Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Wartime Disease
By Joe Olvera ©, 2012
Rafael Hernando, a combat war veteran, wants for the U.S. to do more for young men and women suffering from PTSD, because, according to him, they are not being treated and many of the sufferers are homeless, living under bridges and living with war-driven anxieties. “One of the major problems is that, for years, it wasn’t recognized as a disease,” Hernando, 63, said. “Many of us vets, who fought in Vietnam, came home to a nation that hated us for doing our duty, for fighting in an unpopular war which caused so much turmoil at home. Some of us never really got over the hatred that was spewed on us, with people calling us ‘baby killers’ and other horrible epithets. While those who fought in our most recent wars, Iraq and Afghanistan received a better welcome, many of them still haven’t reconciled their military service with civilian life.”
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event that results in psychological trauma, overwhelming the individual’s ability to cope. Diagnostic symptoms for PTSD include re-experiencing the original trauma through flashbacks or nightmares – or difficulty falling asleep, anger, and hyper-vigilance.
Hernando, who was in combat in Vietnam in 1964, lost his right leg when he triggered a land mine. He still remembers seeing his leg flying off in one direction, while he went in another. “Even after all these years, I still have nightmares about the incident,” Hernando said. “I suffer from flashbacks and many things in my daily life trigger my darkest memories. The way I fight my PTSD is to keep busy. Even though I’m in a wheelchair, that doesn’t stop me. I stay active, but PTSD has affected my whole life, my relationships, and whatever. There is a disconnect concerning jobs, school, and life in general.” Hernando says that, as a veterans’ advocate, he speaks to young vets and he sees many of them walking around as if they don’t belong. He said he speaks to many vets who are living under bridges, and while many of them are Vietnam vets, he’s seeing more of them from more recent wars.
Statistics from the federal government and from the Veterans Administration bear him out. He said the military is not doing enough to remedy the situation. He doesn’t totally believe in medications, but, by combining meds with professional counseling, progress can be made. One of the most effective medications is called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors – used to make a sufferer less worried or sad. And what is the VA doing about it? Not much by some experts’ reckoning. In an article by Courtney Mabeus on July 15, 2012, in the Frederick News Post, both the feds and the VA admit that the problem is not going away, but, they’re working on it. Efforts to team up to study drugs that could help resolve the issue, are slow and will take years for the FDA to approve them.
“Providers have found certain drugs help aspects of PTSD, but, nothing has been studied to the FDA level,” said Major Gary Wynn, an officer at Fort Detrick. “Only two drugs, paxotene, known as paxil, and Zoloft are approved for treating PTSD.” Although the Defense Department and the VA are making strides in identifying and treating people with PTSD, both need to do much more to improve access to health care. Of the 2.6 million active-duty soldiers, reservists and national guard members who have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, an estimated 20 percent have or may develop PTSD. A total of 476,515 vets with PTSD received treatment in VA medical centers in 2011.
“If we don’t take care of the problem right now, it’s only going to get worse, with more suicides and more anxiety-ridden young men and women who can’t cope with life,” Hernando said. “Even though I have PTSD, I’m not really being treated for it. I don’t receive VA benefits for that problem, just for losing my leg in combat. I still get up at 5:30 every morning, just because I want to see the sun come up every day. Even though I have tried to get treatment and benefits for it, the VA says I can’t possibly have it because I’ve managed to survive for more than 40 years. They just don’t know the problems I’ve had to overcome. I’m not too worried about myself, however, I’m more concerned with the young vets, those young men and women who sacrificed their lives to insure our freedom. They are the ones with whom we should be concerned.”