Thursday, July 21, 2011

Whitewashing Over Mental Illness

When I came back from Iraq in September 2005, we were sent through a series of redeployment screenings. The most horrific of all things I witnessed of the red tape while in the Army was the way they herded us through and passively suggested we lie about our conditions. They rewarded those who lied and "checked the block" let them go home earlier than those who told the truth.
The test was one that asked a series of questions that relate to what we had experienced the previous year. We were infantryman and they were treating us like Girl Scouts; if we did what they said, we got a reward. I was among the few who got no reward due to my truthful nature.
I had, and still am without, no shame about telling a stranger about what I did. I committed murder in the name of freedom. I pulled innocent people from their homes because we were terrified that they may be bad. I helped make enemies out of people who just wanted to go about their lives. Men whose heads had been cut off had been blown up, from IEDs under them, when family went to retrieve the body; these horrors are commonplace in war in my experience.
When we rounded up the men, we treated them like cattle; ultimate hypocrisy on my part in that I would never let people do to me what I've done to others. We did it to protect ourselves, and sometimes we may have been right, but more often than not we were recreating the horrible events that the nazis did in the late 1930s and throughout the 1940s. The pleas of the old men are haunting, just as the screams of the children as we took away their fathers and brothers.
Back to the screenings: those of us who answered truthfully about what we did, saw, felt and experienced while we sleep were kept there for several hours more. We had to speak to a series of counselors, social workers and a chaplain. we were the bastards who told what we saw.
The next part is how they asked us to explain away our nightmares, flashbacks, violent tendencies, suicidal thoughts and murderous dreams. I answered "yes" to the question, "in the past two weeks, have you thought about hurting yourself or someone else?" The person whom I spoke with later was happy to remove the red flag once I told them my logic; I may imagine it, but it doesn't mean I'm really going to do it. She was happy to do this with every red flag on my sheet.
Over the course of the time, they managed to get me to explain all my symptoms away and suddenly, according to my medical records, i was 100% fine and dandy. Of the men who were made to take this same course, three are dead today. One sought out death by repeated deployments and two others took their own lives with firearms. The point is that they should have been more prudent with the data given on testing.
The modern stigma that exists about soldiers seeking help is one of the worst ones that can exist. The men and women who are experiencing bloodshed and who are taken from their loved ones deserve to be looked after. Instead, we get wrung out like a sponge and promptly discarded.
I found out about the extent of the cover-up when I went to the VA (department of veterans affairs) after getting out of the service. They told me that I had no evidence of having nightmares, flashbacks or of being hyper-vigilant. This shocked me and was only taken seriously once they interviewed my wife. She told them how I am, which may not be so bad most of the time, and how I manage to wake up screaming or gasping from time to time.
While few people will read this and do anything with it, those who have loved ones coming back from war or who have problems now, will know how serious it is. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is as deadly as a round from an AK-47 or an IED. If you know someone who suffers from this disease, be there to listen to them. Also, don't be scared to act.
In August of 2010 a man, who used to be a soldier of mine, killed himself after he was refused psychiatric help. He wanted to see his daughter after a year-long deployment and his ex-wife insisted upon getting counseling. He tried....

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