Lingering Fog of War: Post Traumatic Stress

In 2012, there were more suicides in the Army than combat deaths. While casualties on the battlefield are declining, suicides are on the rise. At the close of the year, 303 suicides were under investigation compared to 212 soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Suicide is the ultimate symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition that hangs over our nation like the fog of war.
In 2012, there were more suicides in the Army than combat deaths. While casualties on the battlefield are declining, suicides are on the rise. At the close of the year, 303 suicides were under investigation compared to 212 soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Suicide is the ultimate symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition that hangs over our nation like the fog of war.

Every war is a war of nerves. But the war against terrorism has been especially stressful on our soldiers and their families. This war stands as the longest military operation in our nation's history; the battlefield conditions are horrific; and more than half the soldiers have felt the added strain of being deployed to a war zone more than once.

Of the more than 1,500,000 men who have fought the terrorists, 6,659 became casualties; 50,291 suffered wounds, and 320,000 incurred traumatic brain injuries.

As daunting as those statistics are, the greatest challenge the military faces may be from the invisible wounds of war. There are an estimated 400,000 cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But the history of past conflicts suggest that with the passage of time the sun will once again break through the fog of war.

In past wars, PTSD was referred to as "Da Costa's syndrome," melancholia, hysteria, soldier's heart, shell shock, and "going Asian." The condition first came to the nation's consciousness during the Civil War era. In one study from that period, 44 percent of the soldiers exhibited the symptoms: recurring nightmares, sleeplessness, isolation, loneliness, depression, angry outbursts, anxiety and jumpiness.

In my novel, Ed Canfield suffers from soldier's heart. He feels the only way he can redeem himself is to save as many lives as he has taken in battle.

Soldier's heart eventually became the second most common diagnosis of that troubled time. Millions of people – soldiers and civilians alike — suffered from it as a result of the bloodiest, most devastating war in our nation's history.

But once the war ended, the nation began to mend itself, slowly and painfully at first, but with faltering steps and troubled hearts, the people pressed on. The invisible wounds of that long ago war may not have ever fully healed, but with time, those harsh, horrific memories have faded. One sure sign of that renewal of the spirit can be seen on YouTube where a Civil War Gettysburg Reunion shows a film clip of Civil War veterans from both sides of the conflict embracing.

About a third of US citizens are said to have an ancestor who lived through the Civil War. It is a measure of how far we have come as a people that today the biggest battles between North and South take place on the nation's football fields.