Here is my latest column in the North County Times:
No one immune to PTSD
Never in our history has the military establishment or the nation been as forthcoming or accepting of combat stress injuries. There are programs everywhere to help those who suffer from the effects of prolonged combat. The Veterans Administration offers everything from individual counseling to residential treatment for those who have left the military, and active-duty personnel are afforded the opportunity to seek treatment without effect to their careers.
Well, officially anyway.
I recognized that I had PTSD after my third combat tour. I had just returned from Afghanistan, and with a roomful of Marines I sat down for a post-deployment briefing that was pretty much identical to the ones I had attended after my two trips to Iraq.
A parade of briefers that ranged from concerned professionals to bored bureaucrats passed before us, flinging a blizzard of papers for us to read, initial, fill out, and sign. We sat behind computer terminals to see if we experienced any traumatic brain injuries, listened to how important it was to be patient with our wives and girlfriends and kids, and not to go out and get rip roaring drunk on our first night home.
Somewhere between the brain test and the drinking-and-driving lecture, a sheaf of papers was handed around for all of us to complete. Not thinking too much about it, I grabbed my pencil and started filling in the little bubbles by the questions.
“Do you have problems sleeping?”
“Are you more irritable now than before you deployed?”
“Do you have problems remembering things?”
“Do you feel unable to relax?”
The questions covered the page. I marked the little bubbles one after the other, and when I was done I looked it over and dropped my pencil in shock. It wasn’t the first time that I had seen a form like this; in fact, I filled one out after every deployment. The difference this time was that I had a whole lot more questions marked “Yes” than there had been previously. Not just one or two or three questions. I said yes to more than half of them.
My reaction was, “Holy mackerel! I can’t possibly have PTSD —- only burned out losers have PTSD. Not me! No way!”
I walked up to the guy who handed out the forms and turned it in. He looked at it, looked at me, and asked me if I wanted to go see anybody.
That was it. I could say no and get on with my life. That, to be honest, is the course that the vast majority of military folks take. At that moment, that timeless span of a few seconds, thoughts rocketed through my mind. What will people say? Do I really need help? Is there something wrong with me? Only losers have PTSD, don’t they?
So I chose not to choose, but I did ask the guy for more information. He shrugged and handed me a brochure for an on-base facility that offered assessment and treatment with no questions asked. I looked it over, folded it up, and went on my way.
Moving on was not as simple as shoving the brochure in my pocket, however. I really started to view myself through a different lens; I paid attention to myself. I really couldn’t remember things even though my mind had formerly been sharp. I was short-tempered, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t relax. I came to the stark realization that I had changed, and not in a good way.
So I made a choice. I pulled the crumpled pamphlet out of my pocked and read through it. Not just another cursory once over as I had done before, but I really studied it. It promised an opportunity to be evaluated by a staff of professionals whose only purpose was to help Marines like me. All I had to do was make a call.
So I did. More on that in my next column.