Alternet published a fascinating expose of the hidden costs of our overseas conflicts in terms of how it impacts the psyche of our soldiers once they return from combat. Combat related stress once known as “battle fatigue” or “shellshocked” was eventually given a proper classification by psychiatrists during the Vietnam era and is now known as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). The story tells the tale of a Marine named Wayne McMahon who returned from Afghanistan after much experience in combat. Upon his return, and after many soldiers return from war, the Veterans frequently become preoccupied with danger, become paranoid, have trouble sleeping, experience violent outbursts, react inappropriately with combat skills, and in many ways act as though they are still overseas in a combat situation. McMahon like many other veterans saw horrific things in combat and experienced many “stressors” as the VA refers to such events. One of the only ways to cope with such stress and PTSD is through alcohol, and McMahon abused unique concoctions while in the military by fermenting fruit juice with yeast so that he could get some sleep.
The story makes the apt point that we live in a culture that is steeped with machoism and most men will deny they have a problem and will fail to get treated. Exacerbating the problem is the fact that the military and society stigmatizes the diagnosis and treatment of such problems. In 2008, the Rand Corp. estimated that 300,000 soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan will suffer from post-traumatic stress issues. PTSD often causes a downward spiral where many Veterans end up behind bars. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that in 2004, there were 140,000 veterans in the nation’s prisons — or about 10 percent of the total prison population. By 2007, that number had risen to 156,100, but the prison population overall had increased, so the relative share of vets in the population remained unchanged. Many of those that suffer from PTSD will end up in the criminal justice system where help will typically be unavailable. McMahon is actually lucky since he was incarcerated in NY where there are programs to rehabilitate veterans with PTSD. The article is excellent and is written by a widow of a Veteran who had PTSD and committed suicide.