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Brigadier General Loree K. Sutton, M.D.: PBS' 'This Emotional Life': Healing The Invisible Wounds Of War

Posted Jan 30 2010 5:02pm

 

The invisible wounds of war are not new to our Warriors, Veterans and their loved ones. For many, "coming home" is not the end of war--far from it. Leaving the battlefield far behind, the war often continues--in hearts and minds, relationships and communities following deployment.

War is hell ... as can be peace. As James Hillman aptly put it, "peace for veterans is not an absence of war, but its living ghost in the bedroom, at the lunch counter, on the highway ... The return from the killing fields is more than a debriefing; it is a slow ascent from hell."

As always, we must remember history's lessons of war and its human toll. War changes everyone - as Robert Emmet Meagher states: "There is no such thing as inflicting casualties without enduring them. Every wound inflicted upon another is a wound within."

Sophocles, a General during the time of the ancient Greeks, wrote the story of Ajax, a Warrior of renowned strength and courage, tested by combat, who became depressed and died by suicide near the end of The Trojan War.

During the American Civil War, the unseen injuries of combat trauma were known as "nostalgia" and "soldier's heart," a particularly poignant phrase which I personally favor.

In World War I, the toll of industrialized trench warfare was characterized as "shell shock," a term that, by World War II, was replaced with "thousand yard stare" and "battle fatigue."

Several years following Vietnam, these wounds were medically recognized as "post-traumatic stress disorder", or PTSD, marked by the recognition of acute, chronic and delayed onset to experiencing trauma on both the battle and home fronts.

Warriors returning from Iraq and Afghanistan frequently refer to experiencing "post-traumatic stress," or PTS. As one sergeant stated, "I got injured - I'm not sick." PTS is indeed a normal, frequent and common response to the trauma of war. Timely and effective intervention - peer2peer, family, and community - reduces the likelihood of progression to chronic illness. Treatment does work - the sooner the better…

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