“No pen can describe the horrors of this battle ... it was a living hell from which escape seemed scarcely possible.”
— Col. Robert Nugent, Commander, 69th New York Infantry, describing the battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia, 1862.
“You will want me to tell you of the battle. It was awful. Language will not convey the idea.”
— Pvt. John H. Burrill, Second New Hampshire Volunteers, after the battle of Gettysburg, July 3, 1863.
“I never in my wildest dreams knew such terror could grip your very soul.”
— Capt. George Montgomery, 82nd Airborne, D-Day, June 6, 1944.
“I will never forget the death and hell along that beach.”
— Pfc. Richard King, in a letter home from Okinawa, September 1945.
These glimpses of battle, taken from the letters and journals of four American Soldiers, who fought during the Civil War and World War II, reflect the devastating psychology of combat on each generation that goes to war. Until the mid-1970s, the psychological effects of combat were called many things — hysteria, shell-shock, and combat fatigue. For the past 30 years, these effects have been called Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) and treated with growing awareness and concern for the longer term consequences they often have for individuals.
The Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledges and honors the tremendous sacrifices made by veterans of all eras. None return from battle unaffected by the experience — but there can be growth as a result of stress and challenge. We know that most veterans leave the military with greater skills, personal strengths, and wisdom that will serve them and our society well. However, we also know that growth and struggle can co-exist. Even those who leave the military with new strengths can also experience struggles with PTS.
Many combat veterans have long carried hidden, but very real, wounds to the spirit. Left untreated, these invisible wounds can deepen — going from PTS to PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). The “D” is serious injury, which impacts veterans, their family members, friends, and colleagues.
Veterans contending with PTSD could face significant challenges lasting years to a lifetime. However, they do not need to live alone with PTSD, which can be triggered by combat, natural disasters, sexual assault, or other life-threatening situations. No veteran or family member should believe that they are without hope. It is not hopeless, and we can help.
On this Veterans Day, I take this opportunity to reinforce VA’s message that PTS and PTSD are treatable.
Together with the Department of Defense, VA continues extensive work to increase the consistency, quality, and access to mental health services across the two Departments. At VA, we have developed cutting-edge and effective treatment programs for PTSD. We retain a staff of more than 20,000 mental health professionals. They are highly trained and experienced specialists who are fully capable of treating PTSD and other conditions, such as depression and substance misuse, which often accompany it.
These professionals are ready to evaluate and help veterans from any era who suffer from PTS, or have the more serious symptoms of PTSD, including recurring thoughts of the traumatic event, emotional numbing, hyper-alertness and irritability, or thoughts of suicide. More than 2,900 VA clinicians have been trained in the use of Cognitive Processing Therapy or Prolonged Exposure Therapy — evidence-based treatments cited as proven and effective by the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Treatment of PTSD
Our National Center for PTSD is the engine of innovation supporting VA’s internationally recognized network of more than 200 specialized programs for the treatment of PTS and PTSD. Every VA medical center has outpatient PTSD specialty capabilities, and all of these programs have an addictions specialist to address the commonly co-occurring problem of substance misuse.
We have focused our efforts on the early identification and management of stress-related disorders in order to decrease the long-term burden of these problems on returning veterans. It is important to encourage veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to seek an evaluation and treatment, if any evidence of PTS is detected. To prevent PTS from developing into PTSD, VA can help with coping skills and mental health care to avert the more serious condition.
Veterans coming to VA for the first time are screened for PTSD, depression, and alcohol misuse, as well as for symptoms of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Should the veteran screen positive for any of these conditions, VA provides further evaluation and appropriate treatment.
At VA, we are continuing our unique PTSD research program and aggressively reaching out to our newest generation of returning veterans to ensure that they receive all the benefits, research options, and specialized services available to them. What is also meaningful for them is an early return to the structure, routines, and stability found in family engagement and professional employment. Veterans, who are coping with the effects of PTS, successfully transition most rapidly when they are able to return to familiar routines and are employed, giving rise to self-confidence and initiative. Employers, too, can benefit from hiring veterans, because of the discipline, teamwork, and mission focus that veterans bring to the workplace. VA is well-positioned to help veterans with a variety of services that can facilitate returning to the work force, attending school, and family therapy. Healing cannot be complete without these factors.
Today, as we recognize and thank all of our veterans, President Obama and I encourage them, their family members, clinicians, and members of the public to visit the website for VA’s National Center for PTSD (www.ptsd.va.gov), which provides reliable, expert information, and hope for those dealing with post traumatic stress. Veterans are our finest citizens, and we owe them every assistance in gaining the fulfilling lives all Americans should have, and that veterans, through their service, fought to protect.