Memorial Day 2012: It's Time to Properly Honor Our Veterans with PTSD

Memorial Day was set aside as a day of remembrance for those who have died while serving our country. Years after year, we make sure that this day is one when we give our fallen soldiers respect. Even though we show our active, retired, and fallen soldiers much love, it is my belief that we often forget that a soldier will never again be a true civilian; especially if these men and women are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). When you suffer from PTSD, it’s as if you never left the battleground. 

PTSD, which also goes by the name shell shock or battle fatigue syndrome, is a serious condition that can develop after a person has experienced or witnessed a traumatic or terrifying event in which serious physical harm occurred or was threatened. There are different types of PTSD, but all affect your way of life. Though PTSD was first brought to the attention of the medical community by war veterans anyone who has suffered a traumatic even can develop it. 

In the U.S., 70% of adults have experienced some type of traumatic event and up to 20% of these people go on to develop PTSD. When a person has PTSD, they may experience shock anger, nervousness, fear, and even guilt. Young children with PTSD may suffer developmentally in areas such as toilet training, or motor skills and language. In 2010, the number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who were being treated as PTSD patients by the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) had increased from 134,000 in June 2009 to 143,530 in January 2010. Keep in mind, these are just the soldiers that sought out treatment. It has been proven that these numbers increase as soldiers are sent on multiple deployments, or tours. I believe that life’s issues mixed with the pressures of war are what made Robert Bales lose it back in March.

Often times, these soldiers come home and don’t receive the treatment they so badly deserve which causes a horrible domino effect. Many self-medicate and fall into alcoholism and drug addiction which brings crime, domestic violence, and even suicide. One horrible example occurred in 2008, 26-year-old John Needham beat his girlfriend, 19-year-old Jacqwelyn Villagomez, to death with his bare hands. Needham describes how he just snapped one day during an argument they were having. His family said how he never drank before leaving for the military, but when he came back it seemed that drinking was all he did. It seems as if life’s issues were difficult enough without visions of death in your head. Needham said, "I was trained to kill ... I come home. I can't adjust to regular civilian lifestyle…I spun out of control. I needed help." It’s so sad to know that this was a man who was perfectly fine before leaving for war and now he must live the rest of his life knowing that his mental instability caused his downfall.

Though the VA is receiving funding and the Pentagon is working to develop better treatment methods, the number of patients is overwhelming the system at an alarming rate. These men, women, and families have to fight the battlefield at the dinner table and it’s time more people really sat and thought about that. Imagine being a man or woman who can’t erase death and destruction from your thoughts, but you’re trying to be a spouse and raise a family. I believe if we took more time to put ourselves in other’s shoes, then maybe we could begin to understand each other. Perhaps this Memorial Day we should all take a moment to do just that.