Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Post Traumatic Social Disorder

--Net Warriors, Deng Coy Miel 

If you're in it for love, 
you ain't gonna get too far 
Watch out boy she'll chew you up
She's a maneater 
--Maneater, Hall and Oates 

Temper filled with blindness
Leads this lost and lonely man
Dragged around your whipping tree
A scourge you can`t command
--Another Bag of Bricks, Flogging Molly  

Ranger met a fellow Vietnam veteran last week (a former Marine) and they discussed Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) and related topics. The Marine has stayed away from the diagnosis of PTSD, but it took him over a decade to begin processing his experience of profound anxiety, depression, nightmares and the whole constellation of related symptoms; this got Ranger thinking.

We vets get labelled with the diagnosis of PTSD when in fact we are perfectly adapted to live and survive in an environment which requires hyper-vigilance, violent instantaneous reaction and all the other related behaviors of a predator in a prey environment.  The "problem" arises when we return to the civilian world, and our finely-honed responses are deemed inappropriate.

The situation is, we (I) do not consider PTSD to be our problem, but rather a problem for members of a too-lax society which does not know how to deal with self-contained and self-sustaining individuals like us.  "Okay", you say, "so, WTF?"

Well, aside from the fact that your government is producing more of us daily, we are resentful that we are held to a standard that our own government clearly does not adhere to.  After over a decade of involvement in a Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©), we as a nation have still not fessed up to the fact that our national reactions are no longer appropriate or applicable to leading functional lives; that in fact, they never were functional. 

The events of 9-11-01 were extremely short-lived: one day of madness.  The recovery should have been implemented immediately thereafter, except a disingenuous government pumped us full of fear and kept us in a heightened state of alert. Contrast this reaction with those of a soldier who must live a tour or more of tension, something that takes more than a moment from which to recover.

We tag our vets with PTSD, yet our National policy is as aberrant or non-adaptive as is the behavior of the most afflicted vets in our midst. We do not call our government "disordered", however.

When our society partakes of maladaptive behavior we call this "an action plan"; when vets do it we call it PTSD. Maybe a new meaning for the acronym could be, "Post-Traumatic Society Disorder."

[cross-posted @ RangerAgainstWar]


  1. I guess I'd buy this more if I really thought that the U.S. public was running around displaying "...hyper-vigilance, violent instantaneous reaction and all the other related behaviors of a predator in a prey environment." instead of lolling about worrying about who's ahead on the "Splash" celebrity freaking diving show and rummaging around in the cabinet for the last bag of Chee-tos.

    The big difference here is that the soldier can't ignore his surroundings; PTSD is the price he pays for staying alive. The U.S. public, OTOH, is being encouraged to stay as dumb and inert as a stump. Perhaps the problem here is PCID; "Post-Cognitive Inertia Disorder"?

  2. Jim -

    I like the analogy. It seems to me though that the Post Traumatic Society Disorder is more Ante than Post. This disorder started long before 9/11. Blowhards like Limbaugh have been spreading their poison over the airwaves for 25 years or more. Fox News has been influencing aberrant behavior in the US Government since 1996.


    PS - Who in the h%ll are FloggingMolly and Hall&Oates??? How about now and then citing some early Rock and Roll lyrics, pre- "wall-of-sound" would be good.

  3. I have always wondered how PTSD can be today so extremely impairing, but post-1945 Europe was still able to recover with no doubt millions of PTSD veterans.

    Maybe PTSD can be influenced very much by the community the veterans live in.

  4. Sven

    I am sure there are post experience environmental factors involved. I recall one study, years ago, that suggested that Viet Nam veterans who continued to be active in the Reserve Forces seemed to adjust or recover from their battlefield experiences more successfully than those who did not join the Reserve. The authors only reported "correlation", admitting that joining the Reserve could simply be acceptable to those not suffering psychological issues, but did also state that the Reserve involvement might also be a form of "support system" whereby men with similar experience were able to "come down" from their combat trauma more successfully with help from those who also experienced it.

    There was a malady called "shell shock" or "combat fatigue" which was commonly "suffered" by WWII vets. At the time, only more profound cases were recognized, and it was not specifically seen as a continuing psychiatric illness. That was probably due to a simple lack of follow up investigation. The concern at the time was only "combat effectiveness" of the individual, not subsequent debilitation. I would also note that the same "malady" is mentioned under a variety of names in WWI, the US Civil War and further back into history.

    Since the actual medical diagnosis of PTSD did not enter the scene until 1980, it would have been difficult to apply the illness to WWII vets, or examine the after effects.

  5. Sven,
    I understand your question. I think.
    If i may.
    I knew a lot of WW2 German vets when i served in Germany, and i know a lot of RVN vets, so let me interpolate.
    I think it's about community support and legitimacy as well as individual trauma. Simply put a person can adjust or settle in to a society that accepts the returning vet with dignity.
    The Germans imo didn't disrespect their vets as easily and readily as did the US after RVN.
    The US returning US vets had a fine social network and they felt legitimate which is something we VN vets lack. Or at least i do.
    Also the vets of Germany and the US often fought in regimental organisations and had long term comrade ship,plus they decompressed after the fighting stopped.
    The Germans did it in POW camps and the Amis did it by occupation duty and by long sea journeys home. These guys kept long term friendships alive, but this is more rare with RVN vets.

    You are on track as usual.
    I wonder if we have any relevant longitudinal studies on the early diagnosed cases? For example 1 of my friends was diagnosed on ets as being ANXIOUS and later this translated into service connected for ptsd after 1980. It was all a matter of terminology and medical awareness.

  6. Not sure that WW2 lacked its psychological casualties.

    "About 25-30 percent of WWII casualties were psychological cases; under very sever conditions that number could reach as high as 70-80 percent. In Italy, mental problems accounted for 56 percent of total casualties. On Okinawa, where fighting conditions were particularly horrific, 7,613 Americans died, 31,807 sustained physical wounds, and 26, 221 were mental casualties."

    The divorce rate for WW2 veterans under 29 reached 1 out of 29 in late 1945, as compared to a general rate of 1 on 60. Behind those divorces lay a myriad of problems, some of which related directly to the combat experience:

    "Trying to repress feelings, they drank, gambled suffered paralyzing depression, and became inarticulately violent. A paratrooper’s wife would “sit for hours and just hold him when he shook.” Afterward, he started beating her and the children: “He became a brute.” And they divorced." (Adams, 1993)

    I think there were a bunch of things that "helped" with this; as jim points out, WW2 troopers usually came back from war with their units around them. And the times were very different; you were EXPECTED to "get right", and there were severe penalties if you didn't. But my father (who was in the Navy in 1945) says that there were guys in naval hospitals well into the 50's with psych problems from WW2.

  7. jim

    I'm not sure if longitudinal studies of VN vets can be applied to the Iraq/Afghan vets, as the environmental circumstances are quite different.

    In VN, we basically deployed and redeployed as individuals. Typically, we returned from the combat zone to a new population of peers, and while our experiences may have been similar, they were not shared in time and space. Even when units deployed, some 2/3rds of the members were dispersed to other units and replaced by people with a variety of DEROS dates for personnel management purposes. Further, in many instances, family members dispersed from each other. Lastly, we had a significant "transient" population of troops due to the particularities of the draft. Thus, to ETS was normal, whereas today, it almost carries a stigma of abandoning one's comrades.

    Today's troops deploy together, serve in the combat zone together, return to CONUS together, anticipate the next deployment together, then redeploy together, etc, etc. Similarly, the families bear their burdens together, and interact together through multiple deployments.

    A significant question would be if all this "cohesion" provides positive psychological support, or does it create a amplifying "regenerative feedback loop" of stress factors? For example, my roomie in flight school spent 12 years in SF. He owned a home in Fayetteville, as did many other SF families. His wife, a nurse, had to stop exposing their two sons to other SF wives because they knew who was stationed where, had know them for years, and if some shit hit the fan at Bu Dop, the discussions turned to, "Pete Jones was seriously wounded. Do you know if your Johnny is OK?" In her view, familiarity bred heightened anxiety.

    Further, consider the virtually instant and constant communication the troops have with their families. If a wifey passes on each and every worry at home, does this add to the psychological stresses laid on the troopie? You and I were not confronted with leaky faucets, difficulties with bill paying and the like in real time, no less the need to respond with solutions instantly. Today's troops are. The effects of stress are cumulative, and these kids have real time duty stress as well as real time home front stress.

    In short, not only are the diagnostic standards significantly different for today's troops, but the environmental ones are dramatically different as well.

  8. Al,
    Good points all.
    At Benning in 70-71 the Hospital had exactly 2 mental health counselors in the tda.
    I assume this has been beefed up in todays scenario. At least i hope so.
    To chief,
    After WW2 ended my Dad stayed aboard his wartime service DE149 until Dec 45 when he ets'd. I assume this was a good decompression period. He returned to the coal mine immediately upon return.