Everyone understands the fight or flight reaction present in the animal kingdom, including humans. A substance in our bodies, when confronted with a real or perceived danger, gives us extra energy and strength to confront or run away from the threat.
In order to comprehend what changes result to young people that undergo training to become soldiers, and may confront the perils of battle, the above premise has to be kept in mind. Soldiers are forced to fight in most circumstances; thus, they have to adjust to the reality of war. Everyone who lives through that experience suffers physical and emotional adjustments.
Over time, many are able to overcome and return to a normal lifestyle. Many do not, and develop physical and behavioral disturbances that may develop into an illness called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). We are getting close to finding what changes in the brain make some have a predisposition, akin to diabetics, that makes them more likely to develop the infirmity.
The Department of Defense and Veterans Administration are at the forefront of the research needed to fully understand and develop treatments to minimize its prevalence and improve its remedy. With the latest tragic incidents of child abduction by an ill veteran in Alabama, and the murder of a Navy SEAL in Texas by another veteran allegedly suffering from PTSD, comes the responsibility for everyone, especially the media, to use the incidents to explain the resources available, which if known and utilized, could have prevented these calamities.
PTSD is a disabling illness and in need of medical care as part of a multifaceted program by a multi-disciplinary team of professionals and involvement of family and support system. The veterans’ health system, even if underfunded, is able to provide this help. At the Miami Veterans Administration Hospital an extremely comprehensive service, from acute care to re-entry into society, is available.
All veterans deserve the best for their sacrifice for us, and it pains me to realize the poor knowledge of what is offered, not only locally but in Florida. It’s the duty of all involved to assure that incidents like the recent ones are not repeated because of ignorance about this malady and the obtainable aid.
Fernando J. Milanes, M.D., Miami