I couldn't pull myself away from the PBS documentary "The Wounded Platoon." The story of what happened to one platoon during their time in Iraq and what followed them home in their hearts and minds is not a happy story.
Just the same, if you can tolerate it, I'd recommend watching it. Not only does it tell true stories of some of the young men who have been defending the U.S. in the Iraq war, but it also shows a bit of the war as well, as recorded by the soldiers on camera. Seeing what they saw and hearing them describe combat and life after combat gave me insight into something I'll never experience myself.
The members of the platoon featured most prominently in the documentary had PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), both during service and upon returning home from service. Their stories painted a scathing portrait of the mental health services available to these soldiers during battle and after returning home. Since the documentary first aired over a year ago, mental health services for active duty military and veterans have been in the national spotlight, as suicide deaths continue to outpace combat deaths in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Strategies implemented in the past year include a special crisis hotline for veterans and their friends and families, a related live chat feature, and a new smartphone app called the PTSD coach.
The PTSD coach was designed with veterans in mind, but can be used by anyone experiencing the symptoms of PTSD. The app allows users to check in with themselves to determine levels of distress; has features, like the option to upload personal photos or music, that can help manage symptoms; and serves as a complement to ongoing therapy with a mental health professional.
I'm glad to see PTSD, especially among veterans and military personnel, getting the attention it deserves. I don't think an app is the solution, but I think any way to make it easier for people in need of help to get help - more hands-on, more accessible, less expensive -is a good thing.
Adopting coping strategies does not erase the wounds of war. But, having better skills for dealing with reliving trauma, feeling emotionally numb, or feelings of tension may make these experiences easier to tolerate and contribute to preventing suicidal thoughts and violent or self-destructive behaviors.
As I continue to consider the effects of war on active duty military and veterans, I'll keep the stories of the wounded platoon, 3rd Platoon, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry, with me.
Copyright 2011 Elana Premack Sandler, All Rights Reserved