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America's Newst Combat Veteran

By Dr Mike Colson

When the blush is off the rose and we find ourselves home at last – whether from deployment, combat, duty in some seeming forgotten corner of the globe, or even stationed on a foreign with an Anthony’s Pizza – it is normal to feel like we are somehow turned inside out. I ask the question when I brief soldiers returning to CONUS; “Are you feeling different these days?” Invariably they answer yes but are somewhat unsure of why they feel this way or that. PTSDresources.org wants to help military members, their families and loved ones understand what has taken place, why we often do feel different, and what can be done once we’ve finally had a few nights sleep in our own bed. So let’s begin by examining issues GWOT veteran’s can expect to engage with as a direct result of their service to this country during this global war on terror.

When we raise our right hand and swear allegiance to the Constitution of the United States, we do so for the very best reasons. As America’s newest war veteran, we stand as a sentinel to faith in our country’s ideals and are prepared to stand in the breach and execute the will of a good government. We may not have run fast enough past the recruiter’s door prior to joining up but we certainly can be classified as America’s high quality youth now that we are in service. And it is important to remember that we, as military servants and military family members, are special people who for whatever reason have a higher than normal does of interest in service above self. That is a good thing! It is also a prime reason why we can become traumatized by that very same service. Think about the 100% you give to serve. If you give 100% to anything, what do you have left over for yourself? The answer is obvious…nothing. GWOT veterans, according to a recent New England Journal of Medicine (http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/351/1/13) who are the most likely to traumatized by their service are the least likely to get some (or any!) kind of support for what can be called symptomatic readjustment /PTSD concerns. In another New England Journal of Medicine article (http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/351/1/75) the psychiatric cost of war is explored, but what is particularly useful about this research is that it points out that the number once reason for not getting support is stigma…being seen to be weak in the face of this new, often misunderstood, and certainly overly dramatized malady…i.e. post-combat and deployment readjustment.

When we get the call-up for war it’s “Hi ho hi ho and off to war we go” and that pretty much holds steady until our hooch mates funk starts burning the hair out of our nostrils! Sure, there is a honeymoon phase when the food doesn’t taste so bad, the water is OK, the mission isn’t too critical, and R & R is easily come by. But when all that good stuff ends and we are forced to life the deployment day and night, then we get to the disillusionment phase. Many get her fairly quickly and dark thoughts peppered with stinking thinking rules. Of course, when we come home we are supposed to start the rebuilding phase and that is when readjustment and symptoms associated with PTSD rear their ugly head. Lack of sleep, excessive vigilance, trembling hands, being startled by noise and crowds, the need for isolation, unexpected anger, fears, inability to sleep or relax, and other factors start degrading our quality of life. Most of us experience this when we get home and the longer we leave it the greater risk we run of it taking root in lives for a good long time. We have been changed and knowing how and why is important.

If you are feeling different these days…you ought to. If you or someone you love and care about has been deployed and served in the Global War on Terrorism, the expectation is that their lives have been radically and dramatically altered as a direct result of their good service. PTSDresources.org is one source – along with many others – that can help you both understand and then get support to “Get Home, All the Way Home” with your hopes, goals, dreams, and family intact.