On Combat Stress and PTSD

Memories of combat and related involuntary responses also can be scary and uncomfortable, but most people’s minds begin to “heal” on their own in a matter of weeks or months. Chronic PTSD, on the other, can cause quite severe problems for those who experience it. There is hope even for those who suffer PTSD. If you think you need some help making your life right, talk to somebody. “I will never accept defeat. I will never quit.” You didn’t quit when things got tough in combat. Don’t quit now until you find the help you need.

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Grim at BlackFive writes “On PTSD, or more properly, on Coming Home.” His post is a response to Kat’s commentary at veterans’ mental health care at Castle Argghhh! Grim also references his previous post on “The Smell of Death.” To me, the smells of combat were among the most vivid sensory experiences of the war. And Kat responds the Grim’s essay by distinguishing between acute, short-term Post Traumatic Stress – which many people will experience to some degree – and the longer-term, chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). All very well worth reading – especially if you are a combat vet still struggling with coming home.

Grim mentions that the survival skills that we learn in combat either need to be turned off or adapted when we get home. The Army’s Battlemind training site has some valuable information on making these transitions.

Memories of combat and related involuntary responses also can be scary and uncomfortable, but most people’s minds begin to “heal” on their own in a matter of weeks or months. Chronic PTSD, on the other, can cause quite severe problems for those who experience it. There is hope even for those who suffer PTSD.

If you think you need some help making your life right, talk to somebody. Start with a trusted buddy – preferably another combat vet – who will listen to you. If that doesn’t do the job, don’t stop until you find something does. Talk to a chaplain. Talk to a behavioral health specialist. If you’re active duty, call Military OneSource. Find a support group on post or at a local church. If you’re out of uniform, find a support group through the Veterans Administration. “I will never accept defeat. I will never quit.” You didn’t quit when things got tough in combat. Don’t quit now until you find the help you need. [See links to other resources below.]

Not everything works the same for everyone. When I returned from Iraq, it was sing hymns in church that helped me the most. Soldiers sometimes have ugly or scary matters to work through, but so do other members of the God’s family. Churches should not expect combat veterans to be more – or less – broken than the rest of God’s people. All combat veterans – like all people – need God’s grace. The particular occasion of that need is the only thing which separates the Soldier from others. A few veterans will need intensive care for the soul that includes medical help. (Medication, for example, can help treat underlying depression, anxiety or other conditions). All Christian vets will need the ordinary means of grace: to share the fellowship of the table, to hear the word proclaimed, to join in the prayer of the church, to be welcomed into fellowship and caring conversation. These are all ordinary means by which God may work in the life of a combat veteran.

[For those who want to understand the biological and mental aspects of of combat more fully, I recommended Dave Grossman‘s books On Killing and On Combat. Grim and Grossman disagree somewhat on the human instinct to kill, and I’ll leave that discussion for another day. I especially recommend On Combat for those preparing to go into harm’s way. A little psychological vaccination goes a long way toward preventing more harm later. ]

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UPDATE:

The Denizens at Castle Argghhh! give the bottom line. I hope they don’t mind if I simply repost Coming Home: The Final Mission below.

Every deployed military service member and veteran has one final, over arching mission: to come home as physically and mentally fit as possible. While we are quick to recognize that physical wounds occur in combat, we aren’t always willing to look at our mental or emotional health, but it is imperative for completing the mission. By working together, we can make “coming home” a successful mission.

Please review the following mission information:

PTSD: Facts and Information

NCPTSD Fact Sheet:
The Impact of Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq

Returning From a Warzone:
Guide for Military Personnel for Transitioning Home

Families are part of the final mission and can assist in transition by being prepared with information:

Returning From a Warzone:
Guide for Families on Transitioning Home

Where To Get Help

Crisis Intervention Hotline:
1-800-273-TALK
(1-800-273-8255)