The Characteristics of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Through the Ages

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Characteristics in Veterans of War

The Vietnam experience differed from previous wars and subsequently opened the door for the Vietnam era Veteran to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), either chronic or delayed. Some of the differences are as follows:

A ‘Tour of Vietnam ‘, for most Australians, lasted for 12 months. This caused a change of commitment to the war from that of ‘winning’ to ‘staying alive’ for 365 days! Thus, the war became a highly encapsulated event for each unit, and in many instances [particularly for REO’s, or Re-inforcements] an individualised war. There was no continuity between those who preceded or followed – particularly for Air force and shore-based Naval personnel.

No matter where one was, all of Vietnam seemed hostile; the enemy was all around. Australian troops were often forced to kill women and children combatants. The enemy struck by ambush and booby-traps and were rarely seen. Military objectives were secured, often with the loss of mates – killed and wounded, but not held; the only observable outcome was the ‘body count’! Vietnam was a political war and the lack of ‘intention to win’ was seen and felt among combatants and support troops as early as 1963 – 10 years before Australia ‘s involvement ended!

Vietnam was, for Australia, a young man’s war as most who served were aged between 19 and 25 (the average age of the WWII serviceman was 26). Whilst struggling to survive in the hell of Vietnam , back home students all across the country were actively protesting against the war. Even the families and friends of those serving grew increasingly weary of the Six O’clock News by having the horrors of the war being thrust into their lounge rooms. Many Veterans (and in some cases even those servicemen based in Australia who had not yet served in Vietnam ) were degraded, attacked physically, and even spat upon when they returned home!

With the advent of jet travel, many servicemen found themselves standing at deserted major airports in the early hours of the morning, less than 24 hours after being in a ‘firefight’ or on the receiving end of a rocket attack. They were told to go on 10-days leave and then report back to base. Many (particularly the Conscript!) to be immediately discharged and told to ‘go get a job’, as though they had just returned from a vacation – no counseling, no guidance or anything to help them adjust back into society!

Recent statistics show that an alarming number of Australia’s Vietnam Veterans are currently suffering from PTSD.

Intrusive Thoughts and Flashbacks

Replaying combat experiences in their minds, searching for alternative outcomes.

Flashbacks triggered by every day experiences: a helicopter passing overhead, the smell of urine, the smell of diesel fuel, the smell of mold, the smell of Asian food cooking, green tree lines, popcorn popping, rainy days and Asian refugees simply walking down the street.

Guilt – Suicidal Feelings and Thoughts

Self-destructive behaviour:
picking hopeless physical fights, single-car accidents, compulsive blood donors

Self-inflicted injuries to ‘feel’ pain – many ‘accidents’ with power tools

High suicide rate

Financial suicide.
As soon as things are well off, doing something to lose it all, or just walking away from it

Survivor’s Guilt –
When others have died around them they ask, “How come that I survived when others more worth than me didn’t?” (This pertains mainly to medical personnel)

If any of this information has struck a nerve, or if it would seem to describe someone you know and love, please contact your nearest POINTMAN Outpost immediately. The Point Men of POINTMAN INTERNATIONAL MINISTRIES have dedicated themselves to the comfort and aid of their brothers in arms. POINTMAN is comprised of Vietnam Veterans (and those from more recent conflicts) from all branches of the Armed Forces. The majority of our services are free, because you have already paid the price!

SYMPTOMS ASSOCIATED WITH PTSD

Depression

Anger

Anxiety

Tendency to react under stress with survival tactic

Emotional constriction

Loss of interest in work and activities

Survivor guilt

Hyper-alertness

Avoidance of activities that arouse memories of traumas in a war zone

Suicidal feelings and thoughts

Flashbacks to Vietnam

Fantasies of retaliation and destruction

Cynicism and distrust of government and authority

Concern with humanistic values overlaid by hedonism

Alienation

Negative self-image

Memory impairment

Hypersensitivity to justice

Problems with intimate relationships

Difficulty with authority figures

Emotional distance from children, wife and others

Self-deceiving and self-punishing patterns of behaviour such as an inability to talk about war experiences

Fear of losing others

Tendency to fits of rage

Denial of any social problems, or even denial of active service in the Vietnam War

Characteristics of PTSD in Recent & Older Conflicts
Since this article was written, the world has experienced and witnessed further conflicts such as the Gulf War, the War in Iraq, the continuing War in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Then there was the Islamic terrorist attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York. Experience and research has proven that all wars and traumatic world events leave behind them a trail of human wreckage, not only from physical injuries, but emotional and behavioural disorders, of which PTSD is only one! It has also been demonstrated that in the generations that follow an affected person, that their children will often ‘inherit’ the same, or similar problems.

It would seem that TV News programs serve up an “obligatory dose of shock and horror” each and every day! With the advent of the portable TV camera, jounalists are now equipped to bring traumatic happenings right into our homes, on a scale never been seen before! Which means that loved ones of those who serve, often ‘see’ what conditions and circumstances their family member may, or might be going through, with it having a profound impact on them, succumbing to anxiety and depression! Some counselors are terming this sort of problem as being, “The Ripple Effect of PTSD”.

The one thing in common with all who suffer the effects of PTSD is that they are often the last one to realise that they have a problem! Many, just like the Vietnam Veteran, live in denial and do not, or will not, accept that their is “something wrong with them” and seek help. More often than not, without realising it, they will turn to alcohol, illicit drugs and pharmaceautical drugs, for solace, in an attempt to ‘self-medicate’ the pain away! This in turn, leads to financial problems, relationship problems and all too often the breakup of the marriage and family.

HISTORICAL FACT
The effect of war and conflict is an historical fact. In the time of Alexander the Great, during one of his many military campaigns, at a place called Thermopylae, one of his generals, very obviously, succumbed finally to what we now call PTSD! He could not longer perform his daily duties and could not lead his troops confidently into battle. He was labelled. “…a coward” and Alexander, in front of all his Army, had all the general’s goods, including his weapons and armour, piled at the front of the parade, burnt, and had the general stripped of his rank and drummed shamefully out of the army!

Sadly, men who suffered from PTSD in the Boer War, World War I [WWI] were shot for being ‘cowards’! Even in World War II [WWII] the famous US General Patten, when visiting an Army Field Hospital, on seeing a soldier hospitalised with no apparent physical injury, angrily slapped him over the head with his gloves accusing him of being a malingerer, yelling, “Get back to the Font”!

THE LAST 100 YEARS +
From Service Records, soldiers who with hindsight, succumbed to PTSD during WWI, were written up as suffering from, ‘Shell Shock’. Then, came WWII where it written up as “War Neurosis”. From the Korean War it was given the ‘label’ “Combat Fatigue” and in 1982 it was first named PTSD!

Today’s Armed Services, In an attempt to try to lessen the effects of PTSD, have created a role for trained counselors [psychologists etc.] to be “embedded” with troops in their Area of Operations, so they can be there as soon as possible after an engagement to speak to those who may have been exposed to the horrors of war, that are recognised as being of such an intensity that, if not addressed urgently, would lead to the men and women who had been traumatised, falling victim to severe PTSD.

 

About Fred Grigg