Only those who survive combat truly know and understand the impact it has on a military service member’s life and family. It’s the natural, overwhelming instinct to survive that stays in the body and images of mutilated bodies that often leave emotional scars that simply don’t vanish when service men and women return home. Those scars, if untreated, often turn into marital problems, night terrors, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, and explosive episodes of rage.
The problem lies in a military culture that encourages its people to “suck it up” and keeps many service members from seeking help, according to the 2007 Department of Defense Task Force on Mental Health Report. How they will be perceived and treated by the leadership, their comrades and their families is what keeps many victims of combat trauma from seeking help. The Report also says that this stigma is impairing the health of the nation’s fighting forces and placing dangerous levels of stress on their families.
The DoD report emphasized the deep-rooted stigma in the warrior culture. It stated that 59% of Soldiers and 48% of Marines said that they felt they would be treated differently by leadership if they sought counseling. An effort is needed to replace that stigma with the idea that getting help is not a sign of weakness but of strength.
The Report also found that 38% of soldiers and 31% of Marines report psychological symptoms 90 to 120 days after returning from deployment. For the National Guard, that figure rises to 49%. And these numbers escalate for those with repeated deployments–now reaching five and six times in the last eight years for many in the armed services.
We need to remove “the stigma that often prevent service members from obtaining treatment for psychological health concerns and traumatic brain injury in the same way that they receive treatment for physical wounds and illnesses,” said Brigadier General Loree Sutton.
One method, The Real Warriors Campaign, is being used is to ask service members to volunteer to recount how and why they finally sought treatment, and how this helped ease their psychological pain and that of their families. The volunteers are videotaped and their messages used on printed materials and Public Service Announcements (PSAs) that air on American Forces Radio and Television System, and on civilian broadcast networks nationwide. The videotapes are also available online at realwarriors.net.
Sutton said that service members have reported coming forward after hearing the PSAs. The military’s leadership also fully supports the program, she said.
“Our senior leadership recognizes the need to combat stigma. Recently, during remarks at the VA-DoD Mental Health Summit, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates referenced the campaign as an important part of that effort, ” Sutton said.
The Real Warriors campaign is one of many initiatives undertaken by DoD after delivering the Mental Health Report to Congress. Policymakers and mental health experts warned of the tremendous cost to the nation’s fighting force and their families if more money and attention isn’t placed on the prevention, intervention, and treatment of psychological issues related to two wars that have been ongoing since 2001.
Sutton said other measures being taken to ease the psychological burden are deploying more psychological health professionals, integrating psychological and physical health services, and initiating psychological health assessments post-deployment.
Somatic Experiencing, a trauma therapy developed by psychologist Peter Levine, is a particularly effective therapy in the treatment of combat trauma. The traumas encountered in deployment are often aggravated if the individual has a history of trauma-related issues in their past. This can range from childhood medical treatments to abuse and abandonment. SE Therapy can also address these issues that may underlie the symptoms.
To find a Somatic Experience Practitioner (SEP), service members, veterans, military family members, and healthcare practitioners can go to http://www.healingtrauma.com or call the DCoE outreach center at 866-966-1020.