By David Burden
In a 2007 article titled “Home From War”, Patience Mason explains in great detail the five stages of recovery many service members might experience when returning from a combat theater. Mason’s work is based on her own experiences as a spouse whose husband returned from Vietnam between 1965-66. The couple struggled to save their marriage for 15 years until her husband was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and they were able to educate themselves and develop solutions.
Mason documents five stages of recovery commonly experienced by combat veterans:
Stage 1: I’m fine. It is not uncommon for those who have experienced combat traumas to try to shake it off and get on with life. To some degree, especially with World War II and Korean War veterans, the mindset was, “What I went through was a sense of duty, and save that for the next guy.” Although many Vietnam and current combat veterans might share a similar mindset, the difference is that their combat experiences often were more intense with fewer deaths, due to medical improvements, but higher casualties and more
Stage 2: I’m not fine, but I’m not telling you. The service member’s self-awareness of increasing anger issues and outbursts towards family members, or reoccurring thoughts of traumatic events, can lead to numbness, avoidance, or isolation from others. In addition, the service member intentionally or unintentionally creates breaches of trust with those close to him or her.
Stage 3: I can’t talk to people who weren’t there. Unfortunately, this attitude bears some truth and service members might use this mindset to create self-qualifying barriers for friends and family. In the service member’s mind, “How can anyone know what I am going through if they haven’t walked in my shoes?”
Stage 4: What is wrong with me? Mason explains, “The term PTSD is a good description of the effects of war on normal people. The skills of war create a lot of disorder in your life.” However, she counters this premise in the sense that war is the problem and symptoms of PTSD are a survival mechanism to our “fight or flight” response.
Stage 5: I’m screwed up and no one can help. Mason makes two important points here: 1.) It is human to believe no one can help you, but this belief is untrue. There are many people and a wealth of information to help veterans deal with PTSD, but the process begins with telling someone you are having problems; 2.) You are not alone, and the effects of PTSD are not unique to you. This syndrome has affected people throughout history.
The Summit County Veterans Service Commission is ready to help. We can connect you with a VA mental health specialist or the VetCenter located within the VSC facility. Contact us at 330-643-2830, or visit us at 1060 E. Waterloo Road. Akron, Ohio, or at www.vscsummitoh.us.