Anyone can have PTSD. It’s not just a military issue. But combat veterans are suffering from PTSD at alarming numbers, and there are simply not enough resources to help them — if indeed they are able to ask for help at all.
Almost two weeks ago, the world lost another veteran to suicide. But he wasn’t just any veteran. He was a mental health professional who helped thousands of active duty and veterans make it to the next day.
His first duty was to keep the troops from committing suicide.
Dr. Peter Linnerooth, a Bronze Star-winning psychologist, a true hero, lost his battle with PTSD and took his own life five years after his active duty service to the Army.
The time he spent in Iraq was at the height of the war when the bloodiest battles took place and as an active duty member of the Army and a health professional, he would pitch in during mass causality events. It’s no wonder some of these events haunted him. Witnessing carnage of that magnitude would have an effect on the most grizzled warriors, let alone a lifesaver.
When Linnerooth returned to civilian life, he continued his work at Veterans Administration hospitals. First at the Santa Cruz County Vet Center in Capitola, then the Reno Veterans Administration. He helped veterans suffering with mental health issues even while fighting his own demons.
Dr. Linnerooth was extremely frustrated by the lack of concern by the Army. A 2010 article titled Invisible Wounds: Mental Health and the Military, in Time magazine, quoted Dr. Linnerooth. “The Army has been criminally negligent," said Linnerooth, who noted that the service has had a difficult time finding psychiatrists to care for combat vets, which puts even more pressure — "and way too much burnout" — on those who stay.
We owe our active duty troops and our veterans more than this. Through November of this year, 177 active-duty soldiers had committed suicide compared to 165 during all of 2011 and 156 in 2010. In all of 2012, 176 soldiers were killed in action, all while serving in Operation Enduring Freedom, according to the Department of Defense. A US News/NBC News report summed it up.
These numbers are not going to get better. If the war(s) end tomorrow we will still have 21.8 million veterans — many of whom are homeless, jobless and some in dire need of mental health care. Even veterans that are seemingly doing well may be struggling with PTSD and trying to hide it. The military mindset makes it extremely difficult if not impossible to express a need for help.
I have heard people say (stupidly) that WWII veterans just pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and carried on. But I can assure you that is not quite the way it was. My own great uncle helped pick up the bodies and body parts of Marines on Iwo Jima. Into his 90s, and until his death at age 91, he shook when any war was mentioned. They suffered in silence, but they suffered greatly and still to this day have flashbacks and nightmares.
According to one study, “The suicide rate among these (WWII) veterans is also roughly double the rate of veterans under 35, those who are returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Since my own son returned from Iraq, in 2007, I have tried to raise the awareness of combat PTSD. Like most things, unless it affects you personally PTSD is not something people are interested in. Many of the people with little or no interest in this matter will be out on the July 4, in the parade, or on the sidelines, waving their flags, drinking their beers or pink lemonade and having a good time.
So please remember when you are there, we are celebrating on the backs of these fine men and women who have sacrificed their lives, their limbs and in many cases their mental health for the sake of our country.
Try not to make assumptions about the homeless vet living under the bridge and drinking himself to death. A slow suicide is still a suicide, and these men and women are everyone’s responsibilty. We owe it to them to help, or at the very least, we owe them some compassion and a huge thank you for their sacrifice.
If you are a veteran and thinking about suicide, I beg you to check out this site and call the suicide hotline. You will be talking to people who understand your pain.
If you know someone who is suffering from combat-related PTSD and would like to help them or understand what they are going through, I urge you to visit http://www.heartstowardhome.com/ .
Dr. Cantrell has helped thousands of active duty, veterans and their families work through their PTSD and related issues. In my book, she is a hero, too.