I went to the VA a couple of weeks ago. For those who don't know... I'm not as well as I might like. Quite apart from the Reiter's Syndrome, I have symptoms of some mild PTSD. Is it PTSD? I don't know. But when I look at the list of symptoms... well it's not hard to see a lot of them which fit.
Am I a gibbering wreck, hiding in the basement and waking with night horrors? No. I am more reclusive. I've been pulling back from people, and from things I used to enjoy. I have less motivation than I used to. I am moody, irritable and prone to some sorts of being more emotional, and some sorts of less.
I don't sleep much.
It's been progressive (when I first got back from theater.... I was a mess. Were it not for the love of my friends, Maia's support and the suppport network offered up by Seattle fandom... who knows how I'd have ended up).
PTSD, even the mild stuff, is insidious. It's like a subtle filter on a photograph. You don't see it, in any one place, but it colors the whole thing. My war was "easy" (for such values of easy as apply only in a war zone. I am unaware of anyone who tried to kill me
specifically. That doesn't mean no one tried to kill me generally, nor that I wasn't nervous, tense, on-edge, and looking over my shoulder for the guy who decided to go for killing me retail instead of wholesale).
Then I got sick. Really sick. Life-alteringly sick. That got me sent back to Kuwait, and Germany, thence to Walter Reed (where I got life threateningly ill: because my treatment regimen and I didn't get along), before being warehoused at Madigan Army Medical Center at Ft. Lewis.
Which is when my war got hard. I was 1,300 miles from home. I was 11,000 miles from my comrades. I was in charge of a squad of people who were all in roughly the same boat. All of them had their own problems. All of them had people in theater they were worried about, and all of them had the hospital, the GTSB and fate to contend with.
The kid with narcolepsy wasn't too bad. Narcolepsy sucks, don't get me wrong, but as problems go it wasn't that bad. The PV2 who was forced to choose between rear-ending the supply truck in front of her, or going off a drop of more than 30 feet; she took the wreck. The private in the right seat of her truck... well she didn't make it out, and it wasn't pretty. To add to things... her husband was one of the people who cut her out of the wreck. He came home on leave, she got pregnant. When he redeployed, he fell into the bottle. They got the divorce a couple of weeks before she had the kid. All of that (the redeployment, the problems, the pregnacy) happened while she was in my squad.
So I spent eight months worrying about my health, their health (and the health of other people). There was an SFC who killed himself in Mologne House, two days after I got there, and the Major who tried to kill herself in the barracks at Ft. Lewis. I got to lead the detail cleaning her room out.... she used some of her blood to damn the GTSB for not helping people.
There was the kid whose gear I had to box up for storage while he was in the brig. He'd used his charm to play on the sympathy of locals to get about $5,000 in aid; aid he didn't need. For that he got 90 days, a bad conduct discharge, and a ride home when he got released.
The news... a horror. Every week ArmyTimes lists the names of the dead. Every week we looked at it, hoping it didn't have anyone we knew. I had to worry it might have someone one of my troops knew.
All that shit grinds you down. You suppress it. You drink. You buy things for people (what the fuck does money matter?). You bottle it up until it's safe to look at; but you know what... it's never safe to look at.
I blogged about it.
But I didn't. I talked about things that mattered, but not about any of that shit. What was I gonna do... wax all melodramatic about how tough it was? Shit. It wasn't tough. Some mortar rounds here and there. The siren screaming we were being gassed (it was a false alarm). Driving 800 miles just behind the expanding front, and intervierwing the EPWs. Eating MREs and taking baths out of water bottles.
We didn't get mail.
So what? I was in one piece. My guys... they were still in it. Day to day I didn't know if they were alive or dead. E-mail (when I got it) could only let me know that some hours ago they weren't dead. One of them got a piece of shrapnel in the eye. Fuck. No permanent damage... good.
Another one shows up on the way to a Hardship Discharge... and they make him fly back to Baghdad to get a fucking signature... Christ!
But is this something to go all weak in the head about? Is this the sort of thing which makes PTSD? Maybe.
I don't know.
Here's the thing... I don't want PTSD. Who does? That's part of the nature of the beast. It's invidious. The diagnoses means you are broken. If you have it because of weak asssed shit like being scared for four months straight that you might be killed; but no scars or battle stories to show for it.
If you have it because you got sick and thought you might end up a cripple for the rest of your days (even if you spent two-weeks not dying in hospital)....
And worrying about other peoples problems... if you get PTSD from that...
Ok.... so We got that out of the way. I am weak. Weak enough so all that combined to screw me up. If it's not PTSD, it's still done a damned fine job of putting a monkey wrench in my life; trust me on that one, ok.
None of which is why I'm writing this.
I'm writing this because there are people who are worse off than I am (seems to be my refrain... I can't be sick, there are people who need more help than I do... part of the problem that is).
Those people, are being screwed. Remember where I said I went to the VA a couple weeks ago...
They were kind enough to tell me I don't have PTSD. A consummation devoutly to be wished, right?
Maybe not. I, you see, am having "trouble readjusting." It seems a lot of Iraq vets are having the same sorts of troubles. Five years since I got back, you'd think I'd be pretty much readjusted.
Seems there's a reason so many of us are having trouble "readjusting"... It's cheaper than PTSD.
So the VA has issued directives telling doctors to not diagnose, nor test for, PTSD
Way to support the troops, eh?On March 20, 2008 a VA hospital's PTSD program coordinator sent an e-mail to a number of VA employees, including psychologists, social workers, and a psychiatrist stating that due to an increased number of "compensation seeking veterans," the staff should "refrain from giving a diagnosis of PTSD straight out" and they should "R/O [rule out] PTSD" and consider a diagnosis of "Adjustment Disorder" instead.
So there you go. I went to the VA, wondering if I had some PTSD. Now that they've seen me.... I have a shiny new diagnosis, and I still don't know.