U.S. veterans with PTSD abandoned by their country?

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    Staff Sgt. Dwight Smith Jr., a 25-year-old, decorated combat U.S. veteran, raped and killed 65-year-old Marsha Lee in Delaware last Christmas, while he was home visiting his family. They said he seemed perfectly normal that day, when he got in his Hummer and drove away to kill Ms. Lee.

    The New York Times cited that after the attack, Smith’s father said that his son suffered head trauma and post-traumatic stress, and that he was not the same person who had left home to serve his country. Mr. Smith blames his son’s actions on the lack of support that returning soldiers get when they come home from a war zone. He also told Fox 29 of Philadelphia that unless more resources and aid are offered to returning soldiers, this won’t be the last such violent incident.

    Dwight Smith Jr., now in jail, wrote a letter to his father that was published by The New York Times:

    “I am going to be honest with you dad. I have killed a lot of men and children. Some that didn’t even do anything for me to kill them. Also some that begged for mercy. I have a problem. I think I got addicted to killing people. I could kill someone go to sleep wake up and forget that it ever happened. It got normal for me to be that way. I never wanted to be this way. I just took my job way to serious. I took things to the extreme. Anyone can tell you that I changed. It is like being a completely different person.”

    U.S. veterans—what happens after war

    U.S. veterans

    Retired U.S. Army veterans march up 5th Avenue during a parade on Veteran’s Day, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2006 in New York. (AP Photo/ Dima Gavrysh)

    Soldiers go through tough, grinding training, but even so, nothing will prepare them for the personal experience of killing and death. Soldiers have to embed in their brains that their target, the enemy, is evil, in order to pull the trigger.

    We all have our own natural and immediate defense response system for survival, and any of us faced with an imminent death threat would react by killing if we could and if we had to. But in some circumstances, soldiers have to sneak up on the enemy and the defense response mechanism has to be forced because they are not responding automatically to a personal threat; instead they are killing on command and without provocation.

    Taking a life is a ferocious act and traumatic for the killer, no matter the context. Something in the soul breaks, morals are devalued and the experience changes the person. Even killing out of mere survival will haunt anyone.

    U.S. veterans

    Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, points out a graphic about veterans medical claims during a news conference in San Francisco, Monday, July 23, 2007. Sullivan is part of a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, filed Monday in federal court in San Francisco, seeking broad change in the agency as it struggles to meet growing demands from veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

    Soldiers can be trained to pull the trigger but they can’t be trained on how they will feel or how they will personally respond to the horrors of death. Trauma is a natural result and fact of war. Since trauma can’t be avoided, help should be provided on all levels for these veterans who come back home, lost and as if they were born into a new world. They will never see life as they did before they were deployed.

    People suffering PTSD may become emotionally numb, with those they are closest to. They lose interest in things they once enjoyed. They are easily irritated, startled and may become agressive. Sleepless nights haunt them. They learn to avoid situations that remind them of the incidents that scared them.

    Staff Sgt. Dwight Smith Jr. is just an example of what may be one of the results of PTSD if left untreated. Let’s take this as seriously as war. There is always an aftermath we are left to deal with. We can’t abandon them once they have served the Nation’s purpose.

    Help for U.S. veterans suffereing PSTD:

    Veterans Inc

    Department of Veterans Affairs


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