“Compared to fighters in other wars, the situation of the Afghanistan War veteran is special in that the meaning imparted to the war was distorted from the beginning. Soldiers returning from a war are usually loved and respected. Society’s favourable attitude helps in giving a sense to the difficult experiences of the war, and reduces the intensity of the symptoms accompanying the trauma.
In this particular case, the public was not looking forward to the return of soldiers who had fought in Afghanistan. It was in no hurry to recognise their sacrifice or to help them. Rather, it was the other way round. Everything was kept secret. No information was given about the killed and wounded. Disabled soldiers did not receive any assistance. After the collapse of the USSR, the war was recognised as a major political mistake, and the politicians’ attitude was absorbed by the public. The response to the war and participants in it was negative. When Lithuania regained itsindependence, Afghanistan War veterans were seen as a part of the legacy of the Soviet Unionbeyond Lithuania’s concern. In 1997, the consequences of the Soviet and Nazi occupations werereassessed, and a law on the legal status of people injured by the occupations of 1939 to 1990 was passed. This law does not mention the participants in the Afghanistan War; they were notrecognized as injured.”
I am pleased to offer the following guest posting by Byron Lewis. It is also timely to provide insight and perspective on how other countries have addressed moral injury and PTSD as a consequence in life after war… In the example of the Russian Federation and the former Soviet Union, combat veterans who served in Afghanistan during a 10 year period were not welcomed home with pride and appreciation. They were also left to fend for themselves in living and coping with the tragic symptoms of PTSD while readjusting to civilian life. We must worry even more about the children and families of these brave soldiers who carry the burden of war forward with the same emotional challenges. It is not too late for the Russian people to begin dealing with the multi-generational affects of PTSD… We Americans have much empathy… Steve Sparks Author Reconciliation: A Son’s Story
Recently Steve shared with me some of the statistics about his blog. I was taken by the fact that his blog is at least as widely read in the countries of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as in the United States. During a Skype conversation yesterday with a good friend and colleague in Odessa, the Ukraine, we talked about the how similar the experiences in Afghanistan were between the US and the USSR. This set me on a Google search where I found this gem. We are truly not alone in the problems facing our veterans of conflict overseas.
“It was my first day at peace. The first day that I didn’t hit the dirt at the slightest rustle, that I didn’t have to hide in the shade of the trees, holding my gun at the ready. The first day that it was possible to simply walk along the road, not thinking about anything at all, without having to look down all the time to avoid being blown up by a mine. It was the first day I came back from Afghanistan.” So starts the introduction to the book Afghanistan: A Russian Soldier’s Story by Vladislav Tamarov who was drafted into the Russian Army as a mine-sweeper in 1984 and was sent to Afghanistan at the age of 19.
And then, as a returning veteran of the conflict, Vladislav writes:
“Each one believed that he would return home, even though we knew that not all of us could return.
We dreamed about how, back home, we would be able to go walking in the forest without fear and without weapons; about how we wouldn’t be afraid of the dark or of sudden noises, or that we’d be blown up on the road.
I dreamed about this: I believed in these dreams. And I couldn’t ever have imagined that it wouldn’t be like that.
Very often I feel terror. I’m afraid to go in the forest by myself. I’m afraid of the bright moon, of dark bushes, of silence. I’m afraid to be alone. I’m afraid when someone is standing behind me. I’m afraid of hitting a person because I know I could lose control and start to kill him.
And it’s not because I am scared of dying: it’s because I want to live.”
We share common issues: the physical/mental/moral results of exposure to this kind of violence. While treatment is available, it is often difficult to obtain due to governmental bureaucratic paperwork, denial, and prohibitive costs of extensive and long-term treatment. This may be even more problematic in Russia than in the US.
With Steve’s permission, I will be posting shortly, findings regarding an extremely effective non-intrusive and non-chemical treatment for some of the symptoms of PTSD. I hope those who are suffering the symptoms described by Vladislav and thousands of veterans returning from our recent conflicts abroad can have access to such treatment. Their sacrifices should be rewarded with care and support, not indifference and denial.
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