Friday, January 11, 2008


US is dealing with a military hospital scandal for some time. It may be better to say “a scandal in a scandal”, because the scandal is not limited with the old hospital but the insufficiency of US dealing with the traumatized veterans turning back from one unjust war after another.

Washington Post article at June 17, 2007 gives thrilling facts; “One of the bitter legacies of Vietnam was the inadequate treatment of troops when they came back. Tens of thousands endured psychological disorders in silence, and too many ended up homeless, alcoholic, drug-addicted, imprisoned or dead before the government acknowledged their conditions and in 1980 officially recognized PTSD as a medical diagnosis. Yet nearly three decades later, the government still has not mastered the basics: how best to detect the disorder, the most effective ways to treat it, and the fairest means of compensating young men and women who served their country and returned unable to lead normal lives.Cruz's case illustrates these broader problems at a time when the number of suffering veterans is the largest and fastest-growing in decades, and when many of them are back at home with no monitoring or care. Between 1999 and 2004, VA disability pay for PTSD among veterans jumped 150 percent, to $4.2 billion.”

Most of the people, including the victims don’t know what is PTSD. It is generally described as in Washington Post’s “Walter Reed and Beyond” special report:
“You have experienced a traumatic event, or a series of traumatic events. The event may be over, but you may now be experiencing or may experience later some strong emotions or physical reactions. It is very common, in fact, quite normal for people to experience emotional shocks when they have passed through a horrible event. Sometimes the emotional aftershocks (or stress reactions) appear immediately after the traumatic event. Sometimes they may appear a few hours or a few days later. And, in some cases, weeks or months may pass before the stress reactions appear.”

PTSD’s physical, emotional, cognitive and behavioral signs are listed as; fatigue, muscle tremors, twitches, chest pain, difficulty breathing, elevated blood pressure, rapid heart rate, thirst, visual difficulties, vomiting, nausea, grinding of teeth, weakness, dizziness, profuse sweating, chills, shock symptoms, fainting, blaming someone, confusion, poor attention, poor decisions, heightened or lowered alertness, hyper-vigilance, poor concentration, memory problems, poor problem solving, difficulty identifying familiar objects or people, increased or decreased awareness of surroundings, loss of time, place, or person orientation, disturbed thinking, nightmares , intrusive images, poor abstract thinking, anxiety, guilt, grief, denial, uncertainty, severe panic (rare), emotional shock, fear, agitation, depression, apprehension, irritability, inappropriate emotional response, intense anger, feeling overwhelmed, loss of emotional control, change in activity, change in speech patterns, emotional outbursts, suspiciousness, withdrawal, inability to rest, change in usual communications, hyper-alert to environment, loss or increase of appetite, alcohol consumption, antisocial acts, non-specific bodily complaints, startle reflex intensified, pacing, erratic movements, change in sexual functioning, etc.

Though PTSD is not a new disorder and accounts of similar symptoms that go back to ancient times, it come to serious attention only after the Vietnam War. A study in 1988 estimated that the prevalence of PTSD in that group was 15.2 percent at that time and that 30 percent had experienced the disorder at some point since returning from Vietnam.

Unfortunately it is still thought as a problem of veterans including World War II, Korean Conflict, and Persian Gulf populations, and in United Nations peacekeeping forces deployed to war zones around the world. However it is not only a problem of veterans but more of unseen, undiagnosed civilians.

My understanding of human rights don’t let me think it may be a kind of punishment to soldiers in return of their participation to wars. Let’s wish healing to all the veterans around the world (now defined with millions) though we don’t approve wars and look at the other side of the problem; civilians.

As PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed life-threatening events such as terrorist incidents, war, or violent personal assaults like rape beside other (natural, ordinary criminal and accidental) reasons; it would not be be wrong to think that the Cold War policies of imperialism fueled it among civilians all around the world.

Thanks to the scientists who are working on trauma and related issues who created dozens of questionnaires to diagnose trauma victims but it is a dilemma for me “who” are the victims they are able to reach. There may be some few researches on war thorn societies as Kosova or Iraq but I don’t think it is possible to reach the ordinary people of countries like us.

We neither have the possibilities of researches and treatment as western countries’ rather common trauma victims nor live under the conditions of declared wars to attract enough attention. We are not facing only personal but also mass-violence and mass-trauma for decades.

I don’t even wonder if there are any special researches for example about the difference of the trauma on an usual rape victim and a torture rape victim (especially with the fact that the females effected more than males). Or, what is the difference between one who witnessed h/h home took fire because of an ordinary reason and another whose house, school etc put fire on purpose and have to live under persisting threat etc...

According to scientific researches, even the hormone levels of PTSD patients show abnormalities: for example, high levels of thyroid, epinephrine, and natural opiates coupled with low levels of cortisol. Blunted, or depressed, responses to a trauma may be the result of the body's increased production of opiates (narcotic-like hormones that induce mental lethargy), which masks the emotional pain.

It may take a book to write on this topic but this is only a blog.

Reading Washington Post’s special report took met o my childhood; summer and autumn of 1968. I went back to the corridors, rooms, gardens of Walter Reed and young soldiers on wheel-chairs or with bandages came into life in front of my eyes. Only they were less than the numbers I read now and from a different war; Vietnam.

My journey to the past did’t stop at that fascinating years of 68s, hippies, revolutions etc. That child remembering the young Vietnam veterans’ empty eyes, crossed roads with them for a short time, grow up into her own traumas. Her own traumas lived at the other, civilian side. She had witnessed and experienced all creativeness and tricks of Cold War era as an anti-imperialist youngster of a developing country.

Neither anybody told, nor we knew anything about “trauma” let aside PTSD. We thought whatever we were living was normal, welcomed deaths or tortures as tests of our beliefs. It was not a conscious or unconscious decision but fact of life.

When we faced several illnesses years later, we could never think they may be related with our past experiences. It was not possible to think the cortisol etc level in one’s blood and it’s effects may be a result of decades past traumas.

Yes, this is only a blog.

What a pity PTSD is still not known enough, not put on the first lines in the agenda of anti-war, human-rights etc activists. It is great to do our best to help war thorn societies, especially children in the means of staying alive but I am not sure about the question of real survival. Is there a way to help wounded souls, heal them, protect the future of the ones who survived death… what a pity having no answers…

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