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On the subway recently, I complained about the MTA’s lousy service to the man sitting next to me. Every day, I said, there are more delays, route changes, and crowded cars. He agreed. Then I continued, “Of course there are worse things in life than subway disruptions.” He agreed.
He told me his brother-in-law, who was a veteran, had struggled with “PTSD” for two years, since returning from Afghanistan. Last week, he said, this man killed himself. “He took a gun to his head…”
“I’m so sorry,” I exclaimed. We shared some silence. But I had to ask him, “Do you know that PTSD is now PTS for ‘post traumatic stress’? The “D” for “Disorder” was dropped.” He did not know. Lots of folks still don’t know this and why it’s important to drop the D-word. Consider these facts:
1) General Peter Chiarelli, who served as Vice Chief of Staff of the Army in both Iraq and Afghanistan, first advocated dropping the “D” from PTSD in 2012. He said, “No 19-year-old kid wants to be told he’s got a disorder.”
Currently CEO of One Mind, Chiarelli helped to produce the documentary When War Comes Home. It records the painful and heroic struggles of three veterans who overcame PTS and transformed their lives.
2) In 2015, Representative Scott Peters (D-Calif.) and Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) proposed bills to recognize June as “National Post-Traumatic Stress Awareness Month”. No “D”.
Peters declared, “…we’re losing on average more than 20 veterans a day to suicide... Using the term ‘post traumatic stress’ will lead to a greater utilization of mental health-care services.”
3) That same year, former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama dropped the “D” in their speeches, because it labeled veterans with the stigma of mental illness. President Bush said, “It’s an injury…it’s treatable.” He was right.
The Acus Foundation trains military doctors in acupuncture to help relieve veterans’ physical and emotional pain. Last year, Acus-trained physicians treated more than 10,000 veterans and many of these credit acupuncture with saving their lives
4) In a YouTube video, comedian George Carlin reminds us that PTS was called “battle fatigue” in World War II and in the Korean War. This label reduced the terror of war to “extreme weariness”.
In World War I soldiers came home with “shell shock”. “At least,” says Carlin, these words describe the experience of that war. The punctuating “sh” sound as in “shock” and “shell,” evoke the sound of explosions that maimed and killed soldiers in rat-infested trenches.
PTSD was first introduced in the Vietnam War. Carlin believed that if real words like “shell shock” had been used, instead of an impersonal, clinical acronym, Vietnam veterans might have gotten help to recover – not just to cope with PTS.
5) What about the Civil War? Back then, veterans returned home with “soldier’s heart”. But the word “heart” meant a great deal more then it does today. Author Parker Palmer reminds us in Healing the Heart of Democracy, that it embraced all the human ways of knowing: “intellectual, emotional, sensory, intuitive, imaginative, experiential, relational and bodily.” This term recognized that war not only “shatters one’s ‘sense of self,’” but also their connections to family and community.
In 2014, I talked with a waiter in a neighborhood restaurant who had served in Afghanistan. I told him about the different labels describing veterans’ recent post-war experience, and he listened politely. When I told him about the term used for veterans from the Civil war, he looked shocked. Then, as if the sun had just broken through clouds, he smiled. The words “soldier’s heart” had pierced his own.
Removing the stigma of “D” shows veterans that we support their physical, psychological and spiritual healing. It builds empathy and can transform lives.
Not just on Memorial Day, but every day, spread the news about PTS: Drop the “D-word”.