Tonight OWN is re-airing last Sunday’s episode of Our America with Lisa Ling on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and our veterans. I have watched the episode twice and there are moments I cried each time. Tonight I will watch it once again with my entire family. This isn’t an episode about facts, anger or even accountability. It is one of awareness and hope.
This subject settles close to home for me. My uncle, who once was full of lightness and laughter, now finds himself sedated to numb the fear. Just another good man who lost his life to war. When I was a child, his smile would light up the room…it still does but nothing is the same. A veteran of the Vietnam War, my uncle served proudly and returned a bit broken. In the 80’s, doctors and the VA didn’t know how to handle this problem. It wasn’t until the mid 90’s that he even began to find answers. However, in the meantime it destroyed his life. Our home was always on edge when he spent the night. You see…his reality was enmeshed with his past. Never knowing if the voices were real, he found himself withdrawing from conversations and slowly pulling away from the world. He is a strong, brave man and he is trapped in anxiety and fear. The littlest things could trigger memories for him. Video games and violent TV shows or movies were simply forbidden while he was around. I didn’t fear my uncle but I knew he was in pain. Sedation seemed to be the treatment option for years and I mourn for the life and bright future he lost. He was a good man. He is a good man. Unfortunately his story is not uncommon.
I have been waiting for someone to tackle this topic and although it didn’t go as deep as I had hoped, I was pleased to see OWN address the issue. This is so much bigger than people realize. The troops who step into the kill zone on the orders of our great country need our help to deal with the impact of what they must see. Not every soldier comes home with PTSD, but many do. Too many. For them, we owe them every resource we have to help them heal.
The episode began by taking us upstate New York to the Veteran’s Suicide Hotline center. Men and women crouched around and paced as they anxiously and urgently tried to help those who were ready to give up. They worked to find anything that could give them a little hope or buy a little time so that help could arrive. At that time, we are informed that on average 18 veterans commit suicide every day. I couldn’t help but wonder how many considered it. Apparently we have lost more to suicide than all of those who died in the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. I was stunned. That means we are losing around 540 good men and women a month. That is like losing as many people as we did on 9-11… but every 6 months. This is so wrong.
The show then took us to New Mexico to highlight a veteran’s program at the National Wellness and Healing Center in Angel Fire. At Angel Fire they focus on the veteran and the family member who has been impacted. The program incorporates many different techniques that some would say border on the new-age philosophy. However as I watched the connection with spirit and Earth that the Native American atmosphere brought to the healing, I could see the benefits. They performed rituals to call the warriors home, allowed for individual and couple therapy, did equine therapy, yoga and so much more. Set in the mountains, it provided a safe place for veterans to try to breathe and focus on healing.
Lisa Ling spoke with two main sets of couples. Both men were suffering from PTSD and both of their wives were living the nightmare and doing everything they could to hold it together. As the camera panned to one former marine, Peter, I couldn’t help but notice the pain in his eyes. He was hurting and completely withdrawn…living in the shell of his former life. He seemed hopeless and his wife was completely drained.
Eventually Peter reluctantly shared the painful memories he had been carrying with him for 8 years. It was the first time his wife had heard about his trauma. Soon after he was with the spiritual healer and called his spirit home. Some may think that this act is silly but I was crying as this grown man plead for his life back….calling on hope. The symbolism was palpable. Following the ceremony, he was laughing and smiling – something we had yet to see from him. There was hope for him and his marriage.
The other main character was Jim who was having serious anger and PTSD issues. His wife seemed to get the brunt of his anger. As women in the group voice their resentment and anger at living with this, she found comfort in hearing their stories. She wasn’t alone. Many of the women were frustrated – feeling almost like silent victims to this increasing epidemic. With support and love, Jim and his wife seemed to find a way to communicate and even a little hope.
I was left wondering how these couple would do once they were back home and away from all of the other supportive people. Was this something they could attend yearly? It truly seemed to help. Maybe programs like this can spring up around the country allowing for a greater net to catch these men and women who need our support. I only wish they had this program in the 80’s when my own uncle was desperate to find help. One thing is certain…with all of the troops returning home, we need to do right by them and create programs that will help them to heal from what they witnessed as they fought to keep us safe. No person should have to live with memories that haunt them.
Catch the encore presentation of this episode Veteran’s Day at 5pm EST…only on OWN. To find OWN in your area, check the channel finder here.
Take a look my previous article on “Invisible Wounds of War” that links to the “Our America. Our Veterans. Our Thanks” page on Oprah.com where you can leave a special message for Veterans.