Post Traumatic Stress

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PTSD: From Viet Nam to Iraq and Afghanistan

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by Robert L. Hanafin 

In my latest issue of The Veteran Magazine (September-October 2011), from Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), is an excellent series of articles focused on PTSD.

This focus spans everything from:

Since their coverage of PTSD is so long, I will post this series in several parts beginning with PTSD from the Beginning AND A PTSD Preface.

ROBERT L. HANAFIN, SP5, U.S. Army (69-77), Major, U.S. Air Force-Retired (77-94), U.S. Civil Service-Retired. Veterans Issues AND Peace Activism Editor, Veterans Today News Network.

PTSD: From The Beginning by Tom Berger

Dr. Tom Berger

It has been said that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Indications are that the numbers of veterans fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are afflicted with PTSD at levels equal to, or greater than, those of Vietnam veterans. Tom Berger reviews this recent history.

In the summer of 1979, the organization known as the Council of Vietnam Veterans transformed into Vietnam Veterans of America. And not by coincidence, the modern era of diagnosing PTSD began shortly thereafter, in 1980, with the introduction of the disorder into the third edition of the APA Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of MentalDisorders (DSM-III). This came about largely through the advocacy efforts of VVA members and allies in the field of mental health.

The formal recognition of PTSD led to a large body of systematic research on its features. Those research findings also have led to modifications and refinements of the diagnostic criteria. But many of these criteria from DSM-III were largely unchanged in the last revision of the fourth edition of the diagnostic manual, DSM-IV-TR, which remains in use today.

War is rife with opportunities for exposure to traumatic events. They include driving a truck at risk for encountering roadside bombs, patrolling towns and villages, searching homes for enemy combatants, witnessing suicide attacks, being victimized by military sexual assaults and physical assaults, being assigned to graves registration, being involved in accidents causing serious injuries or death, being hit by friendly fire, serving in medical units, killing or injuring someone, seeing someone being killed, injured, or tortured, and being taken hostage.

Hundreds of thousands of war veterans suffer with flashbacks, nightmares, and many other debilitating mental health injuries—the so-called “silent wounds” of combat trauma. Indications are that veterans of the first Persian Gulf War, and more recently, those of Iraq and Afghanistan, are suffering from PTSD in the same numbers as those reported for Vietnam veterans in the 1985 National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study. In addition, media coverage has spotlighted increased suicide rates among active-duty personnel and veterans. The lack of comprehensive, efficacious assessment and treatment programs at some VA medical facilities has received its own share of negative press.

In reading about the treatments and about our struggles over the past four decades, others may realize they are not alone, and that they can learn to manage the symptoms of PTSD and not have these symptoms rule their lives.

Tom Berger, Ph.D., is a life member of VVA and a founding member of Chapter 317 in Kansas City, Missouri.He is the Executive Director of VVA’s Veterans Health Council.

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