The Soldier’s Heart

Posted on August 3, 2011


U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Greg Rivers, 20, waiting to take psychological tests

I can only imagine being a soldier fighting in a war zone – to have my life at risk every day, to watch fellow soldiers die, to constantly hear gunfire and explosions and yelling. I couldn’t handle it.

I also can only imagine coming home from that life – to go back to making dinner, paying the bills, bringing the kids to sports practice, living a normal life after being to hell and back. I couldn’t handle that either. And I’m not the only one. Nearly 1 in 5 soldiers suffer from PTSD after returning home from duty. And the suicide rate among soldiers with PTSD is growing.

Something must be done for these men and women. They risk their lives for our government, for this country. They experience things while overseas then many of us cannot even comprehend. The government should not ignore their suffering.

Fortunately, the government is focusing more attention on this issue. A settlement has been reached between the government and vets with PTSD. Once it is finalized, the vets will be given lifetime disability retirement benefits such as military health insurance. While this is certainly a help, it can only do so much.

Doctors have been turning to anti-psychotic medications for vets suffering from PTSD because anti-depressants have been ineffective.

“The use of such drugs has grown sharply over the past decade, as thousands of returning soldiers and Marines have found that their post-traumatic stress symptoms do not respond to antidepressants, the only drugs backed by scientific evidence for the disorder. Doctors have turned to antipsychotics, which strongly affect mood, to augment treatment, based almost entirely on their experience with them and how they expect them to work”

But even the anti-psychotic drugs are not working.

“Drugs widely prescribed to treat severe post-traumatic stress symptoms for veterans are no more effective than placebos and come with serious side effects, including weight gain and fatigue”

It’s so incredibly sad. These are young men and women, suffering day in and day out, and they are finding little or no relief from medicine. The families of these vets suffer too as they experience first hand the torment their loved one is going through.

An amazing documentary on soldiers living with PTSD is “The Soldier’s Heart”. If you’d like to watch the whole thing (or segments of it), then click here. You get a taste of how horrifying war is and how PTSD grips its victims, dragging them into a black hole of anxiety and depression.

In the movie, U.S. Marine Rob Sarra talks about how in late March 2003, he opened fire on an Iraqi woman in a black burqa holding a small paper bag whom he suspected to be a suicide bomber. He fired at her, and fellow marines then followed suit. As she fell to the ground, her body ripped apart by dozens of bullets, Sarra saw a white flag in her hand.

“Right then and there I was just like, what the hell happened? I was crying, hysterical…this woman got killed by my actions. I wasn’t going to talk to anyone about it. But little did I know it kind of worked itself back up to the surface when I came home”

An event like that – a young man’s life being turned completely upside down because of an incident that wasn’t really his fault – is very distressing to me. There were two victims. One was an innocent civilian whose country was invaded for questionable reasons. And another was a young man who has to live forever with the pain caused by what happened in that split second. Had we not invaded Iraq, imagine how the lives of those two people would be different.

Some wars are necessary. I know that. But we cannot be rushing into them without extremely careful consideration. We need to put aside the “business talk” of war – the dollars, the strategy, the goals, the operations, and all the other fancy-sounding words. We need to start weighing in more on the importance and value of human life.

“We’re the ones that live with them … and we are there when they wake up at night freaked out because of some dream or because they can’t sleep,” the wife of a vet said in an article about army families dealing with PTSD.

Top officials make decisions surrounding war and send our men and women off to fight, but do they really see the effect war has on soldiers and families? Do they truly witness the long-term damage that defending this country is causing? I don’t think they do.