Who is Massaging Our Wounded Warriors?
I surprised myself when I called nearby Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California for information about therapeutic programs and modalities for returning veterans. As I was waiting on hold, I found myself struggling with thoughts such as, do I really want to hear how veterans have suffered and are continuing to suffer? Do I really want to know the situation? It felt very charged to me, and then I realized one of the reasons.
When I was the age of many of our veterans my father suffered a stroke while riding his bicycle in the New Hampshire Mountains. When paramedics reached him, part of his skull was smashed and his brain was protruding out his right ear. The doctors had to remove part of his right frontal lobe. My father was not a veteran; during World War II he was a conscientious objector doing civilian service, jumping out of airplanes to put out forest fires in Montana.
But what I hear about the “epidemic” of brain injuries in Iraq war veterans reminds me of my father’s recovery process. After being in a coma for forty days, he regained consciousness only to experience a tearful phase, followed by an angry and violent period during which time he had to be tied to his bed, and then a defeated and self-destructive stage. Gradually he began to recognize faces, gain clarity about the meaning of words (he would ask for lawnmovers at suppertime, when he meant peas), and learn how to walk again. My father spent his last forty years in recovery. He had many dark days and there were also times when we were graced with his warmth, wisdom and humor. (He used to carry a small wooden cube with him to show people how much of his brain was removed.)
Of the thousands of Iraqi war veterans who have returned home, many are suffering from head and neck injuries that also have long-term implications. Although the new body armor protects soldiers’ bodies, their limbs and minds are still vulnerable. Many survive but as did my father, suffer from memory loss, headaches, attention deficit disorder, depression and anxiety.
My father did eventually see a psychotherapist and received medication that at times helped some of his symptoms. He also received some massage therapy and breathing and relaxation exercises fsrom me, at a time when I was just beginning to learn about ways to help myself. He was open to receiving acupuncture for chronic pain as well, and even traveled to India to visit a Swami MD friend for help.
But how many veterans suffering from brain injury, or even more common, post-traumatic stress syndrome, are receiving help? According to the National Center for PTSD, of eighty percent of American Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who had serious mental health problems, and acknowledged it, only forty percent said they were interested in help and only twenty percent reported receiving formal mental health care. This reluctance is partly from a fear of being stigmatized, as many soldiers are told to suck it up, soldier on or deal with it. In addition, the veterans fear if they admitted they had PTSD symptoms they would be required to stay at their base to receive treatment rather than reurn home.
_________________________________ Amost five hundred thousand Vietnam veterans suffer from prolonged cases of PTSD; another three hundred and fifty thousand struggle with moderate PTSD symptoms. As many as thirty percent of the homeless in the US are said to be Vietnam vets suffering from PTSD.
According to one author, “Vietnam vets are still checking the perimeter of their safety zone for danger.”
To be continued… _________________________________ “Of all forms of inequity, injustice in health care is the most shocking and the most inhumane.” Martin Luther King