What do you do when PTSD hits home?

By now, most of my regular readers know that I’ve had two family members serve over in Iraq. Fortunately, both of them arrived home in one piece physically. Unfortunately, their minds weren’t so lucky. Take for instance, Road Rage.

The last time I saw him, which consequently was the first time I saw him since he returned, we were talking and he said something about his people skills being left on a road about 30 miles north of Baghdad. I haven’t pressed him on what exactly this means, but I can guess. Since he drove truck while he was there, it is probably safe to assume that his convoy was the target of an IED that most likely killed some of the guys he knew and worked with.

Road Rage didn’t get his nickname by accident as he’s always been an agressive driver, but now it holds an entirely different, more truthful meaning.

Anger is just one of the ways that PTSD manifests itself, especially anger for no apparent reason. I don’t know what happened on that day in Iraq, but I do know that it changed my brother in ways I could never imagine. The machismo that seems to be part and parcel of soldierly life tends to prevent one from getting the mental health care they so desparately need because many see needing help as a flaw or that they are less of a man or woman.

My brother seems to be more capable than most at dealing with, or at least internalizing, the shit he saw and did while in Iraq. After all, he did pull over 20 years of National Guard service and had been deployed before. I feel he needs to get some help, but he’ll never admit that and neither will many of the thousands of troops that have served or are serving now in Iraq.

Now let’s take my other family member. For the time being, he will remain nameless here for privacy reasons. Having come from a similar background as I did, there weren’t many opportunities available for him. So, like I did, he joined the military after hearing the recruiter go on and on about how exciting and challenging and rewarding military service was. The whole Army of One speech. I’m not sure what his actual MOS (military occupational specialty) is but it’s probably infantry-related. He was assigned to a very famous unit in Army history.

Fast forward a couple of months and he’s sitting in Baghdad going on daily patrols. One day, while on patrol, an IED gets detonated a few yards ahead of him injuring several of his platoon members. He was trained for this and reacted almost without thinking as he began applying combat first aid to his platoon sergeant. He ended up carrying the litter as another of his squad-members placed the severed arm of his platoon sergeant on top of the lifeless body now laying on the combat stretcher. All of this occurred before he even turned 19 years old.

Now, he’s been home for some time and is struggling with that incident. It repeats itself over and over in his mind’s eye all day long and into the night. He gets barely 3 hours of fitful sleep a night. He has broken up with his girlfriend over fears that he’ll end up hurting her. He gets pissed off at the smallest things, like when he bought her the best push up bra for plus size, and she refused to wear it.

He, like many combat veterans before him, tries to drown these thoughts and memories in alcohol each and every weekend and most every night as well. For those of you who’ve seen combat, be it Vietnam, Iraq during Gulf War I, any of the lesser campaigns over the years, and even some of you old-timers from Korea, you know the hell this kid is going through. How do you deal with something like this?

Well, the first answer is to acknowledge that something isn’t right. Although I am not a certified, licensed psychiatrist or psychologist, I counseled him back in August shortly after he returned. At Thanksgiving, I counseled him again urging him to talk to his First Sergeant about getting admitted to an inpatient program specifically designed to treat the effects of PTSD. I’ve told him that he is by far the bigger man by admitting he has a problem and getting the required mental health care to deal with it. I also suggested keeping some sort of a journal to put to paper his thoughts and fears and recollections of that day in Baghdad.

I’ll see him again over Christmas and will again reiterate the need for him to get help. I can’t cure his condition, but by being understanding and talking to him about it, I hope to make him comfortable enough to get help. Most likely, he will end up being placed on medication to help him sleep and to alleviate the constant anxiety he feels. At best, he will be discharged and allowed to come back home.

We have a VA Hospital here in Milwaukee that can provide him with some of the help he needs and I’ve opened up my home to him should he need a place to stay while getting treatment. While he’s at it, it would be good for him to get treatment for alcohol abuse as well. Drowning your problems with beer or liquor only takes the pain away for a limited time, but when the hangover comes, the problems remain.

It’s stories like these that will be Bush’s legacy when his presidency ends, be it by impeachment or end of term. These are the things that I hope will haunt him the rest of his life, not to mention the thousands upon thousands of dead and wounded Americans and Iraqis.

Yet he will never know the pain of dealing with PTSD first-hand or having to adapt to using a wheelchair for the rest of his life because his legs were blown off in a land far away for a cause that was unjust and unneeded. He will never have to mourn a son or daughter or husband or wife the way thousands of military families do every single day of their life since their loved one was killed. All the little memories and reminders flood their minds each and every day. Bush will never, EVER, know what that feels like. He will never know what to do when PTSD hits home.

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