In May of this year, I filmed an exclusive and explosive interview with United States Marine Corp veteran Bob Cuba, Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Cuba served two tours of duty as a sergeant and agreed to appear on the Internet news/talk show version of this blog to discuss the horrors he experienced and witnessed while fighting in Iraq. He also appeared to address many of the myths and outright lies surrounding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a condition Cuba has waged a valiant battle against for the last several years.
An outspoken advocate on matters concerning PTSD and U.S. military veterans, Cuba recently submitted an essay, which is a world exclusive, for publication on this blog. “A Warrior’s Curse” cuts through all the psychobabble and innuendo about PTSD and, in true Marine fashion, addresses it in an extremely direct, no-nonsense and powerful way.
I truly believe that A Warrior’s Curse provides great insight and possible methods for treating PTSD -- and helping veterans -- from the greatest possible source: a veteran who was on the front line, diagnosed with the condition, and watched fellow Marines die while serving their country.
Candidates will soon announce they intend to make a run for the White House in 2012. All will have aspirations about being the most powerful political figure on the planet, but how many of them are willing to take the country to war at a moment’s notice. In addition, what are they willing to do for current veterans and those fortunate enough to return home after engaging in bloody and brutal conflicts in the name of America?
A Warrior’s Curse delves deep into these issues in a blunt and concise manner, and everyone in this nation, from President Barack Obama to Al Pacino to Joe Scarborough to “Joe and Jane Six Pack”, is urged to read it, especially if they truly, truly give a damn about the men and women of the United States military.
A Warrior’s Curse
It’s not new by any means and has been called by many names. It was called “soldier’s heart” during the Civil War, shell shock in World War I, battle fatigue in World War II and Korea, and since the Vietnam War it has been known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). No matter the name, it’s still the same thing. However, it’s not a disease and it’s not a mental illness. PTSD is psycho-spiritual manifestation of an incomplete rite of passage that results from modern society’s ignorance and its refusal to properly honor the warriors that wage war on their behalf.
Previous civilizations recognized the need for a warrior class to serve as protectors. These warriors placed their very lives in danger and were often rewarded with special honors and status in society. Sadly, that is no longer the case, as war has evolved to a point where destruction is immeasurable and the violence unthinkable. It can only be compared to Hell itself. Although, I suspect Hades would be a bit less traumatizing.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) defines PTSD as “a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or violent personal assaults like rape. People who suffer from PTSD often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached or estranged, and these symptoms can be severe enough and last long enough to significantly impair the person's daily life” (Ford, Huber and Meagher 1).
In addition, the DVA notes “PTSD is marked by clear, biological changes and psychological symptoms. PTSD is complicated by the fact that it frequently occurs in conjunction with related disorders such as depression, substance abuse, problems of memory and cognition, and other physical and mental health conditions. The disorder is also associated with impairment of the person's ability to function in social or family life, including occupational instability, marital problems and divorces, family discord, and difficulties in parenting” (Ford 1-2).
While modern medicine does, in fact, provide for the ability to recognize symptoms, it fails to take into account the humanity of the people it diagnoses and completely ignores the soul, which, though intangible, is what defines a person. War kills the soul -- in the sense that it will never be the same; it is transformed when innocence is lost and seeks to become wise in its place. When a soul in unable to make that transition, when it cannot grow, then the reality of combat remains forever present as though the warrior is still there, fighting. In the case of the soldier, this is not a mere psychological disorder. It is a spiritual condition that feels more like a curse than anything else.
Is it any wonder that experts have absolutely no idea how to deal with the most devastating condition afflicting thousands of men and women serving in the Armed Forces? They just don’t know how to address the problem and openly admit it. According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM) “there is no generally accepted and used definition for recovery in PTSD” (IOM 4). Particularly disturbing, is it not?
There is a very good reason for this madness. The experts can’t figure it out because they are the product of the society in which they are born and because you have to be engaged in war in order to know what it actually does to you. Consider all of the external factors – public resistance and denial of government elected and appointed officials, military brass and biased researchers that are trying through influence to disguise the problem, while proposing that it’s something that will just…go away -- and you have a winning combination for destroying yet another generation of our nation’s finest men and women, who -- as the warriors of antiquity -- put their lives on the line for the safety and security of the entire population.
Look no further than September 11, 2001, as an example. Do you remember how angry the majority of Americans were and how easily and quickly we embraced men and women of the Armed Forces as they went off to war? But now they are forsaken, misunderstood and abandoned because there is something that is far more important than the well being of our nation’s heroes. What is that? The answer is money; the cost of providing adequate care for our veterans is too high for an ungrateful nation.
The argument that “generous VA disability payments may act as a disincentive to recovery” (Satel 2) might be a good indicator as to why there is no effective way to treat PTSD. It implies that the veterans whose lives are being devastated by their war experiences just don’t want to let go of their petty compensation payments for their suffering and so they make no effort to recover. What? These men and women gave everything but their lives, which they would have gladly sacrificed for their country. As a result, they suffer and that’s their fault? They don’t deserve to be treated in this fashion or dishonored in any way, and this is one of the major reasons so many of them cannot make the transition to civilian life.
There is no place for the veteran in our consumer-oriented society. We expect them to reintegrate without regard to their valor, to their sacrifice, as though nothing had happened and shun them if they dare expect gratitude, let alone a place of honor among us. They are expendable, mass-produced fighting machines no better than a car, to be hauled away as junk when the engine doesn’t turn properly anymore. Veterans Day is just another day off from work or to go out, enjoy family and, maybe, drink a little beer. At most, the veterans get a parade here and there, but as soon as it’s over they’re forgotten once more.
Our society is the absolute antithesis of the ancient and medieval ones, where the warrior was celebrated and respected. “Make no mistake about it, the veterans of this country want nothing more than to become successful and productive members of the society we fought so hard to defend” (Leal Jr. 4). Truer words have never been spoken, but how can they?
We have been at war in two separate theaters of operation -- Afghanistan and Iraq -- for the better part of a decade with no end in sight. Moreover, we don’t just ask our men and women in uniform to go to war once; we ask them to go back again and again, year after year. In one of the studies conducted, it was determined that “the prevalence of PTSD increased in a linear manner with the number of firefights during deployment: 4.5 percent for no firefights, 12.7 percent for three to five firefights, and 19.3 percent for more than five firefights” (Norton 2). But keep in mind, this by no means takes into account other traumatizing events like surviving a mortar attack or exposure to an improvised explosive devise, commonly known as an IED, which is the most common form of engagement used by the enemy in the aforementioned regions. Therefore, it’s reasonable to expect that a sizable percentage of combat veterans will exhibit symptoms of PTSD. Why is it, then, that with all the resources available to the richest, most powerful nation in the world, there is still no effective way to treat PTSD?
Medication does not work in any meaningful way other than in suppressing the symptoms of PTSD, and that is in no way, shape, or form a solution. Psychotherapy is pointless because the therapists avoid talking about the actual war experience, and even if they didn’t, they wouldn’t understand anyways. War can only be experienced and understood from a personal standpoint.
Furthermore, PTSD groups are more depressing than they are helpful. So what can be done? The ideal solution would be to go back in time and prevent these wars from happening in the first place, but that would’ve been unlikely. This is not the kind of war that can be won, so we should cut our losses and recall the troops. The latter is also unlikely.
The first thing that we need to do is realize, like it’s some kind of scientific breakthrough, that “people don’t have nightmares about, ‘It’s another Groundhog Day…they have nightmares about the killing they’ve done and seen” (Weinstein 2). Next, make people aware of the fact that the killing that was done and witnessed by American troops was on behalf of and at the request of the government of the United States and therefore, the people. We cannot and, indeed, should not continue to place the burden of responsibility on the shoulders of our veterans because they only followed orders.
Finally, while honoring their service, we must also honor the veteran -- including those currently serving on active duty -- in a personal and meaningful way, instead of the empty displays of feigned gratitude that we are accustomed to. We must take good care of them because, when all is said and done, they took good care of us as a nation -- and they did so while making sacrifice after sacrifice. Once America begins to make good on this promises, the veteran’s rite of passage will be completed…. and they will begin to heal.
Cited works for this essay include the following:
"The Iraq War Has Increased the Number of Veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder." Behavioral Disorders. Ed. Louise I. Gerdes. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2010. Opposing Viewpoints. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 15 Nov. 2010.
"Most Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Therapies Are Ineffective." Behavioral Disorders. Ed. Louise I. Gerdes. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2010. Opposing Viewpoints. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 15 Nov. 2010.
"Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Is Over-Diagnosed." Veterans. Ed. Margaret Haerens. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2011. Opposing Viewpoints. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 15 Nov. 2010.
"Better Mental Health Outreach Is Needed for Veterans." Veterans. Ed. Margaret Haerens. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2011. Opposing Viewpoints. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 15 Nov. 2010.
"Mentally Ill Veterans Need More Effective Psychotherapy." Mental Illness. Mary E. Williams. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2007. Opposing Viewpoints. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 15 Nov. 2010.
"Honest Discussion About Killing Can Help Soldiers with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder." Behavioral Disorders. Ed. Louise I. Gerdes. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2010. Opposing Viewpoints. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 15 Nov. 2010.
Photo source: Bob Cuba, OIF, USMC Veteran
Copyright: Bob Cuba, OIF, USMC Veteran