Hardly a day goes by without news of returning veterans encountering readjustment difficulties after a tour - or several - in a war zone. We hear of veteran suicides, or those who commit crimes, but we do not get much information on how to help our veterans understand their battlefield experiences.
It seems there is no end of commercials from various charities featuring victims of post traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury or loss of limbs from bullets, mines, rockets, grenades or Improvised Explosive Devices. The impact on family members as well as the veterans is prominently displayed, usually along with a plea for money to help the charities help the veterans.
While there is no question that the terrorism is having a savage impact on the wounded, their families and society in general, requiring extensive research into brain injuries, amputations and prostheses, there also is much that can be done to help those who bear the unseen scars of war.
The emotional impacts of battle are documented well into ancient history, and for millennia the non-warrior societies that welcome the warriors home from the fight have been hard pressed to understand and relate to the changes that fighting brings to their loved ones. A recent historical documentary noted that the Israelites required their fighters to spend a week after returning from battle encamped separately from the rest of the population, presumably to decompress from the savagery.
Jay Standish photo
I appeared on the cable show Full Bloom recently with host Zita Christian, discussing the issue of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and she noted that some native American tribes had similar practices, requiring their warriors to spend time with their tribe's grandmothers before returning to the mainstream. See the show here. I opined that there probably is no less threatening a sub-demographic in any social grouping than a gathering of grandmothers.
But for all the advances in medicine and technology, we haven't done much to advance the cause of returning vets who may need nothing more than time to get an overview of what they have just been through, and what they accomplished. The fact is, they can't plan on getting information and real assistance from the media, which only covers wars closely when it suits their political agendas, nor from family members or society in general who get most of their info from the media.
But when I was talking with Zita on Full Bloom I offered a suggestion that I have made in the past - that since we take a minimum of three months to change civilians into warriors, why not take the same amount of time to let our returning warriors decompress after battle, a form of "reverse boot camp?"
I learned well after I returned from Vietnam that first I needed sleep, lots of sleep where my subconscious could relearn the patterns of a low-threat environment. I needed time to talk with my friends who had shared the battlefield.
Most of us who returned from Vietnam got neither. And it doesn't seem that today's returning warriors get much help in that endeavor either.
So what is wrong with taking some of the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on defense annually, to develop an interim stop on the way home from the war? What is wrong with reversing the boot camp experience by giving the warriors time to decompress in a safe and monitored environment?
There are myriad ways a program of this nature could be implemented and it could be tailored to individual needs, depending on where the warriors were stationed, what they did while there, how much combat they encountered and their reaction to it. They could readjust to an environment where loud sounds don't necessarily mean explosions, where there is no enemy to rocket or mortar them in the middle of the night, where there is regular food and water, and especially where no one is trying to kill them.
The length of their stay in this boot camp would be dependent on the individual, and for those who need more time it would be fairly simple to arrange family visitation and similar amenities. There would be no stigma attached since everyone who goes to war would be required to go through this decompression process on the way home.
This is but the germ of an idea and it needs more discussion. But think about the billions of dollars that are spent now on care for veterans who never got the treatment they needed when they needed it most. And think of the loss of productivity and other costs to society that would be significantly reduced - reversed even - if we spent some of our defense budget a bit more wisely and appropriately.
The way I see it, anything would have to be a lot better than what we have now.
Saturday, November 22, 2014