The New York Times reported on Tuesday that the families of our troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan face overwhelming challenges dealing with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, and serious wounds, especially traumatic brain injury.
The article, A soldier back home and damaged, a family interrupted, by Catrin Einhorn, tells the story of two women April Marcum and Rosie Babin, who are struggling to adjust to the new reality of their lives after their loved returned from war wounded.
April and Tom Marcum were high school sweethearts with a storybook marriage. But since 2008, after Tom Marcum, an Air Force weapons specialist, came back from his second tour in Iraq with a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, April Marcum had to quit her job as a teacher so she could care for him.
“Only the dead have seen the end of war.”
Rosie Babin’s son, Alan, was shot in the abdomen in 2003. Since then he has had “more than 70 operations and spent two years in hospitals.”
Before Alan was wounded, Babin managed an accounting office. Now she is a full time care giver for her son, who is confined to wheelchair and has only regained some speech capability. Babin says, “I felt like I went from this high-energy, force-to-be-reckoned-with businesswoman to a casualty of war.”
The financial and emotional stress for both families has been enormous.
The slide show, which accompanies the article, tells how the families of former Navy corpsman Ryan McNabb, U.S. Army Maj. Jeff Hall, and former U.S. Marine Sgt. Joe Callan, struggle to deal with the devastating effect that their loved one’s post-traumatic stress disorder has had on their lives.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is as old as war itself, and has been known by many names. In World War I it was called Shell Shock; in World War II it was called Battle Fatigue. But it was only recognized as a medical disorder in 1980, when PTSD was included in the third edition of the APA Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III).
For combat veterans, you never forget the first time you met someone who had that thousand mile stare and you realized that they have experienced things you couldn’t imagine in your wildest dreams.
And you never forget the moment when you realize that the FNGs (F_ _ king New Guys) get a strange look on their faces and step out of your way when they you meet, and it dawns on you that they see you as the strange guy with the thousand mile stare.
Those two moments are like bookends at either side of the experience that changed your life forever.
Unfortunately, it isn’t as neat as all that. Everybody in a combat zone shares a common experience, shit happens, people die. But when you get home, your family doesn’t understand why you won’t talk about it; why you sit alone in the back yard or in the garage or in your bedroom.
But now old friends are acting strange.
They shake their heads; they say I’ve changed.
Well something’s lost but something’s gained,
In living every day.
Both Sides Now
According to an April 2008 study by the RAND Corp, Invisible Wounds of War, almost 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffer from PTSD after returning home.
That’s a lot of people.
Last May, Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled in favor of two veterans groups that had filed a lawsuit against the Veterans Administration, in which they argued that delays in the process of evaluating and treating returning veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are systematic
In his 140 page ruling, Judge Reinhardt ordering the VA to drastically overhaul its mental health care system and accusing it of “unchecked incompetence.”
“On an average day, eighteen veterans of our nation’s armed forces take their own lives. Of those, roughly one quarter are enrolled with the Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) health care system. Among all veterans enrolled in the VA system, an additional 1,000 attempt suicide each month.”
As a nation, how did we let ourselves get to the point where we let the families of our troops bear the financial and emotional burdens of war?
Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans stood up for us, now it is time to stand up for them.
Where do we stand on this issue as Americans? Where do we stand as human beings?
It isn’t enough to wave the flag on the 9/11 anniversary, or to stand in silent vigil at the 9/11 statues downtown. That’s the easy way out. That’s why the families of our combat veterans are stuck with bearing the financial and emotional burden of caring for or troops when they come home.
Contact the Vietnam Veterans of America or the Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America for more information about what you can do to help.
Contact your Senators and Representative and demand that they do more.
There’s a war going on, and whether you support the war or oppose the war, don’t forget that the combat veterans have been to hell and back for us. They need our support when they come home.