Share or Save this page

PBS' 'This Emotional Life': Healing The Invisible Wounds Of War

This post is republished from The Huffington Post

The invisible wounds of war are not new to our Warriors, Veterans and their loved ones. For many, "coming home" is not the end of war — far from it. Leaving the battlefield far behind, the war often continues — in hearts and minds, relationships and communities following deployment.

War is can be peace. As James Hillman aptly put it, "peace for veterans is not an absence of war, but its living ghost in the bedroom, at the lunch counter, on the highway...The return from the killing fields is more than a debriefing; it is a slow ascent from hell."

Killing in combat, witnessing atrocities, reliving traumatic memories, grieving the loss of one’s buddies, feeling guilty or unworthy of surviving, being on edge, irritable or jumpy at the slightest provocation, coming home to a strained or even fractured relationship, craving the adrenaline surge of living in the shadow of death, experiencing nightmares, struggling with rage, anxiety and/or numbness, self-medicating or engaging in other destructive behaviors, such as attempts to drink, drug, sex, or drive away the pain...Real and wrenching, these timeless challenges are known to Warriors of all ages — past, present and future.

As always, we must remember history's lessons of war and its human toll...War changes everyone — as Robert Emmet Meagher states, "there is no such thing as inflicting casualties without enduring them. Every wound inflicted upon another is a wound within."

Sophocles, a General during the time of the ancient Greeks, wrote the story of Ajax, a Warrior of renowned strength and courage, tested by combat, who became depressed and died by suicide near the end of The Trojan War (check out

During the American Civil War, the unseen injuries of combat trauma were known as "nostalgia" and "soldier's heart," a particularly poignant phrase which I personally favor.

In World War I, the toll of industrialized trench warfare was characterized as "shell shock," a term that, by World War II, was replaced with "thousand yard stare" and "battle fatigue."

Several years following Vietnam, these wounds were medically recognized as "post-traumatic stress disorder," or PTSD, marked by the recognition of acute, chronic and delayed onset to experiencing trauma on both the battle and home fronts.

Warriors returning from Iraq and Afghanistan frequently refer to experiencing "post-traumatic stress," or PTS — as one sergeant stated, "I got injured — I'm not sick." PTS is indeed a normal, frequent and common response to the trauma of war...Timely and effective intervention — peer2peer, family, and community — reduces the likelihood of progression to chronic illness...Treatment does work — sooner is better.

Many of our returning Warriors will come to terms with their experiences in a few weeks or months; some will take additional time to adapt to their "new normal." Healing begins when our Warriors, Veterans and their loved ones realize they are not alone; the unseen wounds of war are real; treatment works; and reaching out IS an act of courage and strength. Troops wage war...Healers wage hope.

Despite the extreme adversity of combat experience, all may claim their human potential to experience post-traumatic growth — deepening one's faith, cherishing relationships, reordering life priorities, and extending compassion and empathy for others — requiring the sometimes painful work of finding meaning, purpose and value in life's harshest experiences.

To this end, the words of USMC SGT Andy Brandi, a proud Vietnam Veteran, capture this vision of growth as follows in what he terms "Living the Code:"

As a Warrior, I must live
By the highest standards of honor.
It is my only recourse.
And if in battle,
I walk through the valley of death,
I pray that I do not become the evil within it.
I must embrace hardship
And greet the unseen with cheer,
For there are no worse things to be gone through
Than men and women have endured before.
And in my life, for the rest of my life,
I must improvise, overcome and adapt, because

Thanks, SGT Brandi — we stand on the shoulder of giants, those who have trod war's weary path through the ages...Welcome home, all the way home...We are all in this together. Perhaps that is the greatest blessing of all — let's keep after it!

All Together Now ~
Army Brigadier General Loree K. Sutton, MD
Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury
January 2010


Get Involved:
DCoE Blog

Comments (3)

  • Wonderful article. The poem is so beautiful. We must do everything we can to help our warriors understand that not being able to go through hellacious experiences without being affected is a sign of health and strength, not weakness.
  • Don't forget the Twelve Step approach of turning issues like you mentioned to God. I have been in the addiction field for some years as well as with abuse victims and getting past one's "family secret" has been a goal I seek fory clients. The final choice is always up to the client as we know. I always look for the underlying anxiety in all these situations. Just a few of my thoughts. Thanks
  • PBS' 'This Emotional Life': Healing The Invisible Wounds Of War. Posted On: 2/1/2010 12:00:00 AM. Posted by: Brigadier General Loree K. Sutton, Director, Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- Discussion Thread: DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS Reference: 351/21 PTSD Federal Register / Vol. 74, No. 162/ Monday, August 24, 2009/Proposed Rules 38CFR Part 3 RIN 2900-AN32 Stressor Determinations for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder AGENCY: Department of Veterans Affairs. STATUS: Proposed Rule, VA Policy Staff is working on the draft Final with the Office of General Council and is pending for approval in..... 2010....(?) _____________________________________________________________________________________________ "The invisible wounds of war are not new to our Warriors, Veterans" The above quote is in national agreement and has been scientifically and medically proved todate. Why is this still such a political issue of denial of acceptance by our legislative congress. Why has this bill not been passed a long time ago except as a leverage to make it fail and to dismiss these ex-vietnam "heroes" who now are too old and discouraged to make you all see the light. _____________________________________________________________________________________________ This updated proposed rule and revision pretty well sums up the archaic view of the current official diagnoses by VA"examiners" in their determination that PTSD brain impairment/injuries are based on specific MOS and fully-documented battlefield involvement instances and as incurred by ex-Vietnam soldiers only. Please, with all the evidence we have to-date, why the need to have "us" Vietnam soldiers provide proof of evidence in terms of this absolute defined Vietnam PTSD exposure definition and as administered through your "contractor" examiner-inquisition. What is the need to prove and expose us as "liars, ignorant and stupid". This, to permanently and in affinity brand us with that scarlet-letter "Vietnam-War-Hero"? You don't believe your own analysts, but hire outside "contractors-for-profit" psychiatrists to provide denial-proof statements on PTSD application requests as submitted by Vietnam veterans. They were well aware that I could-not define and recite the exact VA definition of PTSD. I could only explain it in terms of what I actual saw ...what I experienced ...and what forever is ingrained in my memory, in my reactions and in my brain. I nevertheless learned to survive it, and lived through it for the past 43+plus years. I'm not afraid anymore to die with it, as the time when I was crazy enough to volunteer not to be afraid to die in Vietnam for my country. I am only sorry what I missed out on what our now returning heroes are rewarded with, whereas us Vietnam War soldiers are still excluded and punished for. I experienced the above referenced interrogation of my medical motives and application for PTSD benefits by your "contractor" through a series of self-incriminating questions and than politely asked to seal the "Official VA Definition" of PTSD sentence on my forehead. This in their dark and dungeon depressing psychiatric intimidating offices, in a verbal psychological match between these self-important "PhD's" on one side, and one skinny ignoramus E-4 on the other side. Each one of these PhD's furiously recording every word, eye movement, hand movement, facial expression, seat movements and god knows what other body movement and other physical incriminating evidence. What is so difficult to place us in the same category of Today's Heroes. Use your documented medical records on file today. Check out the units I were attached to, where these units were located, who they provided support to, what their missions were and battles these units have encountered and suffered through. This the other and less glorious and hidden side of the page. If nothing else check the written and obligated Vietnam war objective of my Division, my Brigade, my CO and BN and my sworn Oath-of-Service. _____________________________________________________________________________________________ "It's time to give our veterans a 21st-century VA. Over the past few months we've made much progress towards that end, and today I'm pleased to announce some new progress" THE WHITE HOUSE How does the Vietnam Veteran fit in this new formula. Why are we still overlooked, shamed and denigrated to the dark side of this new psychology. Where are our heroes and leaders from the past to pick up this torn and stepped-on flag belonging to my generation of our fallen and forgotten soldiers. I served in Vietnam in 1965 and 1966 with the 1st Infantry Division 3d Brigade 33d ARTY and was attached/embedded to the 2/28 Infantry HQ Company/ Black Lions of Cantigny, as an artillery-forward observer and radio operator. We operated from our base camp in Lai Khe, Vietnam just north of the "Iron Triangle". Although I was directly involved within the-midst of the battles of Ap-Bau Bang, Trunghoi, Ap-Nha Mat, Tan Bin and LoKe calling in fire missions for my infantry group I worked with, but since I had an Artillery-MOS and not an Infantry or Special Forces MOS I am not considered eligible for PTSD disability because as an Artillery MOS trained person I am not eligible for the combat-badge which is automatically earned by combat tested soldiers, and which makes it eligible to apply for PTSD benefits. Artillery forward-observers are not defined within the "category" of direct combat association/ involvement, because "we" (us artillery-FOs) are not within the definition that earns one a combat-badge or Purple Heart. I picked-up lifeless and wounded companions in a forced withdrawal so they would not be left behind, but because I can't remember the names of the souls I loaded in my 3/4 ton radio-truck in this fury of explosions, gunfire and flying debris, it still made me ineligible for battle involvement definitions. I heard crying and helpless soldiers calling for their mothers. In this same (Michelin Plantation) horror nightmare I was hit across the left side of my skull which left me unconscious, but because of the confusion and lack of follow-up evidence such as "actual death" it was not pursued up the administrative line. When I returned to base camp I can still see and hear other soldiers' surprise looks and expressions of "...we were told that you were killed! ....that I was dead!??". For me these nightmare involvements remain within me today but I learned to deal with it in my own way. Although I try to suppress and forget it. For myself and numerous other Vietnam war soldiers we are still denied existence and looked down upon as nothing or maybe an anomaly, a bad and misunderstood after-thought and definitely not part of the real picture. Is it because we are considered a liability now. 44 years later we are now a nightmare residue of over 500,000 shadows (vs. the 100,000 Iraq-Afghanistan recognized heroes). Is the provided VA (psychiatric) assistance a lobotomy approach and a way to erase... a "bad dream" and/or an owed "political" liability. (Two birds with one stone....). I can still remember, when I came home, during the 1960s' demonstrations, the looks, the spit on my clothes, the demeaning looks and the denial of employment by employers if I admitted that I was a Vietnam veteran or, wearing my Class-A uniform which I was so proud off, and forewarned by my wife not to wear it, and too naive to believe it. What I just don't understand is why VA today is still appearing to deny us not withstanding the amazing medical and "mental" assistance they are providing soldiers coming home today. With all the research and positive proof of the Vietnam realities why are we still denied today...why..? This is a bitter pill to swallow. Scarred DNA cannot be changed. They can be suppressed, ignored or eliminated. All three methods have been tried by other vindictive regimes. Most recent examples, Cambodia, the Hitler Regime. Don't let our country become like them, even if done in a "benevolent" way, as with pills, sweet talk and a warm pat on the back. We just want the same benefits so we can take care of ourself and our families. History will judge. I swear in the name of God that I am telling the truth. I am 67 seven years old and going on 68 in April, my mind is of the same age. I am very worried that over time it will diminish in memory also. I am stating this because if I wait any longer I will not be able to recall the details at a later period. I understand that an answer wont be forthcoming, or, even an acknowledgment, but I do want to go on record now that what I have stated is the truth and nothing but the truth, and I pray for all of us to read see and believe. Don't brand us now, thirty or forty years later as liars, homeless and free loaders. Please we need help we can't defend our self now. The spirit is gone. Sincerely Yours and God Bless Us All. _____________________________________________________________________________________________ STRESS LETTER - These symptoms have been so much part of my life that I didn't recognize them as being out of the ordinary. 1- LIFE BEFORE SERVICE: My family background is traditional and based on a nuclear family - having both mother and father living under the same roof, which extended my parents friends, and my friends parents. Family picnics and get-together with friends at the Sterling reservoir to go boating, swimming and fishing. I graduated from Sterling HS and attended the local Jr-College of North Eastern Junior College of Colorado. In 1962 (my first year) I flunked out because I'd rather played than take school serious. I got a part time job and bought a 1949 Pontiac clunker (used) for $50.00. I met my current sweetheart and thought the summers would never end until reality caught up. 2- LIFE DURING MILITARY SERVICE: In February 1963 I married the only person I ever loved (and still married to today). I joined the ARMY in April of 1963. Took my basic in Fort Polk, La., and finished my advanced training in Fort Sill, OK. The Army wasted no time of my talents and shipped me to Korea 1st Cavalry Div 82nd ARTY, to serve a year in the DMZ Zone, on alert status in a prospective war-zone. I remember the call to mobilization of our division with the assassination of our President Jack Kennedy. We were ready for war. In this one-year tour I became a trained and in-destructible super confident warrior. I returned to the States for assignment with the 1st Infantry Div 33d ARTY at Fort Riley, Kansas, and joined my wife in the best and most memorable term of duty in my life. My first born boy was delivered at the Army-base hospital. Due to a paper mix up my wife had the privilege of being assigned to the E-7 Ward of the due-to-deliver pregnant ladies instead of the enlisted ward in the basement. Needless to say my ego changed me to a super warrior indestructible and fearless. I never was more ready and eager to join the new war. After the first deployment of the Marines to Da-Nang in the north, our brigades were deployed to Vietnam Our 3rd BDE to dig in north of the Iron Triangle and north of Saigon. My life after this war has never been the same since then. The experiences of horror, death and survival campaigns were forever engraved in my memories DNA and changed my behavior for ever. 3. LIFE AFTER MILITARY SERVICE When I returned to the States, my confidence and over the horizon outlook on life seemed to have evaporated. It was not until 2005 that I became cognisant of this hopeless attitude in my life since 1966. All I could assume on this negative feeling that it was part of my nature or makeup and to swallow it. That all of this hopelessness and facilitating thoughts were induced memory and counter-reactions which merged and tried to balance my every day mores and at the same time were totally unaware that the war since long had ended. Much later I learned to counter this negative acceptance thinking that it was o.k. to bow to defeat and to move on with my life. This was the bitter pill to swallow every time I encountered it. The result which I truly believe is that I compromised my good and positive believes by walking away from the depressing, threatening and/or negative atmosphere of most of my places of employment. My justification were the relieving and non-pressing feeling of walking away, and internally knowingly thinking that I will find another place of employment, even if it meant a change of professions, which I did do. For almost forty years I lived in this maze which I believed or thought as natural and normal. I now know and believe that 90% of my inferior believe, in achievement and pride, contributed to the root-cause of the many of my prior job losses. The economic down turn in the last 10 years only made me feel that I contributed to the problem as I struggled with this embedded feeling of fear and self worthlessness. I will never know at this pointed crossroad of my full potential and achievement horizon because of a bad but real dream. _____________________________________________________________________________________________

Add new comment

DCoE welcomes your comments.

Please do not include personally identifiable information, such as Social Security numbers, phone numbers, addresses, or e-mail addresses in the body of your comment. Comments that include profanity, personal attacks, or any other material deemed inappropriate by site administrators will be removed. Your comments should be in accordance with our full comment policy regulations. Your participation indicates acceptance of these terms.

Please read our full Comment Policy.

You must have Javascript enabled to use this form.
This page was last updated on: September 14, 2017.