The 2008 Rand Corporation reported that 1 in 5 (20%) of returning troops reported symptoms of PTSD (see my “PTSD page” for symptoms) or major depression. Many of these troops will not seek or get help, but those that do can reduce symptoms with drugs and brief psychotherapy.
But according to Bret Litz, a VA psychologist, the greatest and most lasting harm to the soldiers is what he calls a deep soul wound. Moral injury, that comes from having seen their friends die in battle and not having been able to help them. Or failing to rescue troops under fire. Or having killed innocent people. How can people reconcile their religious and cultural beliefs with what they are required to do in wartime? This is the dilemma, the deep internal conflict that many soldier struggle with for years, sometimes lifetimes.
Ed Tick, the author of War and the Soul, has come up with some answers that are working with the groups of veterans he is working with. One of his answers is to look back at ancient times when the whole tribe not only welcomed their warriors back, but also shared the responsibility, the burden and guilt of the warriors by forming a circle around them and allowing the men to tell their stories of battle in detail. Then the tribe, without judgment, would weep together and care for the warriors as long as they needed it. They had no drugs or psychotherapists. How incredible.
Today, we as Americans are asking our soldiers to go to war and protect us, but we take no responsibility. As a matter of fact most of us know very little about what is happening in Afghanistan and prefer not to know. We want our soldiers to come back and neatly fit into our lives without telling us their stories or disrupting our lives.
Ed Tick is beginning to change this. He is gathering groups of citizens together, creating circles and rituals to allow our warriors to share their burdens and stories. It is working.
There are many soldiers and veterans coming back in the next weeks and months. So how can the rest of us help bring our veterans back into our lives and care for them? Give the question some thought yourself and comment on the blog. Let’s start a dialogue and come up with some solutions.