I missed being sent to Viet Nam during that “conflict” by a matter of weeks. Many of my friends were not that lucky and have stories to tell that don’t much focus on the glories and honor of having participated in a grand cause. Drug use and “self-medication,” as coping mechanisms for both stress and boredom were the norm.
A recent report by an Institute of Medicine panel has responded to statistics linking alcohol and drug abuse to record suicides plaguing the military today. The report calls for better policing and treatment programs that have not essentially changed since the Viet Nam War era.
Prescription medications handed out by military caregivers has soared since the Afghanistan War began in 2001. Five million prescriptions for pain medication, tranquilizers, muscle relaxants, stimulants and barbiturates were provided to troops last year, up from less than a million in 2001, according to Pentagon data.
Much of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan has been borne by the Army where one in four soldiers admitted in 2008 to abusing prescription drugs during a one-year period. 63,000 GIs who served in those countries last year admitted they have a drinking problem. Military officials are evaluating the report and say they want to come up with new programs that work.
If there is a strong institutional intention to restore physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health for service men and women, so many of the new and even ancient proven methods and practices available could begin to find their way onto bases everywhere and into the Veteran’s Administration’s treatment programs.
These non-drug alternatives have slowly made their way into modern medicine, from acupuncture to effective stress management and meditation techniques. Included in programs could be the new energy medicine along with the ancient tai chi chuan (a martial art), chi gong, yoga, and more. Doing so could save millions of our tax dollars while helping to bring about true well-being for so many. That’s not to say symptom relief through the measured use of prescriptions is not in order--it should become a part of the solution, not abused as a panacea.
I’ve received training in a technique known as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT or “tapping”) that has already achieved amazing success in relieving post-traumatic stress for victims of war in other countries. And by now, certainly some military personnel have discovered it can help resolve many a physical and mental complaint.
As a matter of fact, my trainer has been working to demonstrate the effectiveness of EFT with vets in order to receive acceptance into the VA system.
Perhaps an even deeper source of the problem of suicide and self-medication in the military lies in the fact that a man (or woman) in the role of warrior must be assisted in connecting to what is truly meaningful and satisfying for them about their work; what and who it ultimately contributes to on a daily basis.
If there is no connection with a felt sense of meaning and purpose, it leaves an empty hole in one’s heart and soul that can never be filled with a prescription. Without that there is no hope for a healthy warrior, one who is at the same time passionate about a mission of service and able to nurture and realize complete health and well-being with full institutional support.