Are PTSD and TBI simply red herrings?

Are PTSD and TBI simply red herrings?

I’ve been screaming about military and veteran suicide for several years now. I know it’s been a fact of life for centuries, but when it became personal, I started paying attention.  After attending three funerals for Marines who took their lives, and living through my own son’s battle with suicidal ideations, it’s no longer just a story about another kid from another family.

Earlier this morning, after reading the column by Nicholas Kristof, A Veteran’s Death: The Nation’s Shame, in the New York Times, and watching the associated video by Timothy Grucza, entitled Good Night Ryan, I was interested to see what people were saying.  I always find the comment section to be interesting because I can get a good sense of how people really feel about an issue.

After reading a callous comment on a twitter feed, I became unglued.  A Navy psychiatrist, a guy paid to take care of our combat Marines, responded to Mr. Kristof’s column with the following comment: “I think PTSD and mTBI are red herrings.  You almost never read about a case where there wasn’t drug/alcohol abuse.”

A red herring? Are you serious? After ten years of war and multiple combat deployments, do you really believe that Post Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injuries are just distracting us from the real reasons that so many of our combat veterans are taking their lives? From under which rock did you come?

The doc even added, “Plus, over past decade I’d argue that we’ve recruited less mentally healthy enlistees.”

Wow! Really?  Less mentally healthy enlistees?  Maybe some, but certainly not the ones I knew.  They were in Special Forces. Are you telling me that Marines who passed the rigorous physical and mental requirements to be a part of Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC) are less mentally healthy?

With my blood boiling, I couldn’t resist making a comment to the doctor.  “PTSD and TBI red herrings? Really? This response is evidence of why there is such a problem.”

His response: “Most suicides entirely unrelated to combat PTSD.”

I’m open minded. I can look at both sides of the coin. Perhaps he’s got something here.  I’ve always felt that the command climate had much to do with the suicide rate.  The lack of compassion from this doctor might go far to prove my point.

I imagine there are a lot of things that factor into military and veteran suicide.  I will even agree that drugs and alcohol probably play a big role, however, why drugs and alcohol are involved in the first place might be a question more worth answering.  Could it be that drugs and alcohol are the treatment of choice for our combat veterans because of the stigma associated in asking for help?

With comments such as the ones I’ve mentioned above, it’s no wonder that using drugs and alcohol to numb the pain would be the likely choice of a combat veteran with PTSD and TBI.  It would only take one office visit with that doc for me to realize I wasn’t going to get much unbiased help.

I’ll even ask the obvious.  What is the difference between numbing the pain with alcohol and numbing the pain with drug cocktails that are being prescribed by doctors working for the Department of Defense and the VA system?  Neither approach is doing anything to help our veterans fight the demons of war which are so large and unyielding.

If I’m a combat veteran, especially if I’m still on active duty, and I know I’m going to have to wait weeks or even months for an appointment, and I know that the appointment will lead to me being stigmatized and overmedicated, and I know that I might potentially be taken out of my unit to rot in a wounded warrior transition unit for years, prior to being thrown out on the street, I’m probably going to go buy the six pack.

Anyone working in the system has a responsibility to be open minded and willing to help find the real problem and work towards a real solution.  This check the box mentality, which labels our troops with personality disorders and other diagnoses that will keep veterans from receiving deserved benefits has got to stop.

To those of you employed by the Department of Defense or the VA who have a job that relates to the mental health of our troops, just remember their lives are in your hands.  One day it might be your son or daughter who needs the help.  Are you treating each patient as you would treat your own?  If you’re not, then I suggest you find a new job.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  Don’t be part of the problem.  Be part of the solution!


  1. Linda says:

    My son did start drinking more after becoming a Marine, but I think drinking and drugs, if there are any involved, are a coping mechanism and a symptom of PTSD. I have been so angry over all this for many years. Many see soldiers come home, smiling and uninjured, then say “see no harm done. Piece of cake”. What they do not see are the guys who can not sleep without a guy under their pillow or by the bed. One friend told me, her friend, a Army officer, almost shot his child as she came back to her parents bed after a nightmare. It was a noise that startled hm and he reacted as he was trained to do.
    My ex-husband, was in Vietnam. An engineer, not infantry. And yet, one night at dusk we were standing on the deck and a bird or a breeze, we weren’t paying attention to the reason, but the bushes rustled and he ducked down about to “hit the ground” when he realized there could not possibly be any enemy in the bushes. Many Vietnam veterans came back with all kinds of drug, alcohol and mental problems. How long were they deployed? 6 months? Normally once.
    I get so frustrated!

  2. Beth says:

    Seems like anyone who was deployed, especially multiple times, would come back affected in some way. How could you NOT have some sort of PTS? I just don’t understand why this is so hard for people to accept. Post traumatic stress is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. For anyone who has grown up in the USA, living in a war zone is an abnormal situation.

    • Cwc says:

      Thank-you for your thoughtful, insightful article!!! This Navy Dr. seems to be part of the machine which is responsible for the demise of our combat men & women’s souls!! The problem is when his patients walk out of his office, will they speak up about the malpractice they just experienced??? Highly doubtful!!! These “patients” will go to their barracks & continue with their pain management cocktail of alcohol &/or drugs!!!

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