…read Chris Hernandez’s post at BreachBangClear, PTSD and Fakers and Frauds and WTAF? Not just because he quotes WeaponsMan.com. The initial story he tells (of seeing a PTSD story on the tube, rolling his eyes like most of us combat vets do, and then being shocked when the subject of the story was a personal friend of his who he knew had seen a ton of The Elephant) is one he’d told us before, and many of you will sympathize.
Actually, we’d recommend one more read to you, and that’s the chapter on PTSD, its origins and its wide application to fakers, in Stolen Valor buy B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley. (Chris, you should read this just because they’re fellow Texans). Stolen Valor tells the story of how the national reputation of Vietnam veterans was ruined by a media fixated on outrageous stories — stories that came from fakers and people replaying movie scenes for various advantages.
The fakers are nothing new, although the real vets of Vietnam were especially ill served by them (and by the media who lionized them. The Boston Globe actually got a murderer, Joe Yandle, out of jail with a phony Vietnam trauma tale, and the jitbag — never in combat — killed again). Burkett and Whitley recount how the “last living veteran” of the Civil War turned out to be a phony… as did the second and third to last “veterans.” Here in New England, colonial and state legislatures were plagued with phony veterans claiming pensions or back pay from the Revolution, the French and Indian, and even King Philip’s War.
Napoleon’s Invalides had to deal with fake old grognards, and today’s VA is no different. But the well-meaning civilians that run VA are rubber-stamping claims from people who are using long-discredited wannabe tropes like “my records burned in the fire!” and “there were no records because I was classified Top Secret Imaginary!”
Shakespeare’s rousing speech in Henry V speaks to some of the reasons that “soldiers” emerge in the decades after the war. “Men in England now abed… will hold their manhoods cheap” when they meet a veteran who was with the young King on St. Crispin’s Day. In some subset of human beings, envy, an ugly enough emotion on its own, twists itself into impersonation. Many mean nothing by it; they just want a better answer for “what did you do in the war, Daddy?” than the answer they went with during wartime.
Yet, we couldn’t do our jobs out in our various positions along the spear, if we didn’t have a strong economy, brilliant scientists, focused engineers, and all the other specialists that make a modern society work. So there’s no reason for anyone that does a job in the productive economy — a job someone is willing to pay him or her to do — to feel bad about not joining the Army. Maybe we could have used that person, but what he or she did was worthwhile by definition (i.e., somebody paid for it). Why not be proud of what you actually did?
And then there are the ones who claim some benefit for personal advantage. The PTSD phonies are in that class. Many “professional veterans” turn out to be in that class. Stolen Valor recounts the story of an SF guy and a SEAL who started a Vietnam War museum. They had a nice little museum going, even though each was a phony (and here’s the laugh: while their stories were as transparent as air itself, each thought the other was real and was worried about his buddy finding out his own imposture). And phony trauma claims are so widespread that we confess we once erred the other way, as Chris caught himself doing: we assumed all PTSD stories were bullshit, because so many are.
The phenomenon of soldiers having psychological difficulties, alienation, repression, soldiers’ heart, shell shock, call it what you will, is as old as warfare. The Vikings probably got grimmed out by their battles, and probably self-medicated with mead and wenching; and that works as well for most guys as anything in the limited aid bag of today’s psychiatry. Chris nails it, in our view, here:
Right or wrong, combat vets like me who know guys with legitimate PTSD problems feel nothing but disgust at those who whine, exaggerate or flat-out lie about their experiences. And maybe I’m the only one who feels this way, but it seems that the fakers outnumber the real victims by about 5 to 1.
Well, there’s at least two of us.
It was some real frankness from some real combat vets — one a humble recipient of the DSC who survived more wounds to his person than some entire units — that caused us to readjust our attitude towards PTSD, and admit it might actually exist. (Seriously, a good look at how the diagnosis was created, by whom, and why — it was a Vietnam War protest by an activist doctor — will shake your faith in it as a medical dx, too).
Soldiers, and veterans, are individuals, something that’s lost when we think of them as the collective “troops.” A million Afghan and Iraq vets have a million discrete experience sets, and will react differently. In our community (SF), actual PTSD is pretty low because we have a very high level of stress inoculation and a dissociation response that would probably constitute illness in the general population — it’s an excellent adaptation to stressful environments, not so much for taking Kid to the school dance or running out to Five Guys for a burger. Survivor’s guilt? That, we’ve got, but for most of us it’s our own goddamn business, thank you for your concern.
But I know SF guys who are sure they have experienced PTSD, including guys who can’t be milking the VA system for a disability because they’re 100% for real, physical, sometimes debilitating, injuries. To those guys, I listen. To the scamming Air Force chick who had a story in some chick magazine about how she’s a mental basket case because of the hardships of FOB life, like, what was it, “soggy vegetables?” Not so much. (That she’s a basket case, we will accept. That the bad menu on base did it, nopers). Most Americans have no idea that the 80% of the military that never leaves a large base has regular “steak and crab leg” or “steak and lobster” days. It’s traumatic that surf-n-turf can’t be the fare every day for Air Force newsletter writers like that Unique And Special Snowflake™. And she’s got a disability for it. War is hell.
For the real trauma victims, whom you might not know when you see ’em. listening and taling seems to help. At least, when the conversational partners are other vets. This is the germ of truth behind the rap sessions and the well-meaning, but clueless, “facilitators.” (Once such a program gets infected by wannabes, it probably can’t be saved at all. In a sort of veterans’ Gresham’s Law the phony vets drive the authentic ones out).
Economists know that if you tax something, you get less. (That’s the whole reson for Pigovian taxes, like cigarette taxes, and was the original concept of the NFA transfer tax). If you subsidize it, you get more. We’re now subsidizing a Bonus Army of people who are not disabled, but have been convinced that they are. No good comes of that, and probably the worst of it is the diminution in those people’s capacities and potential.
Over at Breach Bang Clear, some commenters are tearing Chris a new one because he called out the epidemic of phonies. One questions his own service, which he’s documented online pretty extensively (and honestly). Someone blames him for military suicides.
Yeah, that new phenomenon. Prediction: if someone does a study of the thousands who are on disability thanks to PTSD, without a matching Purple Heart or equivalent noncombat trauma, you’ll find that now that they’re getting the eagle’s kiss in the mail, their suicide rate is below average. Bet?