since only 16 states are reporting, according to a CNAF.org policy brief. This translates into an average of a suicide every 80 minutes. Many of these suicides are happening during the time between being in the military (and thus covered by that medical care) and getting in to see the VA, if they even elect to seek treatment from the VA because going there is voluntary, not mandatory.
Lacking medical care, it is the spouses and other family members near the vet who are the only ones able to see the great need for assistance. By enlisting the help of those close to the veteran in the plan for care, there is a greater chance that the vet will seek much-needed help and learn how to effectively deal with this condition instead of possibly spiraling out of control to headline-grabbing violence or suicide. But as we saw in the case in Gilroy, Cali. where a vet killed his mother and 11-year-old sister, as well as himself, often times there is no outlet when a spouse or family member tries seeking help. In that case, the vet’s mother attempted to call the police but was told that the vet did not seem dangerous and did not meet the criteria to place on psychiatric hold. If she had been able to get assistance, that tragedy could have been averted.
What is most important to keep in mind is that these things can happen if a situation is allowed to escalate. However, well before events turn that violent, there is a lot that can happen behind closed doors that is damaging to the family as well as to the vet, and the spouses and other caregivers need to have a safety net.
For years spouses and caregivers have had their hands tied as far as being able to get help and have had limited options. Before any help could be given, the veteran had to realize something was wrong and want to get help. A vet could also be ordered to get help, but for that to happen, the vet had to be suicidal or get in trouble with the law. The spouses have to make a choice in putting the veteran in jail or remain silent because there is no one to help. Spouses have had to watch their loved ones suffer, spiral out of control, and destroy the entire family, all the while praying that they hit some sort of rock-bottom before they kill themselves or someone else.
A recently released study titled “Want to help a vet with PTSD? Help the families.” In the study it goes on to state, “In 2001, the Veterans Health Administration named family participation in veterans’ care among its priorities for services. Results from this review of the literature suggests, however, that the family is less likely to have the resources or ability to provide that care if family members are suffering from significant psychological distress due to the challenges of living with someone with PTSD. Thus, this emphasis on familial involvement in care may overload already stressed caregivers in the case of PTSD veterans’ families. Currently, there is a lack of services specifically targeting social and skills building activities tailored for the PTSD family suffering from demonstrable isolation. These services must consider the family members as the primary recipient of care and the reduction in the family member’s distress as the primary outcome in the intervention. Although the family relationships with the veteran would not be the primary focus in such programming, the direct benefit to the veteran of improving family life and supports would be substantial and the caregiving ability of the family would increase.” They have known this for 11 years and yet very little has been done to help the situation.
Enough is enough. The military and government’s way of handling this epidemic is not working, especially since their methods are so tightly tied to budgets. Recent statistics show that as many as 40% of Army soldiers have had their PTSD diagnosis returned after it was stripped from them to save money . Another study shows how the Defense Department violated regulations by discharging 31,000 service members from 2001 to 2010 because of “personality disorders.” While PTSD constitutes a medical disability, personality-related diagnoses are considered pre-existing conditions by the Defense Department. However, if a person has a personality disorder, he or she would not have been likely to be enlisted in the first place.
So where exactly does the blame fall in this?
Army Master resilience training – The idea is to train military personnel to become more psychologically fit, so it can hopefully prevent the psychological effects of warfare from turning into post-traumatic stress disorder. US Department of Defense, in conjunction with the Veterans Administration, agree with Martin Seligman who says, “We can teach people to recognize the most catastrophic, unrealistic things they say to themselves when adversity strikes and to argue against the most catastrophic thoughts; realistically, to put them into perspective. This is a well-defined technique that’s been validated with tens-of-thousands of people in cognitive therapy procedures.” http://positivepsychologynews.com/news/sherri-fisher/200911255563
Army – There is a rampant practice of diagnosing soldiers with other psychological disorders so the Army does not have to pay disability. http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/318575/20120323/army-reviews-ptsd-diagnostic-practices.htm
Army- By changing the name of PTSD from disorder to injury, more soldiers will receive help because it will reduce the stigma with PTSD. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) is responsible for this change. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/military/jan-june12/ptsd_05-04.html
Army- The family needs resilience training to cope with being military family. http://fhp.osd.mil/pdhrainfo/media/Spouse_Battlemind_Training_Postdeployment_Brochure.pdf
Military- Once the soldiers are out of service, they become the responsibility of Veterans Affairs.
APA – There is no problem with the name PTSD. The problem lies with the military not taking care of soldiers who return with PTSD. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/2012/05/key-psychiatric-doctor-rejects-name-change-for-ptsd.html
APA – The fault also lies with the government for not giving the Purple Heart to military who have PTSD. . http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/2012/05/key-psychiatric-doctor-rejects-name-change-for-ptsd.html
Veterans Administration – Even though it is now known the way to help military with PTSD is to gain support of the spouses and other caretakers, the VA doesn’t have the workforce or funds to treat the family. http://vets.syr.edu/_assets/researchdocs/researchbriefs/Research%20Brief%20Galovski_2004.pdf
All one hears is a lot of it’s-not-our-fault, blame-the-next-person, pass-the-buck thinking. No one is stepping up and saying, “It doesn’t matter whose fault it is. We will do this to help our nation’s heroes.” No one is going to bat for these brave men and women, and because of that, our returning military members are left falling through the cracks and spiraling out of control. The veterans and their families are the ones left to pay the price.