by Kimberly Allen, RN
So why would a decorated war veteran not only become a “survivalist” and build a bunker but then suddenly stop a school bus, kill the driver and take a young child hostage? The simple answer is PTSD. It doesn’t matter which war a veteran fought in the rates of PTSD is high in veterans of all wars, it’s just gone by different names like “combat fatigue” and “shell shock”. Many veterans felt they were being stigmatized by those terms and would not admit they needed help nor would they seek help even if they knew they needed it. In the case of Vietnam Veterans they came home to a country that despised them and didn’t want to help them. It wasn’t until 1983 that congress mandated the Department of Veterans Affairs to investigate and learn about the psychological effects of war.
A study done at that time on Vietnam veterans revealed that about 15% of men and 9% of women suffered from PTSD. However, another study done in 2003 found that 4 out of 5 Vietnam veterans were suffering with the symptoms of PTSD 20-25 years after the Vietnam War ended. Vietnam veterans also suffer from several other psychological disorders including depression, anxiety and alcohol abuse. Some veterans go on to develop antisocial personality disorder due to lack of treatment. Also, many veterans that have been in combat have suffered concussion injuries which causes CTE which plays a significant role in how a veterans personality changes.
Another study has shown that there is a distinct connection between war and crime. The Justice Department estimates that 223,000 veterans are currently in prison, the majority are from the Vietnam War. There are also approximately 17,000 active duty soldiers that are currently in a military detention center. One Assistant DA that handles veteran cases said he believes there’s going to be an “epidemic”. He continues to see Vietnam veterans 40 years after the war and now with so many young men and women being sent on combat tours repeatedly indicates this could be a major problem in the court system in the future. Another study estimates that at least half of all Vietnam veterans suffering from PTSD have been arrested at least once, the majority have been arrested several times.
The VA has so far diagnosed 207,161 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD which indicates that there are at least 100,000 that have become trapped in the criminal justice system. Many experts believe that the combat veterans of this generation may have even more problems than their Vietnam counterparts.
One of the reasons some veterans with PTSD have more trouble is they are also suffering from chronic traumatic brain injury. There has been very little known about the effects of concussions in athletes more information is becoming available on the long term effects including CTE.
It’s sad when a person that fought for their country and comrades ends up doing things that he/she wouldn’t have even considered before experiencing the trauma of war. Though the VA is reaching out and putting more effort into diagnosing and treating PTSD and TBI in our returning heroes there are still many that slip through the cracks. There are also many non-military people, including civilian contractors that served in war zones that suffer from PTSD and don’t have access to mental health care through the VA, and until the mental health care system is updated and properly funded there are going to be problems with people suffering from undiagnosed PTSD and TBI that can go over the edge at anytime and possible kill someone else and take more children hostage.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.