I’m an ex soldier myself. I served as an infantryman with a rifle platoon for seven years with just shy of three of them on active service and I loved it, as I suspect most of the men and women I served with did. I did my basic training way back in ’88. Nineteen weeks of pretty intensive fitness, learning and general conditioning, a process that saw only eighteen original members of our platoon pass out from the fifty odd that started. For those of you who don’t know, an infantryman’s role is to close with and destroy the enemy and that’s it. Of course you do pick up other skills later depending on your talents, I was an assault pioneer and a team medic, others were snipers or signallers, but you were an infantryman first and foremost. I’ve seen what I now know as PTSD and how it affects the people who suffer from it. It’s pretty horrendous. I remember I used to wake one guy very carefully from his nightmare ridden sleep with a broom handle because he would always wake up swinging. Everyone knew he suffered but no one mentioned it. He was one of us and we knew it embarrassed him so the subject was taboo. And we didn’t call it PTSD either. We didn’t have a name for it back then, not in our closeted world anyway. I’m straying from my point here, ex squaddies and their stories. What can you do, eh?
To get back on track I need to bring your attention to the word conditioning that I used earlier when I was referring to my basic training. Most of the men I know that struggled when they got out have never suffered PTSD. They did have problems with adjustment though, as did I. I said struggled didn’t I? What I meant to say was go off the rails. Hyper awareness, broken relationships, self medication, suicide, prison, homelessness, panic attacks and not least an ability and willingness to use violence, tie them in with an inability or unwillingness to ask for help that I would argue is caused by conditioning and you have a human time bomb. Speaking for myself, I eventually did ask after recognising that I was the cause of a fair bit of suffering for those closest to me. We had a counsellor where I worked, he wrote a letter to my GP recommending I see a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist (I don’t remember which). The GP totally ignored the letter and packed me off with a prescription for fluoxetine and some advice which consisted of don’t drink coffee and change your job. I’ve never been so embarrassed. I hated myself. I’d laid myself bare, exposed inexcusable weakness to strangers. I felt worthless. In the end the indifference I had been shown and my own self loathing was a spur to sort myself out. That was sixteen years ago. I’m pretty much ok now but others I know aren’t.
I suppose in my long winded way what I’m trying to say is that for ex soldiers PTSD, terrible affliction that it is, is only part of a more deep seated problem. If we can find a way to re-sensitise and recondition our troops in the run up to getting back into civvy street then we can minimise the undue stress they, their families and those who come into contact with them suffer. By far the biggest barrier we face is getting ex soldiers to admit they need help and seek it for the issues they may have. For my part I’m hoping to enrol on a Mental Health First Aid Instructor (armed forces) course. It’s free for me as I’m a veteran (very American). I’m not altogether sure It’ll work but if it means I can stop just one soldier from ending up in dire straits, I reckon it’ll be worth it.
Carl Spaul has been a Support Worker for adults with learning disabilities since 2004, working for two private care providers. He is now in the process of cutting out the middle man, as they say, by taking on private work with a view to becoming a self employed Personal Assistant.