As we approach Veteran’s Day this next weekend, I would like to ask my church family to pray for all veterans. Besides the obvious physical disabilities many of these veterans struggle with as they return from war, there are many more with the often-unseen struggles with PTSD. This inner struggle of nightmares and daytime flashbacks can cause the veteran to be paranoid, un-trusting, isolated, and angry or irritable. It can make him/her feel hopeless, numb, and guilty in knowing that they have their lives while others they served with do not. The veteran can have loss of memory, insomnia, startle easily, and use self-destructive behaviors in attempt to numb their pain. The Veterans Administration has put out public service notices highlighting the shocking fact that twenty veterans a day commit suicide. In addition, the veteran’s family has its own inner struggles. Families have been torn apart because members of the family try to help the veteran, but just cannot seem to reach them or simply do not know how to help.
The following is information I have researched through the years as I have been writing a book about the struggles a Veteran and his family encounter: A medical definition of PTSD has been in the works since the Civil War, but symptoms of have been recognized since the 1700’s. In WWI it was called "shell shock". In WWII it was called "battle fatigue". The first psychological definition recognized by the DSMI (a book of guidelines and diagnoses used by psychiatrists) came in 1980 as a "gross stress reaction". In DSMII, this was revised as an "adjustment reaction to adult life". DSMIII finally found a suitable name for the time, calling it PTSD. The current DSM-V defines PTSD as the “exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violation” with “exposure being by direct, witnessed, or learned means.” They recognize that symptoms must “cause clinically significant distress or impairment in the individual’s social interactions, capacity to work or other important areas of functioning.” In an article I read recently from The New York Times, research of the brains of veterans with PTSD have shown a dust-like particle in the ventricles of the brain. Prior to this discovery, PTSD in veterans was treated with psychological medications, which in many cases did not help. Because of this new research, veterans with PTSD are beginning to be noticed as having a physical disorder and treated with medications which help the synapses of the brain to function more properly. This is being shown to help the veteran deal with life in a more appropriate manner by helping the veteran think more clearly, understand consequences as he/she used to, and help them control anger responses.
The Veterans Administration has estimated that up to twenty out of every 100 veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are diagnosed with PTSD. Additionally, thirty out of every 100 Vietnam veterans and twelve out of every 100 Desert Storm veterans are diagnosed with PTSD. And these are only the ones who actually seek help. What is astounding is that much of the time no one who comes in contact with the veteran or their family knows they are going through these struggles. Veterans have been trained to be strong and not show any sign of weakness and the family often puts on a front, leading those around them to believe everything is fine.
Leviticus 25:35 says, “If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you.” Veterans right amongst our church family or in our own lives may be poor in their ability to function in life. Let’s not let them struggle alone. Let us be the roots of the tree to reach out and help sustain that life.
If you come across a veteran, recognize that they may have struggles and simply show some kindness. They and their families need to know they are not alone and this simple act can provide an invitation to meet someone who may shine a light in their life one day.
Veteran’s Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255
Jerry and Jamie Baker have been married for 30 years and have two children, two granddaughters and a grandchild on the way. Jerry is retired from the Army after serving his country for 22 years and participating in three wars. He has suffered with PTSD for many years, but with the right medication and therapy, he is now learning to manage symptoms. Jamie has been a Nurse Practitioner for ten years.