Veterans Day: Honoring Those Who Gave to this Country
Written by: Yvette Smothers
Veterans Day: Honoring Those Who Gave to this Country
In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11th as the first observance of Armistice Day, the day World War I ended.
Imagine undergoing boot camp before military service and then undergoing boot camp after military service as well. That is the reality for veterans who have endured mental health crises as a result of their service, mostly from combat situations. I won’t stuff you with statistics the way I normally do but I’d like to start by going back in time when mental illness was first reported in veterans, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The VA goes all the way back to early biblical days to reference the Greek poet Homer (The Iliad and the Odyssey), as one who provided one of the first descriptions of what is now called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. William Shakespeare followed with his portrayal of Henry IV. Charles Dickens, in A Tale of Two Cities- he also wrote about traumatic experiences and subsequent symptoms. However, medical attention to the disease did not come until after the American Civil War (1861-1865).
What was known as shell shock and war neurosis during World War I would later be called Combat Stress Reaction (CSR) during World War II. Up to half of World War II discharges were said to be the result of combat exhaustion (CSR). During World War I, soldiers were often given a few days’ rest before they returned to the war zone. During World War II, CSR was treated with the method “PIE” (Proximity, Immediacy, Expectancy), essentially the same approach used during World War I, rest, then return to combat.
Baby boomers may be familiar with the phrase “shell shock” which was often used to describe the Vietnam War (1955-1975) veterans who reacted to the explosion of artillery shells. It is predated to World War I as the presence of symptoms of PTSD which was formally recognized in 1980. According to the Mayo Clinic, PTSD symptoms are generally grouped into four types: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions. Symptoms can vary over time or vary from person to person. PTSD is diagnosed after all four types of symptoms last for at least a month and interfere with day-to-day functioning.
A writer on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund blog (Founders of the Wall) tells the story of Mike Bartowiak who volunteered for the Vietnam War in 1968 at the age of 16. He was originally stationed in Germany and then went to Vietnam in 1971. He volunteered to be a door gunner there. Mike saved the lives of several comrades in Cambodia and Laos.
After the war, he came home and went to work as an EMT at the Fire Department. It was there that he would succumb to the wounds of war, PTSD and medical problems caused by his exposure to Agent Orange.
Mike would later pass away as a result of these wounds on July 19, 2014. He was 62.
Before he died, Mike wrote in his last Facebook post “The 17th of July was a Sunday”. My life ended as I knew it. With the loss of my last friend and 2 bullets slowing down a touch as they hit me. In all 14 men shot. I was the only one that lived. They are still there, 22 Kilometers inside of Laos. In many ways I never left the war. Maybe I never will.”
Mike, following the Vietnam War
It was not until 1980 that the American Psychological Association (APA) would add PTSD to DSM-III after researching conditions of Vietnam War veterans, Holocaust survivors, sexual trauma victims and others. Psychologists had finally established a link between the trauma of war and post-military civilian life. Researchers now confirm that PTSD affects about 4 out of every 100 American men (or 4%) and 10 out of every 100 American women (or 10%). Today it is no longer considered an anxiety disorder, it can also be linked to depression, anger, or reckless behavior. Now it is in a new category, Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders.
The best news is that there is a new treatment that the FDA is in the process of approving that offers what the FDA calls a “breakthrough” for PTSD. It is expected to be available by 2022 if the FDA approves it. The May/June 2020 issue of Disabled American Veterans (DAV) magazine titled “This is your brain on drug/drug assisted psychotherapy” features an article titled “PTSD Breakthrough” that explores the use of a street drug, ecstasy, and its impact in treating those who suffer from PTSD. Its pharmacological name is MDMA, and it is shown to significantly reduce PTSD symptoms when combined with psychotherapy. In one case referenced in the article, Army and Marine Corps veteran Jonathan Lubesky was able to cut his symptoms in half after using MDMA and psychotherapy over a 12 week period he later said, “It worked. I have not had PTSD in five years.” He took MDMA three times over 12 weeks followed by psychotherapy sessions. He would take a green capsule containing 125 milligrams of MDMA, and then begin his trauma-focused therapy session, about 40 minutes after the drug had taken effect. All the 103 patients that participated in clinical trials suffered from chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD for an average of just under 18 years. Dr. Michael Mithoefer, a psychiatrist heavily involved in the clinical trials said “It can be very painful to process trauma, whether you have MDMA or not, it’s just that MDMA tends to make processing more possible.”
This Veterans Day let us honor our heroes in every way possible.