How to Help Heal Our Servicemen & Service Women in the Military – Vol. 418, June 22, 2017
I attended an outstanding seminar brought to the local hospital to teach mental health professionals how to best help our returning military personnel. I knew I was interested in this topic, not so much because I would be working with them, but, because even when I offered free services, I couldn’t get any servicemen to work with me to clear his anxiety and post-traumatic stress. This presentation by six people who had served in the U.S. Military, five of whom work with fellow servicemen and women, offering mental health services explained why.
The first thing that we were taught was that there were a few reasons why veterans would not be willing to seek out help from someone like me, a non-service member. First, among them was that they want to be treated by someone who is like them, a veteran. Veterans not only share the harsh reality of having to rely on one another to save their lives in very difficult circumstances of war, they are also very detail oriented, and never say “I can’t.”
Alcohol is normalized as part of the culture where beer on Friday is brought by the commander.
Additionally, self-medication through prescription painkillers, sleep medication, even using other peoples’ prescriptions is the norm. Dual diagnosis forms in some of the population.
Other then the obvious situation of being in a theater of war and all that encompasses, there are other very real problems that those who serve in the military face.
Ron Gellis, Navy Psychologist spoke of his own daughter having been sexually assaulted while she served in the military. She was self-medicating her trauma and overdosed on pain medication.
Those 22 suicides a day that occurs represent both men and woman in military service. Military sexual trauma is reported by 25% of the women who served, those between the ages of 18 and 29 being the highest component. Reported trauma includes rape and sexual harassment. More men are sexually traumatized than women, though women are a higher proportion affected by sexual abuse. Unfortunately, those who experienced sexual traumas can have issues with intimacy after they leave the military, derailing healthy sexual development.
According to Dr. Gellis, the moment a woman is sworn into service she is behind “enemy lines” because the perpetrator in many cases is her commanding officer. When she does report what is happening, she is asked whether she thinks this is a joke and is told that she made the whole thing up.
If the sexually assaulted service person is at all listened to, the most she can expect is to be transferred to another unit, without any consequences to the perpetrator.
There is also a huge issue if a military person is in the secret service or a pilot. If this person gets mental health services, their whole career could be lost. They are seen as unable to be stable enough to make the necessary decisions of a person with that sort of responsibility. This according to, Robert, who was speaking from the perspective of receiving the help required after he left the service. He was in special operations.
These service members were closed off from dealing with these issues while in the military, valuing their careers more than getting the help they needed for their post-traumatic stress disorder. The end result is that we have a very high number of drug-addicted, mentally ill people returning from the military. Many of them become homeless unable to adapt to civilian life.
An American Indian who is recovering from alcoholism and drug abuse also presented at this meeting. He said that he tried all sorts of ways to heal his alcoholism and P.T.S.D. However, it was when he went back to the ancient healing methods of his people that he was able to truly heal. He has been asked by many different mental health agencies to teach them his manner of healing so they can integrate it into their patient care. With the use of the philosophy of living with respect toward the other creatures of the earth, using herbs, meditations, and unconditional love, much healing is to be had.
There was another service member whose message was just that, unconditional love and acceptance was the number one thing that helped him heal from his traumas from the military.
When clinicians work with military service people they need to get a deep family history to find out if there is any mental illness or drug or alcohol abuse or addiction going on there. They also need to find out what sorts of mental health issues other family members may have experienced to better know what they are looking at in the form of symptoms.
Most of all, one needs to realize that the experience of a military person is going to be different from someone who has never served. It doesn’t mean that one can’t help a service person heal. However, one needs to be very sensitive to the manner of thinking of these folks and learn from them what they need in regard to their own healing. They will need to be forced to look at the negative experiences and those things they did to not feel those negative experiences. Because in the end, it is only when one is willing to do the work necessary to let go of the mental health and chemical abuses that they will ever find any healing. The Veteran’s Administration is far too overburdened to help all the veterans and service people they are supposed to serve. However, the good news is that the Veteran’s Administration is implementing more forms of complementary healing for their members to better help them to overcome their military service scars.
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