The “Ultimate Sacrifice”. Redefined?

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Our warriors’ deaths are often referred to as having “paid the ultimate sacrifice”. This statement is uttered often at the funerals of veterans who have died in the line of duty; who’s lives are lost defending the freedoms in which we as civilians often take for granted. This is a tragedy for lack of a better word. But has anyone ever stopped to think about those who survive the front lines and return home, only to die by their own hand after being overwhelmed by demons of the battlefield in their mind? Would that too not also mean they gave the “ultimate sacrifice” for their country?

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Suicide is at an alarmingly high rate amongst our veterans. A grave statement from a CNN article by Moni Basu states. “Every day, 22 veterans take their own lives. That’s a suicide every 65 minutes.” Not that’s startling number that would rattle anyone’s cage. The culprit? PTSD. I don’t know about you, but as a daughter of a disabled veteran, I don’t like those odds.

You have probably heard the saying, “You may have won the battle, but you haven’t won the war.” Usually this phrase is used in context with some rivalry between opposing ends. But we could easily apply this to the context of our returning war veterans who more often than not become sufferers of PTSD. They may have won the battle by escaping death in deployment, but what happens when the return home can likely determine their fate as a whole. The true dissection may actually occur after returning home to civilian life. After they win the battle of surviving deployment, we need to help them win the war.

There is no argument that PTSD has been appearing increasingly in the media spotlight, with more and more sufferers taking the brave leap to come forth and tell their stories, as can be seen on the About Face website. However, there is still a need to bring about a change in society and develop a plan of action to help those who have given so much for our country and who have honored our freedoms. I have focused my research mostly on the veterans themselves through my various posts about Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, but perhaps it’s time to turn the tables and focus on what those of us in the civilian population can do In order to nip this growing issue in the butt.

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What can we do as regular civilians to save our vets from succumbing to the demons that haunt them after war? Here’s some suggestions.

Offer support

Supporting a PTSD sufferer can an be a very frustrating and trying ordeal; one that requires patience and understanding that may be beyond one’s own abilities. Opening up the figurative arms of support is the first step in helping a loved one. Every time my mother is upset, I see it. I open up my heart to her for her to vent, as I know it makes it better, and I can rest assured when we hang up the phone, she is in a better place inside.

Patience is a virtue.

You’ve probably heard the above statement uttered a hundred times over the years by your mother or other authoritative relative, but let’s face it, it’s the truth. The virtue of patience is tested heavily when one is faced with the emotional battle of a loved one diagnosed with PTSD. I cannot count the number of times I have felt overwhelmed by my mother, even angry with frustration, but I remember to breathe. A PTSD sufferer will not change overnight or overcome their symptoms at the flip of switch. As with any mental illness, recovery takes time and wounds need sometimes months or years to fully heal. It took years in the case of my mother.

Listening and not judging.

It’s often said that being a good communicator requires both active listening and active speaking. Being a platform for effective verbal therapy to a veterans can make a huge impact. Truly being engaged in the conversation is vital to gaining trust from the veteran. In a HelpGuide article online, in which many communication pitfalls are listed, it’s stated that giving bland answers, demeaning the veteran, and making the conversation about your own feelings are all red flags for helping a loved one with PTSD.

Get educated.

Another common problem that veterans face is the feeling of being alone in their battle and feeling as if no one knows what they are going through or understands. Given this hurdle, a great way to connect and help a veteran with PTSD is to learn about it. According to the Veteran Affairs website, “the more you know, the better you and your family can handle PTSD.” Finding out about what triggers PTSD, listening to others stories, and read about treatment options, are all ways in which you can improve the situation. The more I read about PTSD, the better I am for helping my mother and the better I am at being myself as well.

Don’t let yourself go in the process.

Another effective way to help with a PTSD sufferer is to keep yourself in check. The VA makes a huge emphasis on this as well, and pushes the point that if you don’t take care of yourself, it’s hard to take care of a loved one. You cannot be an effective support system if you’re not taking supporting yourself. Sometimes the veteran is not the only one who needs a shoulder to cry on or a pillow to punch. In the moments I have felt drained in my mind, I go for a walk to clear my head. It works.

Been there, done that.

It seems as though the battle is never truly over, as I continue to help my mother, a Marine Corps veteran, with the effects of her PTSD, but I have found peace in it as best as I can. If I reflect on the past years, especially the beginning years, I see how far we’ve come. I say, “we” because it really is about the both of us. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and for my own personal experience, the things I mention here are crucial in the healing process and in keeping things under control. Everytime I hear a story about another veteran lost to suicide, I call my mother. I do it because I don’t want her to ever feel alone or like a burden or like she has lost me. I want her to win the war.

Works Cited

Basu, Moni. “Why Suicide Rate among Veterans May Be More than 22 a Day — CNN.com.” CNN. Cable News Network, 14 Nov. 2013. Web. 21 Apr. 2015.

“PTSD: National Center for PTSD.” Helping a Family Member Who Has PTSD. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 3 Jan. 2014. Web. 21 Apr. 2015.

Smith, Melinda, M.A. “Helping Someone with PTSD.” HelpGuide.org. N.p., Apr. 2015. Web. 23 Apr. 2015. <http://www.helpguide.org/articles/ptsd-trauma/ptsd-in-the-family.htm>.

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