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The psychological impact of war
July 16, 2008 1:01 AM   Subscribe

For the former U.S. marine Michael Elliott the psychological impact of war is the latest and most challenging battle. Private Joseph Dwyer survived rocket-propelled grenades and shocking violence, made his way back to his family and friends, but couldn't escape the “demons” that followed him home. Experts say up to 30% of returning soldiers will require psychiatric help: a number not seen since the end of the Vietnam War. Today 60% of war veterans suffering from PTSD don't receive any help at all.
posted by Surfin' Bird (18 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Support the troops.*

*until they are discharged and become a burden to the taxpayers.
posted by three blind mice at 1:38 AM on July 16, 2008


What tbm said.

To the current administration in the USA, the troops are the human equivalent of a paper towel, as they were in Vietnam: use as needed, toss when used, ignore future ramifications.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 2:08 AM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


as they were in Vietnam

Most of those poor saps who were sent to Vietnam didn't volunteer, they didn't receive any signing bonus, and they didn't have any choice in the matter. Today's Army owes its soldiers far less than what Vietnam vets were owed. Right? Isn't that what the right wing argues: They signed up for this.

Let's give 'em a sculpture on the Mall and call it good. Even that might be too much.
posted by three blind mice at 2:24 AM on July 16, 2008


Didn't the government seriously lower their standards for recruitment? It wouldn't surprise me if people who were mentally unprepared to deal with this stuff (as though there are people who are capable of dealing with fighting in a war, period) slipped through the cracks and managed to get on the front lines.

30% seems like a low figure, in my opinion. Or does "psychiatric help" just mean "drugs"? 'Cause I'd think anyone who was ever in real danger of being shot or filled with shrapnel should probably go to counseling a few times before returning to his/her day-to-day life. But, y'know, that would make sense.
posted by giraffe at 3:40 AM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Right? Isn't that what the right wing argues: They signed up for this.

You seriously can't see a difference in culpability between someone who was forced to participate in a foreign invasion versus someone who volunteered to do it?

In the first situation, the soldier is a victim. In the second, the soldier is an accessory. A lot of people don't want to hear that, but they counter with calling me a dick instead of explaining why there's no difference.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:05 AM on July 16, 2008


It wouldn't surprise me if people who were mentally unprepared to deal with this stuff ... slipped through the cracks and managed to get on the front lines.

FWIW, when I went through medical screening last year, it was explained to me that any prior history of psychological disorders would lead to a psych evaluation and, particularly if it was recent, it would be disqualifying. That's for officers, however, not enlisted... likely a different ballgame with the enlisted side much more hard up for recruits.
posted by lullaby at 6:14 AM on July 16, 2008


And, I meant to add: 1 in 5 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Suffer from PTSD or Major Depression
Nearly 20 percent of military service members who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan — 300,000 in all — report symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder or major depression, yet only slightly more than half have sought treatment, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

In addition, researchers found about 19 percent of returning service members report that they experienced a possible traumatic brain injury while deployed, with 7 percent reporting both a probable brain injury and current PTSD or major depression.

Many service members said they do not seek treatment for psychological illnesses because they fear it will harm their careers. But even among those who do seek help for PTSD or major depression, only about half receive treatment that researchers consider "minimally adequate" for their illnesses.
posted by lullaby at 6:18 AM on July 16, 2008


We had a soldier over for dinner on Monday. He's been to Iraq.

After talking to him, I shudder to think of the psychological tsunami that is about to hit.
posted by konolia at 6:38 AM on July 16, 2008


Here's the counterintuitive part: the VA has discovered that rates of homelessness among vets has actually increased since instituting an all-volunteer army. (That's right--folks who signed up post-Vietnam, pre-Iraq Part II, were found to have higher rates of post-service homelessness than men who served in Vietnam.) Female vets are also more likely to become homeless. Britain, which also switched to an all-volunteer force, has seen the number of homeless vets rise since as well.

Predisposing factors seem include higher rates of prior trauma (i.e. childhood sexual abuse) among volunteer recruits (making them more vulnerable to battlefield PTSD); and also the "moral waivers" given out when recruitment goals aren't met. Again, all this research was done prior to the second Iraq war.

Post-surge, the military has been handing out more moral waivers than ever. And one could argue (flame away if you think I'm saying "only crazy dumb people join the army"--I've got dozens of relatives from every generation, including a current nephew, who have signed up as enlisted men) that military service--at least as an enlisted person not destined for commissioned officer training--would mostly appeal to our most vulnerable citizens right now....the ones who may feel they have few other options to escape an unhappy home life, or to receive career training after a troubled run at high school.

Add that to the nature of the combat experienced (no clearly defined front line or even enemy); tours extended over and over again, further making reintegration more difficult, plus the fact that more vets are surviving from and returning with traumatic brain injuries from IEDs, and you've got a recipe for a mental health crisis among returning vets, the likes of which we've never seen and are ill-prepared to handle.

You'd go to a bake sale or a potluck to pay for a returning vet's new wheelchair ramp or prosthesis, right? How about to pay for an equally disabled vet's PTSD therapy? Suddenly the community goes silent, and that's going to be a problem too.
posted by availablelight at 6:42 AM on July 16, 2008 [4 favorites]



Didn't the government seriously lower their standards for recruitment? It wouldn't surprise me if people who were mentally unprepared to deal with this stuff (as though there are people who are capable of dealing with fighting in a war, period) slipped through the cracks and managed to get on the front lines.

30% seems like a low figure, in my opinion. Or does "psychiatric help" just mean "drugs"? 'Cause I'd think anyone who was ever in real danger of being shot or filled with shrapnel should probably go to counseling a few times before returning to his/her day-to-day life. But, y'know, that would make sense.
posted by giraffe



I think there may be a reason 'we' are content to produce an ill educated lower class of 'citizen/cannon fodder'
posted by notreally at 7:17 AM on July 16, 2008


You seriously can't see a difference in culpability between someone who was forced to participate in a foreign invasion versus someone who volunteered to do it?

Sarcasm Mayor Curley. Sarcasm.
posted by three blind mice at 7:22 AM on July 16, 2008


Mayor Curley Well, to begin with most of 'em didn't sign up to invade Iraq. A great many soldiers currently active had enlisted prior to Bush's war, and many prior to 9/11. Following 9/11 large numbers volunteered with the specific goal in mind of participating in a war against the Taliban, again not expecting to be sent to Iraq.

I've got a friend, for example, who had been involved in ROTC, served in the army as a satellite communications specialist in Japan, was discharged a year or two before 9/11, and was then dragged back into the army (gotta love those "you were in the army once therefore we can claim your life at any time" clauses) to be cannon fodder for Bush's war in Iraq.

I figure that even for those who did sign up specifically to go fight in Iraq the worst they're usually guilty of is being suckers. After the endless propaganda from Bush about how Saddam had personally planned and carried out the attacks of 9/11 over 40% of Americans believe it. You can say they're suckers, and you'd be right, but since when has being a sucker excused a lack of necessary mental health treatment?

Moreover, I figure that a country has an obligation to patch people up after they've fought on behalf of that country; even if they signed up for a lousy cause. The fault lies not with the soldiers, but with Bush and with all of America for failing to impeach him when it became apparent that he was well and truly crazy.
posted by sotonohito at 7:35 AM on July 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


In the first situation, the soldier is a victim. In the second, the soldier is an accessory. A lot of people don't want to hear that, but they counter with calling me a dick instead of explaining why there's no difference.

Two words, Mr. Mayor: poverty draft.

Anyway, beyond issues of culpability, which are certainly complicated, the result is still the same: a large portion of an entire generation is coming home broken, and we'll be paying for that for generations to come.
posted by regicide is good for you at 9:55 AM on July 16, 2008


Two words, Mr. Mayor: poverty draft.

Well, that's the nature of war, isn't it? Nearly every war thats ever been fought since the dawn of civilization boils down to poor people fighting to protect or line the coffers of rich people. The current one is no exception.

I'm a leftist, but I believe in the existence of Free Will. I can understand the ignorance and want that leads someone to volunteer in the United States military, but I can't excuse them not understanding and/or caring that the post-WW II US military has been used exclusively to protect the interests of the rich-- whether it's killing communists for their opposition to capitalist-enriching commerce or a blantant resource grab dressed up as a pre-emptive safety measure. If our military was conscripted, there's no way it would be abused like it is. The only lesson the US government learned from Vietnam is that if you force people to fight, the nation will turn on you.

Ignorance isn't a valid offense for signing a contract that commits you to invading foreign countries and killing their citizens to further US economic interests if ordered to. Those soldiers may not have the perspective to realize that they're going to be used as pawns, but that's why they're part of the problem. Imperialism is only going to stop when people start thinking and refuse to sign on to potentially kill without warrant just because their home town doesn't have opportunities. The nature of ugly imperialism is manufactured patriotism and false promises. Some people have to learn this the hard way. Some people will get through it unscathed, never learn it, and help perpetuate the big lie that the United States is always right.

I don't want people to suffer, even ones who have undertaken actions that I find reprehensible. But I think it's unrealistic to expect every person who allows themself to be used for such nefarious purposes to escape unscathed.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:15 AM on July 16, 2008


Eh. Whether you view the returning soldiers as victims or accessories, this is still your problem, our problem. Regardless of whether they "should have known better", "got what they deserved", etc. we'll all be paying for it, both financially (in terms of health care costs, lost wages, increased demand on social services, police, etc.) and in other less tangible ways.
posted by availablelight at 11:23 AM on July 16, 2008


Sarcasm and our moral judgments aside, I can imagine that in some cases the PTSD might be even worse for a soldier who volunteered. The burden of knowing that one is, to whatever extent, responsible for the hellish conditions one is in could potentially make for much more guilt and self-hatred to be layered in with the paranoia and rage.
posted by tula at 11:54 AM on July 16, 2008


[a few comments removed - please stop with the invectives and take it to metatalk or email, thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 1:59 PM on July 16, 2008


Suicidal vet was "begging for help, and they kicked him to the curb"
posted by homunculus at 9:10 AM on July 30, 2008


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