Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Veterans with PTSD - Heroes or Monsters? My thoughts...
I am the wife of a Combat Infantry Veteran who has PTSD among other injuries. I am also an advocate that often spends 20 hours a day working with families like ours while caring for my own dear hero. I know their stories, their challenges, their fears. I also know that our heroes are not monsters.
Many families I know were approached by the Dr. Phil show to be part of Thursday’s show, and each one refused because of the tone of the producers. Spouses who were trying to talk about how their family was coping, about tools and support they’d found to help, were interrupted with endless questions about whether their husband was hitting them, about how often he was taken over by rage, about how horrible their lives were and how bad things “really” were. Those orchestrating the show were not looking for hope… they were looking for sensationalism.
So now, I feel a responsibility… a responsibility to try to tell the rest of the story… to fight against the stigma of PTSD that many warriors and those who love them face every day. It’s a stigma that was sadly strengthened on Thursday because of a drive for ratings. And thanks to that sensationalistic tactic, the jobs of advocates and spouses nationwide just got harder.
Why are our jobs harder? Because our veterans already sometimes feel like society views them as monsters. They are injured, they are living in broken places, and the majority of news coverage about PTSD covers the worst-case scenarios - the situations where heroes go too long without care, where their symptoms and struggles are ignored, where their family does not have the help and support it needs, where those in their support network are not educated with real-world information about this injury. While these stories grab headlines, they leave out the huge number of heroes and families who are coping, even when days are difficult, and building a new life with PTSD. This sort of coverage (which includes Dr. Phil’s episode entitled “From Heroes to Monsters?”) only serves to widen the gap between those who have served our country and those who benefit from that service but have little understanding about what post-traumatic stress disorder “looks” like in the average household.
That kind of coverage makes Veterans nervous about seeking treatment and getting “labeled” with a PTSD diagnosis. That kind of coverage makes potential employers less likely to hire current and prior servicemembers who have PTSD (the current unemployment rate for Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan is at 12.1%). That kind of coverage makes it much harder for families dealing with the injury to reach out and find support. That kind of coverage makes the children in our Veteran community less likely to share their story (and thus find needed peer support) with friends. Basically, that kind of coverage is exactly what we don’t need.
What do we need? We need people to understand that while our families may be broken, we are not giving up. We need society to comprehend that PTSD does not automatically mean that the heroes we love are violent. We need healthcare providers to step in before our stories become headlines and help orchestrate proper, thorough care. We need people who are willing to use their platforms to showcase the resolve, determination, and unbridled stubbornness within our community to pull ourselves up and persevere in the face of PTSD. We need to spread hope and information about successfully coping… not spread panic and alarm.
I will not say life with post-traumatic stress disorder is easy. Our family has been living with it for almost six years. Many days are a struggle in our household… a battle between this invisible thing that attempts suck us dry and the life we’re building post-combat. But, we continue… and so do hundreds of thousands of other heroes and families.
So, Dr. Phil, I can’t begin to tell you how disappointed I was by Thursday’s episode. And, I challenge you to offer a second look… a look at the heroes and loved ones who now spend their days educating themselves, pushing for treatment at all costs, finding ways to cope, and often helping others like them to do the same. I challenge you to showcase the families who are, slowly but surely, pushing forward. I challenge you to highlight the heroes and spouses who have faced domestic violence as a result of PTSD and have found their way back. I challenge you to tell the non-sensational stories… the stories that may not garner huge ratings… but will actually help foster hope and understanding. I challenge you to make a difference in the lives of those who have laid themselves down for you.
Proud wife of an OIF Veteran
Founder of FamilyOfaVet.com - an organization dedicated to helping heroes and their loved ones survive and thrive after combat with real world info about PTSD, TBI, and Life After Combat!