You know, I don't know what is worse about being a Veteran, the idea that people pity me, or that they fear me. Neither is appropriate, and yet I get both, sometimes from the same person when I admit to being a Veteran. I can deal with being thanked, its awkward, because I really don't think I've done anything more than any EMT, Fireman or Policeman, but even with my usual flippant reply "Don't thank me thank my recruiter", I always make sure to leave the citizen with the impression that it is appreciated.
But how am I supposed to respond to questions about Post Traumatic Stress? PTSD has become so much of a catch phrase that the VA and AMEDD are actually thinking of changing the terminology. Doesn't matter what they call it, I saw friends, in some cases good friends, killed, or wounded. It wasn't like a John Wayne movie where they clutch their gut and fall over. It was more graphic, more painful to watch, and more gut wrenching to keep my whits and treat them. This is usually the point that someone will say "I could never do that". Yes you could. I did it, so can you.
There is no special gene that makes a soldier able to function in combat. There is no family background, or economic class that says that you can or can not preform in combat. It doesn't matter if your stupid or smart poor or rich, the truth about soldiers is that the only thing that makes us special, is that we volunteered to do it. I knew a guy who grew up in a hut, and slept on the dirt every day in Kenya, but was solid as a rock when you needed him, and I've met guys that were working on their doctorate, one of them was my Drill Sergeant. Have you ever met a PFC that could afford a set of Dress Blues (before they became the new Uniform they ran for easily $700 a pop)? I have.
In my life I have made many choices, some I regret, but Enlisting, then Reenlisting was never one of those. I was pushed to my physical, mental and spiritual limit as a Soldier, then pushed beyond those limits. I felt pain as one would not believe, and then some more, and it did not break me. I have endured sweltering heat and freezing cold, and now I can honestly say that such things do not phase me anymore. Through all the adversity I have learned who I am, on a level most people never dream of. This is not something you should pity, but rather envy, for if you do not know yourself how can you possibly find fulfillment in life?
Yes I had an Acute Stress Reaction. Is that Post Traumatic Stress? Not according to the VA. Doesn't matter if it is PTSD, it is what it is. Have I thought about committing suicide? Yes. I almost did twice. Once I was going to take my car as fast as it would go and ram a wall, the other time I was going to charge oncoming traffic. In both cases, two things stopped me, the first is that it would be a piss poor way to repay the buddies that were still in the sandbox, and the ones who gave it their all, but more importantly, a Battle Buddie saw that I was hurting, and on the edge and stopped me. It took a long time, but I found the will to live, and to keep fighting daily for my wonderful screwed up life.
I am a Veteran. I served this country faithfully and honorably. I am not a victim, you can not be a "victim" if you are a willing participant. I have Post Traumatic Stress, but I do not "suffer" from it, it is a condition like any other that can be overcome like any other. I am not a ticking time bomb, nor am I a blood thirsty psychopath. If some days are harder than others that is simply means that the good days will be that much better. So to every American out there I say, thank me if you must, but do not ever pity me.