The devastating toll of PTSD in the armed forces and the need for healing

In a posting by veteran/psychologist Joachim Hagopian, in the Global Research newsletter, discusses the impact of untreated trauma in the armed services. I highly recommend everyone subscribe to the Canada-based subscriber-supported Global Research newsletter, which gives you truly independent news coverage and analysis unlike anything you will find in the mainstream corporatized English-language news media.

Here are some selections from his passionate and compassionate posting on PTSD in the American military:

No matter how much the US Army feebly attempts to sweep PTSD and mental illness under the rug in this latest tragic incident after a Muslim Army psychiatrist murdered thirteen servicemen at the same Army post in 2009, the commander instead focused on an alleged verbal altercation that spontaneously erupted just prior to the shooting. This is just another lame false excuse denying the epidemic of mental illness so rampantly out of control in the US military today…

More died from suicide in 2012 than fighting in Afghanistan. Once they return home and become civilians they are killing themselves at a rate three times that of military active duty personnel. The Veterans Administration (VA) reported that the suicide rate of veterans aged 18-29 jumped up by 44% in just two years from 2009 to 2011, suggesting that the longer soldiers experience the trauma of war, the more suicidal they become. Veterans are also twice as likely as the civilian population to commit suicide. The suicide rate of soldiers on active duty in just one year from 2011 to 2012 rose 16%…

It seems that the US military and VA are remiss then in not being proactive enough if so many are dying never having sought help. Programs logically should already be in place the moment a soldier returns from combat and continue after care once a civilian. Clearly just as the government failed to foresee the costly quagmires of its incompetent and disastrous war policies, the government is also guilty of not foreseeing the pressing need and demand to properly care for so many damaged soldiers that have been fighting for years at a time with virtually no break. Humans are ill equipped for adjusting to the insanity of war…

Rather than take any responsibility for causing so many needless deaths, official spin of propaganda customarily diverts focus to touting exclusively how patriotic and courageous American soldiers pay the ultimate sacrifice for their nation so that those living here at home can enjoy the freedom of democracy. Of course many Americans in uniform do display remarkable courage. But since 9/11 while they have been fighting and dying as unwanted imperialistic occupiers creating a wasteland of death and destruction on foreign soils, by a series of unconstitutional presidential executive orders and oppressive legislation, American civil liberties and freedoms have been virtually eliminated, stolen from US citizens along with over four billion of their taxpaying dollars to immorally finance two devastating war defeats. While corporations make record profits every year and pay virtually zero in taxes, and the super-rich get richer as war profiteers, the middle class has been decimated and the unjust disparity between the rich and the poor only grows exponentially like never before in the United States…

War’s damaging effects are not going away any time too soon. The overstretched American Empire agenda has pushed soldiers beyond their limit with multiple combat tours that repeatedly expose servicemen and women to unspeakable horrors that only they can know and bear. The trauma of suddenly seeing one’s buddies bleeding to death, blood gushing as they lay dying in their arms, helplessly watching the sacred thread of life fast slipping away, body parts strewn about… these horrific images, sounds and associated emotions never go away…

Subsequent to traumatic injury is a numbing desensitization process that fragments, compartmentalizes, and attempts to manage, control and most often bury the traumatic memories. This automatic defense mechanism operating through denial, repression, projection, and the least harmful sublimation allows PTSD victims to minimally function, but leaves them feeling empty, all too often missing and craving the adrenalin rush and camaraderie of combat, and merely going through the motions of life forever changed never for the better. The inescapable presence of traumatic memories and flashbacks are frequently triggered years and even decades after the traumatic events by thoughts, words evoked by others, sounds, emotions, internal imagery and/or visions and nightmares can all become sudden, intrusive symptomatic reminders of the painful past that cause veterans to relive their traumas…

Turning to veterans’ severe condition upon their return as combat trauma victims, typically they attempt to self-medicate their anxiety, depression and post-traumatic symptoms with alcohol and prescription and/or street drugs. Prescription drug abuse doubled amongst the military during the years 2002 to 2005 and nearly tripled from 2005 and 2008, again highly correlating with years of continued combat experience. Returning soldiers three or four months back in the States demonstrated that 27% were assessed and diagnosed with alcohol abuse. In the same study, mental illness (i.e., depression, anxiety disorder, PTSD) afflicted 42% of returning reservists and 20% of the active duty personnel…

As much effort a PTSD sufferer inflicted with such deep wounds may make trying to control the effects of combat, the memories are virtually never forgotten and at best only fade over time. Memories and associated negative emotions are repeatedly reactivated, abruptly bringing on anxiety, high impulsivity, severe depressed moods, confusion, impaired judgment, potential violence, alcohol/drug abuse, possible psychosis, suicidality, and in rare but increasing cases as at Fort Hood, homicidality…

Prescribed treatment through intensive individual as well as group therapy is essential. Reliving the trauma through talk therapy within the safety and care of a therapeutic setting facilitated by qualified mental health professionals provide necessary containment and support for the healing process to unfold. The capacity of traumatized individuals to express their painful experiences and accompanying emotions through a variety of treatment modalities is key always within a safe environment to produce effective, positive therapeutic outcomes. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is utilized to assist the client in gaining self-insight and cognitive coping skills designed to modify and change faulty, self-destructive, irrational and negative thought patterns. By changing one’s thoughts and perceptions, replacing them with more positive, realistic thoughts and affirmations through self-talk, PTSD victims can learn to regulate their feelings and emotions that naturally follow and flow from their line of thinking, and thus begin to view themselves differently, not so much as trauma victims but empowered survivors who can ultimately learn to thrive given optimal treatment and support…

 

While Hagopian eloquently describes the devastation of PTSD in the military, and the increasing need for effective treatment, he does not seem to be aware of the new research demonstrating the amazing promise of MDMA-supported therapy for those suffering from PTSD, whether incurred in military or civilian settings. The use of MDMA (colloquially known in underground circles as “Ecstasy”) in the self-treatment of trauma has long been recognized in the underground and severalexamples of cases were reported in the book first published in the 1980s – Through the Gateway of the Heart – which has now come out in a new edition, edited by Ralph Metzner with Padma Catell. The psychopharmacological effect of MDMA appears to be a marked attenuation of the adrenal traumatic stress reactions, combined with an ease of self-expression and unconditional self-regard and self-esteem. There are no “visions” as with other mind-expanding drugs In Yoga terminology one could say it is an effortless opening of the heart-center. In psychological terms, the substance seems to naturally induce empathy for self and for others – hence the term empathogenic.For all these reasons I’m one of the therapists who came to the conclusion that this is in many ways the ideal treatment for trauma.

Because of the perverse and socially malignant drug laws, this most valuable of medicines is not available to those who could most benefit from it and to physicians who want to research it. It is of course available in virtually unlimited quantities in the countercultural underground – but often of dubious quality. And skillful guidance in its use can only be had, if at all, by cautious searching in the underground drug culture.

The MAPS organization completed a preliminary study of the use of MDMA in the treatment of female rape and abuse victims and has now engaged in a more extended study in the use of MDMA in the treatment of traumatized vets.

http://www.maps.org/research/ mdma/mdma_ptsd_u.s._study_veterans_of_war/

This study is well worth supporting – and it is also important that we work toward a revision of the American medieval drug prohibition system – so that new medicines that are found to be useful in application can be accelerated into treatment trials, while the basic research is still continuing. We should remind ourselves that the primary aim of medicine is healing, while the aims of science are to test and prove connections and correlations – but this aim should not hold up the needed healing possibilities.

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