Catherine Lieb – Listening to Stories of War

PTSD in the News Again

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A recent headline in Stars and Stripes reads, “Senators express concern about veterans’ mental health in wake of Ukraine invasion.”  Read Article Here The article describes a letter US senators sent to Veterans Affairs urging the VA to reach out to veterans who may be experiencing problems with PTSD. They fear images of the Russian invasion in social media and the news will trigger a need for more support.  The senator leading this effort is Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, an Iraq war veteran.

When I started working at the VA in 2008, the VA was preparing for a tidal wave of post-9/11 veterans needing mental health care but the wave had not arrived yet.  Most of the veterans seeking treatment for PTSD in 2008 were Vietnam vets. 

One of my standard intake questions was, “Is there anything in particular that prompted you to make this appointment now?”   A common answer was watching the news about the wars in  Iraq and Afghanistan.  These Vietnam vets had been dealing with their unresolved trauma for more than 40 years.  Images of the post-9/11 wars were triggering their war memories along with hope that maybe it wasn’t too late to get help to put them to rest.

What triggers trauma reactions has not changed much since humankind invented warfare, but what we call these injuries, how communities react to warriors when they come home, and what healers do to help them, these days psychiatrists and psychotherapists, has changed a lot.  

Service members deployed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the first generation of veterans who have come home to a society that has learned to label the psychological injuries of war PTSD. And this is the first time there is a widespread expectation that the VA will help veterans recover.   In the process, PTSD researchers, the VA, and mental health providers are being put to a test.  Does labeling the emotional and moral injuries of war PTSD help or hinder recovery?  Are VA PTSD treatments effective?   So far, the answers to both questions are mixed.

The next several blogs will focus on PTSD, its definition, why some people get it and others do not, what helps and what hinders recovery.  I hope you will join me in the conversation. I welcome your comments and feedback.

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