26 months ago, something changed for soldiers who acquired PTSD during their service. They were given their honor back. That is what happened to my client last week.
Last week, I experienced that kind of happy awe that gets me straight in the heart. I got to be the messenger to a man, in my therapy office about his eligibility to have his discharge upgraded to honorable for his two tours of duty in Iraq. I already couldn't recognize him from many months before when the disjointed jumble of need first came to complete the last phase of his detoxification from opiates. He wanted nothing more in life than to be clean completely after 2 years on methadone, he was "over it", he wanted to be "clear headed" to dive deep in to treatment for PTSD and family therapy. "I want to be a good dad" was his only stated goal which he could only tell me with his head down and shaking that first day. Now here he was, stunningly insightful, humble. I was surprised that day about how tall he seemed now as he looked at the papers from the Army Discharge Review Board and he left me as a soldier, with radiating hope and vigorous health he had now after 4 months of complete sobriety and intensive treatment.
His story of being initially discarded by the army is similar for many. His first tour was two years of significant heavy combat and some of his experiences, deep in the horrors of war, had changed him. Suddenly, during an unimaginable (to me) horrific and psychologically penetrating day in battle, he describes realizing that he'd never return to the freedom of an unencumbered mind that he'd once had as a non-soldier. He wanted to never leave the battlefield because he believed he could not fit in anywhere else and his fellow soldiers needed him with them, to protect them. After his tour, he wanted to go back, but his maladaptive coping of alcohol and other addictive behaviors which saved him at times, became more unpredictable and more often. He was refused to return to the front-lines and given an important training position. He hated it. He suffered nightmares, hypervigilance, irritability, dissociation, all of it. The drinking and now drugs got worse. He was late and insubordinate. He was discharged..."other than honorable". After he went home it was rough. He became addicted and married to an addict and when she became pregnant, they both went on methadone and tried "many many times to get off of it". They didn't know that this was one of the most difficult drugs to become free of on their own. He worked and they had two children, they "functioned" he says. They "got away from all the bad people", but they couldn't get free from the methadone and his PTSD was severe still. Finally one day they committed to "do it", to get clean. And they have done it. As I learned of his story I was angry about this discarding of our precious soldiers who had symptoms of PTSD and were discharged for it with no VA services. I did a little research about something I had heard of in grad school about this new recognition in the military for his exact situation.
What it is: In military service such as Vietnam and in the years before that, PTSD was not recognized at all. In more recent years, after an honorable discharge, PTSD could be treated in VA mental health facilities. However, if a soldier became psychologically disabled during the years that they were active duty, and they maladaptively coped while still in the service, turning to alcohol, drugs, other addictions, irresponsible or disruptive behavior, they often receive an "other than honorable discharge". Without an honorable discharge they are not given VA services, no medical or psychological care, no help to get on their feet, no assistance for education, no thank you for your service, no nothing. This happened to many, many and many of our veterans. After years of appeals to the Army Discharge Review Board, a memorandum was published and now a government program and webpage has been dedicated to this sole purpose. You can find it here: http://arba.army.pentagon.mil/adrb-ptsd.cfm
For any veteran who was discharged with "other than honorable discharge" whose behavior was as a result of PTSD in the recent 15 years, they may apply with "liberal review" to have their discharge upgraded to "Honorable Discharge" with all benefits and honors of a soldier who has sacrificed his body, heart and spirit to this country. As they should be. Happy Veteran's Day Everybody.