An article I read online about veterans who are suing the military to upgrade their discharges, indicates an ignored mitigating factor was their Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It was a stigma for soldiers in many conflicts to suffer ‘combat fatigue’ and the military did not have any mental health programs to help their suffering. World War II’s most infamous case of a leader who abused soldiers suffering what we know today as PTSD, was General Patton.
I do know what it is like to live with someone who suffered with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Thirty years ago, I was in a relationship with a woman whom I came to learn was not schizophrenic but rather suffering from PTSD. In the course of dealing with her middle of the night terror attacks, suspicious looks, angry stares, horrible accusations and anorexia, I was not trained, nor was I sufficiently mature enough, emotionally, to help. At the time I was in the Navy, stationed at an installation outside Washington, D.C. Over a period of several weeks everything came into the light. My job performance started to suffer badly. I was exhausted; one Monday, I failed to go to work at all. And then, banging on my door, my supervisor, a Chief Petty Officer in whom I confided my struggles, had come to check on us.
Instead of being brought before NJP – nonjudicial punishment, my supervisor verbally reprimanded me, and took charge- giving me direction about how I should lead my household. In the late 1980s, mental health, counseling – family or marital, and the host of ills that military members succumb to in combat was still in its infancy. And if PTSD was hardly recognized in the civilian population, how much less so for our veterans. I found resources for us to attend counseling. I would love to say that everything turned around and became goodness and light. It did not. Less than ten years later, I learned that she had succumbed to her health problems. For those suffering mental health issues, it is always continuing steps in recovery. But the sufferer has to be as engaged in getting healthy as those around him or her remain committed to helping. It is time for the military – and the VA – to make every effort to alleviate the mental health issues that were aggravated or incurred as a result of military service. It is only right to help warriors with tools and understanding who are suffering.