PTSD: A Medical Condition, or a Club for Hitting Vets?

By | March 24, 2014 | 0 Comments

Something may be either helpful or hurtful, depending on the intentions of the user. If I see a man limping, I can offer him a cane to help him get around, or I can use the cane to beat him bloody. Similarly, a diagnosis can be used to identify and relieve human suffering, or it can be used to stigmatize and slander the sufferer − and increase the suffering. For example, take PTSD.
Dave Grossman, Lt. Col., USA (Ret.) is a former Army Ranger who became a clinical psychologist. Having looked at combat trauma from both sides, he is a true expert − as opposed to a self-anointed expert − on post-traumatic stress disorder. He has written and lectured widely. He knows what he is talking about, a rare quality.
Some time ago I read an article on PTSD by Col. Grossman. In addition to informing me, it also angered and depressed me. It described how anti-military activists are trying to use PTSD to stigmatize military personnel and veterans.
Col. Grossman referred to an article in the New York Post by Ralph Peters, Lt. Col., USA (Ret.), author, columnist, and military commentator. Peters’ article was titled, “The New Lepers.” Peters condemns the New York Times’ “obscene bid to smear our veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan as mad killers.” Peters doesn’t mince words. He concludes, “A long-standing goal of the left, recently invigorated, has been to drive a wedge between our military and our society.”
What Peters condemned was an article − one of many − claiming that there is a high homicide rate for veterans of the current war. But in fact, the rate of homicide and other violent crimes is lower than that for young men of similar ages who never served in the military.
I am not falling into the error of confusing correlation with causation. I am not claiming that military service reduces the tendency to commit crimes. The military rejects applicants with records of serious crimes or drug use, and it discharges drug users, alcoholics, and those who have problems with discipline. So military personnel and veterans are a select group who might be expected to have a lower rate of violent crime.
But the liberal media slander our military and veterans as emotionally unstable, dangerous, drug-addicted losers. The media are doing something worse than confusing correlation with causation. They are fabricating false data to show a high crime rate, then claiming that this is caused by military service. They are constructing a false correlation, then asserting that this proves causation. That is, they are using a lie to prove a lie. Is this what is taught in journalism schools?
Even worse, this lie is used to defame veterans and attempt to deprive them of rights. For example, there are reports that veterans with PTSD or traumatic brain injuries are being denied the right to possess firearms.
In my state of California, anyone admitted to a mental facility − even for a few days − is reported to the state, and is forbidden to buy, possess, or touch a firearm for five years. If the person has time and money, he can retain an attorney, go to court, and ask that his Second Amendment rights be restored − if the judge condescends to do so.
Question: Will these reporting requirements make people with emotional problems more − or less − likely to seek help? If you were distraught over a divorce or loss of a job, would you be more − or less − likely to enter a treatment program for a weekend? The answer is obvious.
Granted, seriously disturbed people should not possess firearms. But transient, less severe emotional problems must not be an excuse for Big Brother to intrude into the therapy room. This is especially objectionable with patients who have been involved in a politically incorrect activity, such as the military. Here, we see the twisting of “unapproved” activity into mental illness, a favorite tactic of the Soviet Union.
Stalin found that sending dissidents to mental hospitals was more effective than sending them to Siberian prison camps. Imprisonment turned dissidents into respected martyrs − mental hospitalization turned them into pitiful nut-jobs. That works out much better for totalitarian rulers. No, we aren’t there yet, but we are tending in that direction.
Since the 1960s, Hollywood has had a nasty habit of depicting our troops and our veterans negatively – as unstable, unemployed, divorced, alcoholic, drug-addicted, violence-prone losers. But in fact, young veterans tend to be more mature and responsible than their peers who never served. Just ask employers. In fact, our troops are less likely to commit suicide than their civilian peers, and the suicide rate for veterans is similar to that of non-veterans. One suicide is too many, but the “epidemic of suicide” in the military and veterans exists largely in the minds of anti-military pundits.
Even TV joined in anti-military propaganda. Before they went off the air, “Law and Order” and “ER” depicted service members and veterans as dangerous criminals or unstable whack-jobs. Perhaps that was one reason they went off the air. Most of the TV audience does not share their leftist views.
I never heard a shot fired in anger, unless you count people at the pistol range who were irritated by their low scores. But years ago, I was involved in a fatal head-on collision while on Army Reserve duty. The first time I drove on a highway again, I broke out in a cold sweat and had a vivid memory of the crash. Was this a flashback, or a normal fear response? For some time, I was irritable and depressed. Was this a personality change, or a normal response to painful injuries? I thought about death more than most 26-year-olds do. Was this pathologic, or a normal response to having looked death in the face?
I had been unconscious and had a 14-stitch cut on my eyebrow, but I never had an MRI − it hadn’t been invented. I had three broken ribs from turning the steering wheel into a pretzel, but I never had an EKG. It might have shown transitory damage, so I was saved from worrying about my heart for years afterward.
In retrospect, I had mild PTSD. But no one told me I might have long-term problems, so I didn’t expect them. In those days, the media were pro-American − there were no scare stories about veterans. People didn’t look at me askance, fearing that I might become violent, so I didn’t respond to their paranoia with my own paranoia. No one slandered me because of my prior service, so I didn’t become bitter.
Am I minimizing the importance of PTSD? Far from it. I am saying that mild PTSD is a normal consequence of being in danger. It is often helped by talking to people who had similar experiences, so the person does not feel abnormal. But moderate or severe PTSD can be disabling, and requires expert and sometimes prolonged therapy.
Depending on who is doing the defining, 10% to 30% of combat veterans have some degree of PTSD. But civilians and non-combat veterans may also have PTSD. Surely victims of violent crime may do so. But no one suggests that victims of robbery, rape, or auto accidents are more likely to become murderers − or that they should be denied their constitutional rights. Anyone who made such a suggestion would correctly be called a cold-hearted, unsympathetic, irrational bigot. Why the difference?
The answer is obvious. The object of the left is not to diagnose and treat PTSD more effectively, in order to increase the well-being of our troops and our veterans. The object is to find yet another club with which to beat our troops and our veterans over the head. And that is a particularly shameful form of ingratitude to those who risk their lives to defend our freedom.
Shakespeare wrote, “He jests at scars that never felt a wound.” But leftist academics and media moguls do even worse. They misuse the scars as excuses to stigmatize our veterans, rather than as reasons to honor them. I believe an especially hot place in hell is reserved for such contemptible ingrates.

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