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Reply to the article 'War without end'

About the House Issue 46: War without end

Vietnam seems so long ago but the article “War without end” seems to revisit the issues Vietnam veterans suffered far into their lives to prove PTSD did exist.  As a matter of fact it’s always been around but the old Veterans Affairs medical model is still rearing its head after it effectively created so much misery and mayhem with its lack of effective balance in dealing with the various psychiatric psychological and head trauma of Vietnam vets who were the precursor of the more successful ways to treat PTSD today.  You would think that Afghanistan veterans suffering various sorts of head trauma will supposedly have better access to treatment and rehab. Programs.  Indeed Defence authorities seemingly feel they are getting on top of the issues by programs trying to pre-empt PTSD issues developing in returned servicemen and women. 

Most Vietnam veterans with PTSD symptoms would have been happy to have any understanding at all by bureaucrats, doctors or psychiatrist working under the old medical model. In relation to pension claims or treatment there was no real procedures in place in how to treat PTSD prior to the setting up of the VVCS.  Many veterans had to give up their jobs to fight pension claims, losing their marriages and families as well as facing years of doctors and psychiatry visits and the endless road to prove their case through Veterans Affairs.  In many cases it was “a bridge too far” for many in the way they had to lose everything first to even get to first base for their claims.  Many questioned the worth of even trying, such were the obstacles put in their way.

PTSD can affect all veterans not just the close combat soldiers.  This has always been a problem for those specialists diagnosing it mainly because the old medical model stressed blindness, loss of a limb, wounds etc are things you can see.  The connotations of PTSD are difficult to diagnose as they affect individuals in different ways at different times.  The old systems in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s through application, rejection and appeals often was a confusing morass.  Why would a young veteran with his life ahead of him, experiencing PTSD symptoms, want a pension with a label placed on him and virtually a set income for the rest of his life.  The argument used to be the government had to make you suffer for years, strip away anything of value from your life.  One day then they will ring up, say you have won your case and dismiss you to the winds of life.  In most cases they won’t let you do any worthwhile work, pay taxes or do anything to improve your situation that might threaten the original medical or psychological assessment.  Some study but can’t use it, others get out for  awhile within the 5 year rules.  In men, if you destroy their self esteem you destroy them, that is what the old system did.

It seems a lot of these problems are still around.  Vietnam vets with PTSD generally who stayed in the services had better careers and mostly only experienced worsening of the systems when they were discharged.  Keeping traumatised men in the services in some capacity does seem to have some benefits for both.  What does operational service mean, whether you are killed by a rocket on a base or blown up by a roadside bomb, it’s all active service.  In Vietnam they mined main roads, blew up night clubs, rocketed, snipered and mortared back bases.  You must accept everyone is affected in different ways and reactions with PTSD.  There is still a hangover from Vietnam.

Throw out the old textbook and deal with the issues.  The DVA bit of a “gruelling prolonged invalidating and dehumanising process (p36) is as valid as it ever was for those who have been or going through it.  Doesn’t the Defence department trust Veterans Affairs if they are setting up their own Rehab and Trauma centres.

Ask a TPI if he goes around bragging how he beat the Government to get his pension.  Many regret the fact they even done it, let alone the never ending trauma and the life sentence that goes with it.  The answers are clear, believe the veteran knowing his own body and symptoms.  If he fakes it, and some have, they are always found out and there is no glory in it.  Ongoing treatment is a useful tool for those diagnosed with PTSD so they don’t suffer with the more adverse effects of becoming anonymous in the system. 

This article highlights many of the obvious symptoms but few obvious conclusions that aren’t still inhibited by bureaucracy in the way PTSD always has been.  If the victims of it are badly treated it usually means confusion still rages in those responsible for finding ways to effectively treat it or hide it.  That’s the real issue in all this.  If you hide it, it could impact later in a combat situation.  If you admit it you might be isolated from your soldier mates.  If you claim for it you are never your own man again, once the government pensions you off.  Maybe it should be treated like the measles, ie everyone is capable of catching it but only a few end up with the long term symptoms.  This article is a searching one where the pride of the individual is against standards and symptoms that look for perfections but outside obvious battle wounds struggles against the known and unknowns of PTSD.  Better for everyone if trust and openness on both sides are the priorities, not the age old mind wars that prevents effective diagnosis on both sides.

Instead of shutting doors on a growing problem this article highlights, treat it like the battle trauma it really is.  It seems that since the Vietnam era, Police, Ambulance and Emergency Service are more aware of the symptoms that the Defence department seems to struggle with.  These men and women aren’t weaker as PTSD has no real time scale.  It is much better allround to face its issues for both individuals and bureaucracy.  Why revisit the Vietnam era, you should have learnt from it.

John Luder 
Yeronga Qld