Infantrymen don’t get post-traumatic stress. We’re tough and we train for combat, and mental stress affects only the weak and unprepared. The only things that can hurt us are bullets and bombs.
Before I left for Iraq, I believed every bit of that. I ignored the warning signs I saw in the guys in my platoon who had already been deployed, alcohol abuse and depression chief among them. We trained together for nearly two years, and in that training a sense of invincibility developed. But the first time I lined up a body in my rifle sights and pulled the trigger with the intent to kill, I knew something changed—and when I couldn’t breathe in a loud, crowded club shortly after coming home, I knew the change was permanent.
In reality, PTSD can affect anyone exposed to a traumatic event, be it a firefight, a vehicle accident or sexual assault. It knows no rank, age or experience, and doesn’t even have to occur on a battlefield, but many still think the way I used to think. That’s why both awareness and treatment are vital. They go hand in hand to remove the stigma of PTSD so Veterans can get on with their lives after service.
Today is PTSD Awareness Day. Use the time to read up on post-traumatic stress symptoms and fill out a short questionnaire to see if you could be at risk. Resources even exist for family members too, and VA’s free PTSD Coach app for iPhone and Android can help regulate symptoms daily.
It can take only a few seconds for a traumatic event to unfold, and a lifetime of symptoms to come out of it. We can safely say that anyone can develop PTSD—even tough infantrymen. That should end the discussion of who is susceptible and who isn’t. What should be discussed is sustainable treatment to help effectively manage the stress. Everyone can get PTSD, but nobody has to be consumed by it.