My sense of humor was perfect for the military and I would always rely on humor to combat sadness. However while attending last year’s conference on veterans treatment courts, I was overcome with emotion and cried during the story of a Vietnam veteran who killed his wife in a failed suicide attempt. While there were some […]
By Lynn Goya
Once called “combat fatigue,” the effect of war on the human psyche has a long, dark history. One of the most famous military heroes of all time was quoted as saying, “I remember the experience as I do a nightmare. A demon seemed to have entered my body.” Audie Murphy became a movie star based on his incredible success as a soldier. He was the most decorated American soldier of World War II, receiving the Medal of Honor along with 32 other U.S. and international medals and citations, including five awards from France and one from Belgium for his 27-months of action within the European theatre in the U.S. Army. It is said that he won every medal of valor that his country offered, and some more than once. He was feted and admired, becoming a major movie star, a bestselling author and was featured on the cover of Life magazine.
Yet, like many veterans, Murphy’s internal battles lasted long after the war ended. His first wife said he once held her at gunpoint. He was plagued by nightmares, depression and insomnia, waking up in a cold sweat. To combat the battle fatigue, he took prescription sleeping pills until he became addicted. When he realized his addiction, he checked into a motel room, locked the door and stayed for a week while he forced himself to go through withdrawals from the drug.
A man of incredible self control (He got his Medal of Honor for sending his decimated troops to the back while he singlehandedly — and successfully – fought off 250 infantrymen and six tanks, protecting critical terrain from German capture, all while using a field phone to direct incoming artillery. Read the entire story here.) Murphy defied conventional wisdom about talking about his post-war anxieties and his inability to get appropriate help. He broke his silence to publicly advocate for returning Korean and Vietnam war veterans suffering from PTSD, calling on the U.S. government to recognize and provide health care benefits to help veterans get through the trauma of war.
Many think the current rise in military suicides is a direct result of PTSD and the inadequate help returning soldiers receive. Most soldiers still feel stigmatized by their inability to deal with it own their own. Fort Hood, last year, saw a spate of military suicides and murder/suicides. In one bloody weekend four soldiers committed suicide, one killing his wife, first. Hundreds, if not thousands, more attempt suicide each year.
The Army recently implemented a number of programs designed to address the suicide rate including the comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program, an online program that helps soldiers and their families assess their emotional, physical, social and spiritual well-being.
In addition, the Army is developing telehealth systems to supplement soldiers’ access to behavioral health professionals. They are also beefing up pre-deployment screenings. Army medical experts believe that these prescreenings and evaluations help them target deployed soldiers once in combat for additional support. A recent study concluded that improved screening dropped behavioral problems by 78 percent and cut suicides in half. The Army Surgeon General’s office hopes to have new procedures in place within six months.