One tends to assume, once a military member has returned from a combat zone alive, whether harmed or uninjured, all should be well once the member is removed from the hostile sector.
This is the scene most of us may want to paint. It is a fairytale filled with unicorns, blooming flowers and fixed smiles.
The truth is, the Suicide Prevention Network reports that approximately one in five suicides involves a veteran.
This report also suggests veterans make up 19 percent of deaths by suicide in the United States.
However, veterans make up only 11 percent of the nation’s population, and approximately 12-20 percent of those serving or who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
In the Veteran’s Hospital of Ann Arbor, I sat on a bench, a veteran with no apparent injuries, no visible war wounds and with no documented disabilities.
One, two, 20, countless wheelchairs rolled by, occupied by wounded war heroes. Strangers paused their actions to help the disadvantaged.
Then I caught my reflection in the glass doors opposite my little bench and noticed a wounded veteran was staring back at me.
No one rushed me to see a physician or inquired about my injuries. I did not receive a Purple Heart for my wounds. They are hidden, but I can guarantee they are there.
My mind is like a pressurized bag right before the air escapes. It wants to release the abundance of information that I have stored, but the seal is too tight.
I stand among more than 300,000 other veterans with similar wounds.
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, generally occurs following exposure to an extreme traumatic event or stressor.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-IV, lists events that could lead to a diagnosis of PTSD, such as threatened death or physical integrity, serious injury or harm or witnessing an event that involves death, injury or threat.
This is a short list of factors that could spark this disorder, yet they are the most common.
Symptoms described in the DSM-IV include sleeplessness, repeated thoughts of the event(s), flashbacks, hallucinations, a feeling of disconnection and emotional numbing.
PTSD affects many Americans; veterans have become the focus of this increasing disorder because of their obvious vulnerability to traumatic stress during these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
From my experience, I consider PTSD to be very similar to a high quality violent film.
Although excellent for entertaining, aggressive films might sometimes leave one on edge. Now, imagine feeling this way every day.
During the course of my studies and research about PTSD, I uncovered the story of Joshua Omvig.
The 22-year-old veteran from Iowa, who was suffering from PTSD, committed suicide in the driveway of his parents’ home after returning from an 11-month tour in Iraq.
It has been assumed he was not able to receive proper treatment after returning home from the war.
There is a similar story about a commanding officer, also suffering from PTSD and depression, who took his life four weeks before the end of his tour.
This is reality.
As I watched veterans in wheelchairs roll by and others limp away and fumble with their crutches, I began to wonder.
If post-traumatic stress disorder could be a condition that is as obvious a handicap as a wheelchair or a missing limb; would we rush to give that person the immediate compassion and assistance we give to those who are physically injured and confined to a wheelchair?
With the stigmas that surround mental disorders, it seems we tend to shy away from a person who appears to “not have ‘em all” or whose actions have no immediate explanation.
What most people tend to forget is, real human beings exist beyond the disorder and when they do not receive help or get the opportunity to talk about their traumatic experience, it becomes problematic.
Each day a new combat veteran sees his or her wounded reflection in that glass door.
As a nation, we are obligated to care for returning combat veterans, and as a nation we are failing.