Friday, September 28, 2012

Wounded Warriors: From addiction to well-being

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. 


  1. Randy, I'm very supportive of the military and VA considering the use of non-medical treatments for wounded warriors with mental-emotional health issues. Whatever works should be available as an option!

    But I'm confused about your last two paragraphs. Are you saying that these former soldiers should somehow come to see and feel more fully that what they were doing during wartime was meaningful because it was truly in service to the greater good of the U.S. and/or the wider world? When vets tell us "War is hell," I think that many of them are expressing the fundamental disservice to the world that warmaking represents, even when the perceived cause is "just". And when they've been in numerous combat situations in which they could clearly see the uselessness of their particular military actions or even the clear lies that they and the U.S. public has been told about their conflict, it may be impossible to see any value in what they've done, even if they believed in their fight when they first entered it.

  2. Randy and Matt, I think you're both honing in on one of the most crucial issues in America today: How can we separate honoring and caring for our veterans for what they've been through, from supporting an 'endless war' machine that squanders lives indiscriminately for political and economic gain.

    I don't have any simple answers, only the passionate conviction that it must be done, somehow. My sense is that the toxic Left/Right divide that mushroomed along with the Viet Nam war has festered into a vast reservoir of tribal rivalry and hatred, which blocks any possibility of effective cooperation.

    I think the strongest glue holding the endless war machine together is the rallying cry "Support Our Troops". Until the folks who want to stop this machine can act visibly, passionately in supporting veterans and their families in recovering from war, while just as visibly and publicly making the case for dismantling the machine, we will always be trumped by the yellow ribbon stickers.

    I made two moves in that direction in Humboldt County about a year ago. I started a FB page called "Humboldt Homecoming" with the intention of supporting local vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. I also made numerous pitches to bring a production called "Theater of War" here. This is an inter-active program which starts with a reading of a play by Sophocles about war, followed by dialog with a panel including veterans, their families, and health care professionals.

    I gave up on both of these after about six months of underwhelmingly enthusiastic response, and haven't found the courage yet to try again.


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