I was in a meeting with a Soldier yesterday, and the topic of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) came up. He said to me, “You know that it’s not PTSD anymore, right?” I said, “No. I hadn’t heard that. What is it now?” He replied, “They’re just calling it PTS now.” I said, “Good! It’s about time we stopped calling it a ‘disorder’.”
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve had the great honor and blessing to be able to talk to some of our Service Members who’ve served in combat about their experiences. I say honor and blessing because many of these men are not comfortable talking about their experiences. I suspect that there are many reasons for this. Some don’t want to revisit the pain. Others don’t think that there’s any point in trying to tell a story that someone who has never experienced anything close to could possibly truly understand. And I’m sure that there are other reasons that I’m not even aware of. For my part, I fully admit that there is no way that I could truly understand what they've told me. Still, I believe that some level of understanding is better than none at all. So it is a great honor for me that they trust me enough to open up to me. And so I do my best to listen, empathize, respect, and not to pity or judge.
Through these conversations, I’ve been able to garner some level of understanding that goes beyond what I would have had had I not had these conversations or if I had only read about these things or seen them in movies. There is something very profound in sitting with a strong, brave, powerful, disciplined, and dedicated man, and watching him have to pause for just a moment as his eyes turn red and glossy before he can spit out his next sentence about what he has seen and experienced in war. There is an exchange of emotion in that moment, albeit unspoken, that cannot be denied and at least in my experience cannot be forgotten.
Webster’s defines “disorder” as “an abnormal physical or mental condition”. After hearing the stories I’ve heard directly from those who have been there and done that, and reflecting on my conversation yesterday, it seems an oxymoron to call their stress a “disorder”, or “abnormal”. Most of us experience moderate to significant stress from traffic, job deadlines, credit card bills, relationships, having too much to do in too little time. It seems to me that if one were able to experience death and destruction on the scale that some of our Service Members have experienced, having been called back to war for four and five and six deployments, and to return home with no residual stress that was debilitating to some degree, that would be an “abnormal mental condition”.
Now, I want to be crystal clear here – I am not judging those who’ve experienced war and returned home able to manage their stress and memories without needing therapy, treatment, or medication. Everyone’s experiences are different, and everyone manages stress in different ways, and to different degrees.
I will simply say that one Veteran’s Center counselor that I spoke with estimates that upwards to 85% to 90% of those who’ve experienced combat return with some level of PTS. But current official estimates range from only 10% to 35%, largely due to lack of reports as a result of stigmas surrounding PTS(D), and lack of awareness as to how to recognize the symptoms of PTS.
Simply put, it seems apparent that experiencing PTS as a result of combat experience is not an “abnormal mental condition”. To the contrary, it is perfectly normal. And I’m not sure that I would want to live in a world where experiencing war stress-free is “normal”.
So here’s to dropping the “D”. Thank you for the insight, Staff Sergeant.