Friday, December 7, 2012

Problems facing American society when dealing with military suicide, PTSD and other unseen wounds

Yes, there's a problem...several actually. Fighting in a war impacts survivors in ways that are classified as "mental illness" rather than "normal human response to fighting in a war." Some of those "mental illnesses" are called suicide and post-traumatic stress. Unfortunately, the PR campaigns meant to help raise awareness of those responses to war have made the public aware of the symptoms of war without raising awareness of the root cause: war itself. Classifying the effects of war as "mental illness" is just as sane as classifying the reasons for war as "mental illness." That's issue #1.

Issue #2: human beings -- both civilian and military -- grow through distress. We are, by and large, slow and apathetic learners, but stick our hands in the fire and we will quickly understand that learning about being burned can help us avoid future pain from that source. I believe that today's Veterans and Service members are world leaders in human growth potential because they are also on the front lines of pain and distress. Look at the amazing leadership and example of double and triple amputees. Those with the "hidden" wounds of the post-9/11 conflicts are poised to become powerful leaders as they master their wounds and integrate them into the warrior spirit that brought them to military service in the first place.

Issue #3: the 99% problem. America has become overly individualistic, probably to its detriment. Warriors fight in teams, hurt in teams and serve in teams. Take the warrior out of the team and...well, that doesn't happen. Or does it? When Service members transition to civilian life, the support system that is a part of being a warrior is gone. All of a sudden, a warrior -- who used to be part of the 1% -- is submerged in a culture that is no longer all for one and one for all. In that 99% culture, which is overly individualistic, the warrior is left to fend for herself or himself, surrounded by a civilian population with widely divergent opinions and preconceptions about Veterans. Added to that, there are laws "protecting" the "privacy" of "clients" who have been "identified" by the treatment community as "at risk" or "mentally ill" which themselves work to stigmatize the very issues that ought not be stigmatized in the public mind. This also works contrary to a more enlightened ability by the 99% to mentor Veterans into employment and civilian life, and even to re-create the kind of team structure that exists in the military work environment.

Folks, we are all unique and talented human beings, with individual secret wounds we struggle to overcome every day. Warriors' wounds won in battle are so much more significant and intense in may ways that those of civilians, the obvious difference being that the warrior has pledged their life -- and death -- to their job. I'm told by combat Veterans that we civilians can never fully appreciate that pledge, and the best we can do as civilians is to fully honor the warrior's commitment, regardless of how we feel about the war. On the other hand, as human beings, we are all brothers and sisters, and when we hurt, we need care. Let's construct better and more formal ways to deal with the issues above that also connect us more deeply and constructively as human beings -- so that those who wish to serve their military brothers and sisters have more effective ways to engage Veterans that are supportive and useful: mentors on the job, peer life coaches, friends. In this era of virtual friendships we need to remember that building real relationships takes time and trust, and it's really the responsibility of the civilian population to reach out with consistent integrity to Veterans -- one at a time -- to provide our warriors with confidence in the civilian community with whom they will spend the rest of their life as distinguished Veterans.