The recent shootings at Fort Hood have put Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the headlines again.
The shooter, Specialist Ivan Lopez, who served in Iraq in 2011, was undergoing diagnosis for PTSD, when he killed three soldiers and wounded 16 other people.
The question is; will this horrible incident help bring about an attitude change in the military, or will the whole issue get swept under the rug again, as it has been so often in the past.
Research indicates that 20% of the troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD.
But the entire Department of Defense seems incapable of understanding what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder really is and how to deal with the thousands of active duty servicemen and women who suffer from PTSD after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is in the same boat. In a report released in February, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) indicates that the VA’s effort to reduce the huge backlog of claims has stalled.
By the VA’s rules, a claim isn’t even considered to be backlogged unless it has been pending for more than 125 days. That’s more than four months.
According to an earlier IAVA report issued last year, by March 2013, the VA had fallen behind in the processing of more than 600,000 claims submitted by veterans who were seeking VA compensation for a service-related medical problems.
The IAVA report made national headlines, and the VA bureaucracy was forced to respond. By a Herculean effort, the VA was able to reduce the backlog to about 400,000 cases. But then the effort ran out of steam and stalled.
To make matters worse, in addition to the 400,000 veterans with backlogged claims, another 265,000 veterans are waiting to hear about the appeals they filed with the VA, because their claims for disability benefits were either denied or reduced.
The IAVA report states that:
“As of December 2013, over 265,000 appeals were waiting for a decision”
“Given the complexity of the appeals system, it can take years for a veteran entering that process to emerge with a decision. Between 2000 and 2012 the total time to appeal a claim to Board of Veterans’ Appeals increased by 50%, from 1131 days to 1698 days, translating to a four or five year wait time for a final decision on an appeal.”
The root of the problem is that American society, and especially the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs, treat PTSD as a disorder rather than a wound.
America treats PTSD as a disorder rather than a wound.
The word “disorder” strongly suggests that the person with PTSD is somehow responsible for the problem; it’s their fault that they are not functioning normally.
One change that might would be for the medical community to start referring to the condition as a Post Traumatic Stress Injury instead of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Medically, veterans who return from combat with PTSD are just as wounded as their fellow soldiers who have been shot.
You can be classified as 10% disabled because of a gunshot wound, and you can be classified as 10% disabled because of PTSD.
You can also be classified as 100% disabled because of a gunshot wound, and you can be classified as 100% disabled because of PTSD.
It depends on the severity of the wound.
But for some inexplicable reason, a veteran with a 60% disability because of a gunshot wound is treated entirely differently than a veteran with a 60% disability because of PTSD.
There is a stigma attached to PTSD and, for veterans, that stigma starts with the military’s attitude toward PTSD.
The root of the problem for veterans with PTSD is that the Department of Defense does not award a medal to servicemen and women who return from combat with PTSD.
The military awards medals for all sorts of things, except PTSD. There are medals serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, just as there were medals for serving in Vietnam, Korea, and World War II.
There’s even a medal for being on active duty during wartime, even if you never served in a combat zone.
But there is no medal to recognize that servicemen and women with PTSD have ben grievously wounded and will suffer the consequences for the rest of their lives.
The VA recognizes PTSD as a disability, and PTSD qualifies you for membership in the Disabled American Veterans (DAV).
But the Department of Defense does not recognize PTSD at all. No wonder the Department of Defense is struggling to deal with the servicemen and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD.
According to the Department of Defense, the American military does not award the Purple Heart for PTSD because PTSD, “is not a wound intentionally caused by the enemy.”
Then who caused it? Mickey Mouse?
Well Mickey Mouse is definitely a good description of the way both the DOD and the VA treat PTSD.
The DOD ignores PTSD and hopes it will go away. The VA puts veterans with PTSD bureaucratic nightmare.
A nationwide poll of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans conducted by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation, “reveals the profound and enduring effects of war on the 2.6 million who have served” in those wars.
Here are some of the questions in the poll and how the veterans answered those questions.
Q: Relative to how it serves previous generations of veterans, do you think the VA puts too much focus, not enough focus, or about the right amount of focus on the needs of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan?
Not enough; was the answer given by 44% of the veterans.
Q: (IF NOT ON ACTIVE DUTY) After your active duty military service, would you say your re-adjustment to civilian life was very easy, somewhat easy, somewhat difficult or very difficult?
Often/sometimes: was the answer given by 49% of the veterans.
Q: How often would you say you think about your service in the Iraq and/or Afghan war(s)? Would you say every day, a few days a week, once a week, a few times a month, or less often than that?
Often/sometimes; was the answer given by 62% of the veterans.
Q: How often, if at all, have you personally have experienced the following as a result of your military service: Relationship problems with your spouse or partner.
Often/sometimes; was the answer given by 45% of the veterans.
Q: How often, if at all, have you personally have experienced the following as a result of your military service: Outbursts of anger.
Often/sometimes; was the answer given by 41% of the veterans.
Q: How often, if at all, have you personally have experienced the following as a result of your military service: Feeling disconnected from civilian life.
Often/sometimes; was the answer given by 55% of the veterans.
Q: How often, if at all, have you personally have experienced the following as a result of your military service. Feeling the average American didn’t understand your experience.
Often/sometimes; was the answer given by 69% of the veterans.
Q: Comparing your mental and emotional health now to before your involvement in the Iraq and/or Afghanistan war(s), would you say it is better now, worse now, or about the same?
Worse now; was the answer given by 31% of the veterans.
Q: Do you personally know a service member or veteran from the Iraq or Afghanistan wars who has attempted or committed suicide, or not?
Yes/Do; was the answer given by 51% of the veterans.
The poll results clearly show that PTSD is a much larger problem than either the Department of Defense or the Department of Veterans Affairs is prepared to handle.
The VA estimates that there are 229,000 Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans with PTSD.
Instead of planning ahead, the Department of Defense and the VA seem to waiting for something to happen.