The great Mac McClelland has a must-read piece in the latest Mother Jones on the epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorder among military families. Yes, families. PTSD is affecting not only returning vets but also their partners and children–and few are getting the help they need.
Brannan Vines has never been to war, but her husband, Caleb, was sent to Iraq twice, where he served in the infantry as a designated marksman. He’s one of 103,200, or 228,875, or336,000 Americans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan and came back with PTSD, depending on whom you ask, and one of115,000 to 456,000 with traumatic brain injury. It’s hard to say, with the lack of definitive tests for the former, undertesting for the latter, underreporting, under or over-misdiagnosingof both. And as slippery as all that is, even less understood is the collateral damage, to families, to schools, to society—emotional and fiscal costs borne long after the war is over.
Like Brannan’s symptoms. Hypervigilance sounds innocuous, but it is in fact exhaustingly distressing, a conditioned response to life-threatening situations. Imagine there’s a murderer in your house. And it is dark outside, and the electricity is out. Imagine your nervous system spiking, readying you as you feel your way along the walls, the sensitivity of your hearing, the tautness in your muscles, the alertness shooting around inside your skull. And then imagine feeling like that all the time.
Caleb has been home since 2006, way more than enough time for Brannan to catch his symptoms. The house, in a subdivision a little removed from one of many shopping centers in a small town in the southwest corner of Alabama, is often quiet as a morgue. You can hear the cat padding around. The air conditioner whooshes, a clock ticks. When a sound erupts—Caleb screaming at Brannan because she’s just woken him up from a nightmare, after making sure she’s at least an arm’s length away in case he wakes up swinging—the ensuing silence seems even denser. Even when everyone’s in the family room watching TV, it’s only connected to Netflix and not to cable, since news is often a trigger. Brannan and Caleb can be tense with their own agitation, and tense about each other’s. Their German shepherd, a service dog trained to help veterans with PTSD, is ready to alert Caleb to triggers by barking, or to calm him by jumping onto his chest. This PTSD picture is worse than some, but much better, Brannan knows, than those that have devolved into drug addiction and rehab stints and relapses. She has not, unlike military wives she advises, ever been beat up. Nor jumped out of her own bed when she got touched in the middle of the night for fear of being raped, again. Still.
Read (or listen to) the rest here. Mac is also hosting a Google+ Hangout chat today with Brannan Vines and Kateri Peterson, the military moms featured in the story. Check it out at 1:30 EST and submit your questions here.