Reflections from past conflicts: Mental health issues are nothing new

Alison Brody
Analyst
Public Insight Network

After more than a decade of war, everybody knows what the initials “PTSD” stand for. Those letters contain the invisible wounds service members carry with them as they leave the battlefield and move on to their lives back home. But it’s not only those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who face psychological and emotional challenges when returning from war. A recent study estimates that about a third of soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan suffer some kind of mental health or cognitive issue.

Capt. David Beatty, Fort Bragg, NC, 1984.

David Beatty was a captain in the Air Force when he served as a forward air controller attached to the 82nd Airborne Division based at North Carolina’s Fort Bragg in 1984. (Photo shared by David Beatty)

In the coming weeks, we’ll hear a series of reflections from veterans of different eras on the issue of mental health. The first, David Beatty, served in the Air Force from 1971 to 2003, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel. During that time, he served in Iran, Grenada, Bosnia-Herzegovina (twice) and participated in Operation Desert Storm.

Beatty says he’s still grappling with the mental scars of combat. He suspects that he might have PTSD, but has never been diagnosed with the disease. One of the things that has helped him most as he works through his symptoms, he says, is spending time alone hiking in the mountains of the western United States.

Unlike many veterans we’ve heard from, Beatty says that he avoids all media having to do with the military and steers clear of “hanging out with buddies and telling ‘war stories.’”

Beatty says he thinks that the Department of Veterans Affairs has done a good a job trying to address veterans’ mental health, but the problem is bigger than the VA. Without coordinated efforts between the VA and civilian medical professionals, law enforcement and the judicial system, he says, the gaps in the safety net are simply too big to catch those in need.

“Short of the individual or his close family and friends intervening, veteran mental health issues will remain a tough nut to crack,” he says.

Are you a veteran with a story to share about how you have – or haven’t – moved on from war? Tell us here.

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Alison Brody Analyst
Public Insight Network

Alison Brody spends her day surrounded by stories from people all across the country. She works with journalists from newsrooms like NPR and The New York Times to help turn these insights into meaningful journalism (i.e., not from a press release or a political speech).

Before joining the PIN team, Alison worked as a PIN analyst at the public radio show Marketplace. For two years she asked questions about credit card debt, employment, unemployment and health insurance. She's also worked at Los Angeles’ public television station, where she helped produce an international news pilot and a digital prototype that was half game, half social network, aimed at teaching students about the U.S. Constitution.