Wounds Without Scars

Wounds Without Scars

In the Civil War it was called "soldier’s heart" and "nostalgia." In WWI it was called "shell shock" and "war neurosis." In WWII it was usually called "battle fatigue." It’s also been called "combat stress" and "post-Vietnam syndrome." People who suffer emotional reactions to trauma can develop these conditions and military personnel engaged in high stress activities are prone to have symptoms. Paul Rieckhoff has posted an article in Arianna Huffington’s excellent newsletter, The Huffington Post, in which he reports military disregard for soldiers suffering from the condition. Relying upon an investigation by the National Public Radio, he relates instances of the military ignoring and even retaliating against soldiers with the problem.

The Vietnam Veterans of America website has a very complete history and explanation of the syndrome. It reports that soldiers have exhibited military stress problems during recorded military history. For example, in 480 B.C. a Spartan commander excused men from joining the combat because he saw they were mentally unfit saying "They had no heart for the fight and were unwilling Battle_fatigue_1 to take their share of the danger." In the Battle of Little Big Horn, Major Marcus Reno and some of his soldiers had such an emotional reaction that the Indians thought them cowards and refused to kill them. In every war, there is documented evidence of soldiers suffering from emotional trauma.

The history of the condition has been established, but is still subject to doubt in some quarters. The suspicion persists that the soldier exhibiting the problem, is really a coward and that there is an ulterior motive for faking the symptoms. In WWII, the problem became a subject of interest in 1943 on the Island of Sicily. General George Patton slapped a soldier in a medical unit who was suffering from battle fatigue. Pvt Charles Kuhl was in an aid station where a diagnosis of "exhaustion" had been made. When Patton asked him why he was in the aid station, the solider said "I guess I can’t take it." Patton cursed the soldier called him a coward and slapped across the face with the gloves he was holding. The event was illustrated in the 1970 movie Patton, with George C. Scott as Patton and Karl Malden as General Omar Bradley.

This lack of understanding of the condition is well known. It wasn’t until 1985 that the American Psychiatric Association finally gave the problem it the name "post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Other psychological definitions include "combat stress reactions" (CSR). But, historically, mental and emotional conditions have been treated with suspicion and disdain. When railway workers exhibited symptoms after suffering injuries, the insurance industry coined the phrase "compensation neurosis" and argued they were trying to get money without having any injury. Accident victims who exhibit classic signs of emotional trauma continue to be mocked by insurance companies. Tort reform special interest groups have focused on such injuries in their attack on the American civil justice system by picturing emotional injuries and psychiatry voodoo science claims

Let’s hope that our veterans who risked their physical and mental health on our behalf are treated with the dignity and care they deserve by the military and by this administration.

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