Caring for Those Who Serve
Jul 15, 2013

PTSD affects a significant number of military veterans. Complicating matters, tudies in the U.S. indicate that veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are twice as likely to be prescribed opioid and other narcotic pain medications for dealing with their physical pain. These veterans are likely to abuse the drugs and become addicted, as well as abuse alcohol. This troubled behavior places them at risk of acting violently – harming themselves or others – as well as increasing suicidal thoughts and actions. The sad fact is, self-inflicted injuries and suicide are more likely to occur in individuals on prescription drugs.

Research by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs indicates general practitioners are more likely to prescribe more likely to get opioid pain killers to patients with a history of drug abuse and additions.

Unfortunately, many GPs are not trained in the complexities of the devastating physical and emotional injuries that can afflict our loyal service men and women who are haunted by tortured memories of their war experiences. Undoubtedly such well-meaning physicians hope the ­emotional trauma will be alleviated by the reduction of physical pain. In practice of course, it has become apparent that the opioid approach exacerbates emotional problems – with devastating results.

This tragic reality is taking place far too often to individuals who deserve care and sensitivity for the sacrifices they have made. Why should our brave children suffer such tragic consequences, and how did this happen?

Those most likely to suffer are typically younger individuals who went from high school or college to an accelerated, intensely life-threatening, “grow-up-in-a-hurry” military life process. Unlike the rest of us, whose lives unfold with time to digest and process experiences, these young warriors witness horrific, ­devastating life-and-death experiences in a short timeframe that is far from natural.

Although we can train for combat, there is currently little to prepare a young soldier’s heart and mind for healthily re-engaging in life after war. They are expected to transition from the super-insane adrenaline-stoked surge of combat, to “Oh, you’re home now; please don’t walk on the grass.”
We owe it to them to have everything in place for them upon their return – to be ready, willing, and able to provide for their physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial needs. Treating war wounds and chronic pain therapy should include physical and other therapies – not just pain pills. As well as medical treatment, they should have ready access to emotional and behavioral therapy and support, family counseling and career training.

Now What?
We shouldn’t ask “What are you going to do now that you are home?” Ask instead, “Now that you are home, how would you like to continue to serve your country, and how can WE help YOU?” In short, we need to better serve them.

A decorated U.S. Marine Corps veteran and pain management specialist, Lou Paradise is president and chief of research of Topical BioMedics, Inc. based in Rhinebeck, NY. 
© FrontLine Defence 2013 issue 4