From The Times
October 13, 2007
Reservists’ mental suffering is acute and, too often, neglected
“The best time of my life was being in the Army and fighting for my country,” Private Dave Forshaw wrote in his heart-rending suicide note. It was life outside the Army, back in the country for which he had been fighting as a reservist, that he could not face. As Martin Fletcher reports today, Private Forshaw may or may not have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but he was surely a casualty of the Iraq war in which he fought for two six-month tours. And there will be more like him.
Even in peacetime, the Territorial Army provides essential technicial, logistical and medical support for regular soldiers. With British troops engaged in two major military operations, it carries a heavy burden. Yet while reservists and regulars run similar risks and endure comparable hardships in warzones, there is mounting evidence that those who serve in the TA pay a higher price in terms of mental health. Their transitions between civilian and military life are harsher, and they stand less chance of finding timely and appropriate treatment. Help is available, but too few reservists know about it and the systems in place to encourage them to use it are inadequate. They deserve better.
Suicides such as that of Private Forshaw are, so far, mercifully rare. But the odds of more returning reservists taking their own lives or inflicting serious harm on themselves or others are high. Studies suggest that 700 of the 12,000 TA members who have served in Iraq may be suffering from PTSD, and that, far from being shielded from the worst horrors of battle, they are more exposed to them than regular troops because so many serve as medics. Specialists, in particular, tend to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan individually rather than as units. And reservists are expected, in principle, to return at once to civilian life on completion of tours of duty. The luckier ones will find in family members and colleagues a level of support and understanding comparable with that offered by regular soldiers to each other. But many experience only mutual incomprehension, leading to deep isolation, depression and worse.
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It is the same problem in all countries involved with combat. The National Guard forces are expect to return to civilian lives, lacking the support from others in the same life threatening situations. Most will have no one to talk to and their families are unaware of what the changes in their combat veteran actually mean. They assume the veteran of combat will simply get over it as time goes by. In this case, time does not heal old wounds. Time is the problem with this wound. The sooner treatment begins, the better the healing. Not unlike an infection, if you ignore it, it does get worse eating away more healthy areas. Yet if you get to a doctor, the infection stops spreading and healing begins.
National Guard members need more outreach work to be done for them than the regular military because they will not stay with their unit. They return home.
Mental Health Care and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
About one-third of these combat veterans who seek care from VA have a possible diagnosis of a mental disorder, and VA has significantly expanded its counseling and mental health services. VA has launched new programs, including dozens of new mental health teams based in VA medical centers focused on early identification and management of stress-related disorders, as well as the recruitment of about 100 combat veterans in its Readjustment Counseling Service to provide briefings to transitioning servicemen and women regarding military-related readjustment needs.
Combat Veterans Information
Transition Assistance Program
PTSD and Combat Veterans
Women Veterans Information
They all leave combat changed. Sometimes it is changes in small ways, but other times it is changes that place their lives and futures at risk. If they are in the regular military units, they need help, but more must be done to help the National Guard forces because their support is not in place.