When transitioning from the military to the civilian sector, many of us tacitly seek other veterans as a source of the very comfort that we grew accustomed to while active. The task of spotting fellow veterans isn’t always as difficult as one would imagine. The personal struggles of those veterans, however, can be as elusive as time.
In the special operations community, there is often an unfortunate tendency to suggest that a direct correlation exists between PTSD and time spent in the carnage of actual combat. The validity of any PTSD claim must, therefore, be buttressed by a proportionate degree of combat experience. I, too, have been guilty of this type of flawed logic in the past. This sort of judgment, however, inflicts a terrible injustice upon our sister and brother veterans across the board.
It became apparent to me shortly after beginning my very first semester of college. Conversations with other veterans regarding our struggles seemed slightly off. As if, in some manner, my experience in special operations cast too large of a shadow in terms of who could have a legitimate claim of PTSD. I noticed my brothers and sisters shy away from any sort of contribution to the conversation, and when I asked why that was the case; the answer often given echoed an all too familiar tone. Several of my fellow student-veterans subscribed to the idea that their personal experiences dwarfed in comparison to those of combat veterans, thus effectively negating any value of their personal claims of affliction, or so they allowed themselves to believe.
These are ill-conceived tendencies, and we have an obligation to correct them.
As I presented this topic as a potential article to some of my student-veteran teammates, and as I discussed it in greater detail, the room fell silent. Then one of our newer members, Derek Cohen, said it plainly, “It’s comforting to know that I don’t have to measure up to a gunfighter just to have my personal struggle validated”. In that instant, he captured the very essence of this article.
As I see it, everyone who has served in the military has a potentially valid claim to PTSD. Let me explain. Each and every one of us who has served has had to endure, at a minimum, our respective branch’s boot camp. This means that we were each plucked out of our civilian lives, albeit voluntarily, and placed into a total institution. The very objective of these institutions is to strip away the identity of the individual, in order that a cohesive working unit is constructed. While boot camp itself may not seem too damaging for some of us, who are we to judge those with a different perspective? This stripping of individuality and forging of a team is what makes America’s military the mightiest force on Earth. It does not, however, come without its share of potentially damaging experiences for some. There should be no presumption regarding the emotional thresholds of our brothers and sisters in arms. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.
I have met some of the greatest people, of which I am proud to call my fellow veterans, who have seemingly endured much greater emotional struggles in capacities nowhere in the proximity of a battlefield. Holding others to a standard simply because some of us may have passed through seemingly unscathed does an incredible disservice to all parties involved, and it is cause for the alienation of those most in need of a welcoming and tight-knit community.
When transitioning, it is imperative that we bear this in mind, lest we lose compassion for our teammates.
The veteran community is our team on the outside. Let’s make the commitment to each other early on.
- Written by Mario Romero