Let’s be sure war vets get prompt, pro-active treatment
I read with great interest and concern, the Feb. 17 article on page one which addressed the issue of “whether the current Veterans Affairs Department can adequately help troops who may return from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder.”
I have worked closely with combat veterans at the Veterans Affairs Medical Centera in Temple and in Dallas where I spent a year specifically working with, diagnosing, and treating combat veterans with PTSD, primarily from the Vietnam War, but also the Gulf War and others. I am ashamed to admit that I had a prejudice, believing these individuals were a bunch of drunken, drug-abusing, moochers of society with a strong sense of entitlement because of a few years of service.
After working extensively with these veterans, I gained a whole new perspective regarding the development of PTSD and the almost inevitable drive to self-medicate in the absence of appropriate medical and psychological intervention. To more specifically understand the plight of Vietnam veterans, Jonathan Shay’s book “Achilles in Vietnam” is very enlightening. I am fearful that many of the same circumstances peculiar to the Vietnam War will come to attend those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and likewise increase their risk of PTSD.
Numerous studies have indicated that with aggressive early intervention, the incidence and severity of PTSD can be greatly reduced. Among combat veterans the significance of this extends to a decrease in alcoholism and illicit drug abuse; a decrease in domestic instability with an improved ability to maintain both marital and social relationships; greater work productivity with a lessened dependency on government support; and a decrease in future utilization of medical services (especially for psychiatric issues).
This is a case of pro-actively spending a dime to save a dollar in the future. These men and women have contributed mightily to the common good. We can and should provide the resources to assure a future for them free of the devastating consequences of PTSD or at the least, to minimize its impact on them, their families, and communities.
This is not only a funding issue because it also concerns the adequacy of services already being provided. Every combat veteran should be screened as soon as possible after they are transferred out of combat duty. I also believe a screening would be appropriate for all other veterans at discharge from military service. I would encourage those of you who are concerned about either these veterans and/or the funding issues to contact your U.S. congressmen and let them know of your concerns.
– Byron R. Wadley, M.D., is a Longview psychiatrist and a Diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.