Veterans Suffering Debilitating PTSD Effects Urgently Require Help and Compassion
For many Americans, Memorial Day is marked with parades and remembrances of fallen veterans from “historic” wars: World Wars I and II, Vietnam, Korea. Less often remembered are combat veterans who have returned home physically safe, only to bravely fight enemies that often go unseen: those inner demons affecting mental health. For many, the psychological and spiritual warfare affecting the minds, emotions, and spirit of returning combat veterans is more traumatic than the war itself.
Many soldiers will re-experience trauma, either in flashbacks or nightmares. They may be anxious, agitated, or have problems with irritability or rage. These brave men and women often think of themselves as murderers, monsters, or worse. For many veterans, upon returning home and re-integrating into civilian life, there’s a significant distortion of the realities of war.
These distortions dramatically affect their view of themselves, God, people, and their present circumstances leading to many compromised decisions that affect all areas of their life.
For a growing number of veterans, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating disease that impacts all areas of life. Sufferers often struggle with both day-to-day activities critical to maintaining life, such as eating and sleeping, as well as more normal functions such as holding a job or maintaining key relationships. Many turn to drugs or alcohol as a form of “self-medication” that numbs the pain, or relaxes the agitation or constant ‘on-guard’ ‘ready-for-battle’ defense system only to find themselves in addictive patterns that create new, worse problems than the PTSD presents.
The ravages of war, then the re-traumatization of PTSD, compounded by even more trauma to the brain, psyche, and spirit of alcohol, drugs, isolation, and broken relationships require intensive psychological and spiritual care. Only through God’s power can a veteran make sense of the atrocities of war and start to heal the deep wounds that hurt especially on Memorial Day, as they are reminded of the worst days of their lives.
Sadly, suicide is now the leading killer of our military, both active duty and retired. All branches now devote time for suicide awareness and prevention, but the stigma for fighters to admit they are struggling is still a huge hurdle for most.
And while light has been shed on PTSD in recent years, with so many soldiers returning from theaters of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and related areas, society is now realizing that the mental effects of war are more physically debilitating than once thought, impacting the veteran’s entire ability to re-integrate to civilian life and properly care for his or herself. The local church needs to be a source of help and support for returning soldiers.
As psychiatrist with a Christian worldview, I see the mind of “psychologically wounded” veterans as Satan’s playground. The devil is the great deceiver who twists the realities of war into something far more nefarious and urges us to take a very self-centered point of view, rather than keeping our focus on the God who can heal us. It is the job of the church to provide not only spiritual support, but to be the hands and feet of Jesus by organizing support groups for veterans and their families, or when possible, by helping with jobs, networking opportunities, or interim needs like food or housing assistance.
So on this Memorial Day, don’t just honor the fallen. Honor those veterans whose service leads to the daily war against PTSD – with practical help from the family of the church.