The Unexpected Perils of a Veteran's Coming Home
Author: Destiny Luttrell
22. To many, this is just a number, but to others, it is a reminder of how many American veterans die at their own hands each day. Approximately one veteran commits suicide every 65 minutes. Many of these suicides are the direct result of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is a condition faced by many veterans, especially those who served in combat.
When joining the military, these men and women are trained to fight adversaries to protect our country. They hope that once they return to civilian life after combat that their lives will return to normal, but to be honest, it is never quite the same as before they left. For many, the fight might turn into one with themselves. Some return home and have no idea what to do with themselves. It is an experience that many find difficult to understand and describe to others. Life back home might not be what they had expected. They have changed, and so have those that they care about. Maybe since they left for the war, their friends and family have moved on with their lives, while they are stuck in combat mode having a tough time reintegrating back into home life.
According to mentalhealth.va.gov, PTSD affects approximately 31% of Vietnam veterans, 10% of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans, 11% of Afghanistan veterans, and 20% of veterans from the war in Iraq. PTSD is one of the most prevalent causes of suicide in veterans. Even if a veteran is psychologically okay when they first arrive back home, there is a possibility that PTSD will come later in life. Symptoms do not always develop right after combat, and they appear in a variety of ways such as shakes, sweats, sleeplessness, paranoia, nightmares, or hallucinations. Flashbacks of battle can trigger symptoms and they can stem from something as simple as a firework going off or a loud car door slamming, as these may sound like a gunshot or explosion to those who served. This is the part of coming home most don't talk about.
Meet Christopher (middle).
Straight out of high school he signed up for the Army, at 17 years old. By age 18, he was officially part of the United States Army. For three years he served in the Army, and afterward, he spent many more years serving in the National Guard. In that short time, he was part of a peacekeeping mission gone wrong. Three members of his unit became prisoners of war, resulting in them being tortured at the hands of enemies. Veterans say that the members of your unit become family, and when something like this happens, it is something you never forget.
After leaving the Army, these men and women might be too proud to admit that they need help, as to them it would seem like a sign of weakness. In an attempt to avoid reaching out for help from friends, family, or professionals, some may turn to alcohol or drugs to cope. Substance abuse becomes a problem for many, and in the end, they may commit suicide in a moment of despair, whether they are under the influence or not.
As for Christopher, despite his efforts to maintain a regular life after combat, he was unable to forget the friends he lost and the horrific things he had seen. He attempted to go back to school, but drinking was a coping mechanism for him. The VA offers some assistance to these former soldiers, including PTSD and substance abuse counseling. However, the VA is currently inefficient and underfunded, and even for those it can help, sometimes it isn't enough. Christopher had PTSD for four years, turning to alcohol to "cure" him. When he stopped drinking in an attempt to get his life together, he lost his life due to a PTSD induced seizure. Research has found that veterans diagnosed with seizures are more likely to have also suffered from TBI, PTSD, or both. The research raises questions about the types of seizures these veterans are facing and how they are diagnosed and treated. Individuals with seizures are typically prescribed anti-epileptic drugs, which, while useful for epilepsy, provide little to no benefit for other types of seizures like the ones these veterans experience. Christopher's mother believes that if it wasn't for the fact that he had turned possession of his gun over to her, that his death may have come even sooner.
Suffering from both physical and mental pain often leaves veterans to feel as if there is no other answer but to end their life in order to ease the suffering. However, this is not the case. After years of fighting for their country, we hope that they begin to fight for themselves and reach out to others if they need assistance in doing so. There are resources available to them, and our country needs to make sure we assure them that seeking help does not make them weak. Fighting depression and PTSD will make them stronger than ever, as the toughest battles one faces is on the battlefields of our own minds.
Ashleigh Diserio Consulting would like to extend a huge THANK YOU to Christopher's mother and family for allowing us to share his story. We hope that his story helps other veterans understand that what they might be experiencing, others are as well, and that they can reach out for help.
Lastly, thank you to all who put on a uniform looking for nothing in return. The selfless act of serving our country deserves the highest level of respect and gratitude we have to offer. It is because of veterans that our country is safe. THANK YOU!
*** If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org ***
Ashleigh Diserio Consulting works with individuals and organizations, assisting them in gleaning insight into a person’s life, motivation, and past and future behavior, so certain areas of behavior can be understood with a high degree of accuracy. We provide services in the areas of criminal and intelligence investigations, management support, threat assessment, insider threat support, and education and training.