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Invisible Scars

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Invisible Scars
Putt, Putt, Boom! The car in front of me backfires and I instinctively swerve to the right to avoid it while jumping 2 feet in my seat. This is my reality and is also the reality of so many of my brothers in arms. We served our great nation in Operation Iraqi Freedom; some of us came home, while others didn’t. For those of us who returned, our inner being had been destroyed by the sights and experiences that we were exposed to during our deployments. We are victims, suffering from wounds that can’t be seen, but by internal wounds that we struggle with on a daily basis. We will never be the same.
Many veterans return from war and are unable to adapt to the life they once knew. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one of the most widely recognized lasting effects of war in service members. PTSD is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened (Department of Veterans Affairs). Every day while patrolling roads in Iraq we had to be aware of our surroundings and not become complacent. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were one of the most common threats we were exposed to. These bombs were hidden in the ground like landmines, unable to be seen with a naked eye, and could only be detected by using metal detectors, the eye in the sky, or being ran over. On several occasions my men and I were directly hit by an IED causing shrapnel to penetrate through our vehicle, causing wheels to be blown off the vehicle, causing a loss of armor, and instilling a fear that death is a reality. This is just one example of the many events that could cause PTSD in a service member.
When a tour of duty is over, it is hard for a member of the military to leave the war overseas. The constant exposure to harmful threats makes it near impossible to forget. There has been a spike in PTSD cases in recent years. Many service men and women are still suffering from the effects of war long after the recommended debriefing period (Department of Veterans Affairs). Those suffering from PTSD experience night terrors, anxiety, and depression. PTSD stricken veterans have a hard time feeling safe and secure at home and are easily triggered to feel back at war. They may experience relationship problems with their spouses and children because they cannot adapt and become the person they were prior to deployment or because relationship roles have changed throughout the deployment with the wife becoming “man of the house”. Service members may also distance themselves from their loved ones because they don’t feel comfortable talking about their experiences which in turn makes those left behind feel unloved and detached.
Having PTSD increases the risk that an individual will develop a drinking and/or drug problem. (Department of Veterans Affairs) Some service members use alcohol to avoid their bad memories. This is a short term fix to a long term problem. The alcohol will numb you from the thoughts and fears temporarily, but once sober, anxiety will creep right back in. Substance abuse can also have a negative effect on family life and cause deeper relationship strains.
An alarming effect of combat PTSD is the increase in veteran suicide. Suicide rates among combat veterans have increased by an alarming 80% in the last 5 years accounting for 20% of all suicides in the United States (Castillo). In 2012, there was a military suicide every day, with our youngest veterans taking their lives at a rate 4 times faster than any other age group (Camargo). The inability to deal with the remnants of war, letting pride get in the way of seeking professional help, topped with the fear of being judged as weak by higher ups adds to the risk of suicide in our veterans.
If a service member is willing to seek help for PTSD, there are several treatments available. One of the best validated treatments is cognitive behavior therapy. This allows the effected service member a place to speak with an unbiased medical professional to sort through their emotions and thoughts left over from the war. This type of therapy focuses on educating veterans about the relationships between thoughts and emotions, exploring common negative thoughts held by other combat survivors, identifying personal negative beliefs, developing alternative interpretations or judgments, and practicing new thinking. This is a systematic approach which relies on individual assessment, self-monitoring of thoughts, and real world practice (Schulz).
Another widely used form of treatment is pharmacotherapy. This is the use of prescription medication to combat the effects of PTSD. More often than not, PTSD is accompanied with feelings of depression, which makes anti-depressant pills such as Zoloft an easier fix to the anxiety. It is believed that pharmacotherapy is most effective when complimented with a type of psychotherapy (The Department of Veterans Affairs).
Nothing can prepare someone for the realities of war. Constantly wondering if this is the end, if the next bullet is going to hit you or if you will be able to once again outrun the sniper’s shot, continuously being on guard looking for possible threats to you and your men, all while trying to comprehend the fact that your last shot killed someone’s son and brother in order to save your own life. War is not a game you can practice for. War has severe mental and emotional repercussions. I am grateful that in recent years the VA and Department of Defense have finally recognizing this fact and are offering assistance to the men and women who suffer from these invisible scars.

Works Cited
Alvarez, Lizette. The New York Times. Nearly a Fifth of War Veterans Report Mental Disorders, a Private Study Finds. 18 April 2008. Internet Article. 8 February 2013.
Camargo, Raisa. Voxxi. Face the Facts: Shocking PTSD, suicide rates for vets. 1 October 2012. Internet
Article. 5 February 2013.
Castillo, Michelle. CBS News. Study: Suicide rates among army soldiers up 80 percent. 10 July 2012. Internet Article. 5 February 2013.
Mayo Clinic Staff. Post-traumatic stress disorder. 8 April 2011. Internet Article. 5 February 2013.
Unknown. The Department of Veterans Affairs. Iraq War Clinician Guide-2nd Edition. June 2004. Internet Guide. 5 February 2013.
Unknown. CNN World. Combat Stress: Study: Anxiety, depression, acute stress in combat troops. 4 May 2007. Internet Article. 5 February 2013.
Schulz, Patricia. Meaning-making, PTSD, and Combat Experiences. Internet Article. 7 February 2013.

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