In 2008, just under a half million American veterans, 442,695 to be exact, were treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (The New York Times, September 6, 2009, “Vietnam’s Damage, Four Decades Later”), 60% of them from the Vietnam era. It is estimated that up to 20% of the vets from our current Gulf wars will suffer from PTSD. Even 40 years later, as Vietnam veterans enter their 60s and 70s, the number seeking treatment is growing, not shrinking; up almost 12% between 2003 and 2005, the latest available numbers. The legacy of cost is not just emotional: a 100% PTSD disability payment is $3,000 per month or $36,000 a year, plus the cost of treatment, all of which comes from the $44.7 billion spent annually on veterans’ pensions and compensation.
The daily consequences of PTSD occur on the human level, the personal level, the family level, the community level: “I had rages and I was getting worse. I was constantly embarrassing my family, screaming and hollering at people.” Anxiety, depression, anger, fistfights at Little League and high school games, threatening a supervisor at work, almost losing a job, nightmares, cold sweats. These are the forgotten offspring of war brought home.
Small, perhaps, compared to death or disfigurement but still they create long-lasting reverberations that disturb the harmony and tranquility of families and communities. What are the ripple effects on the next generation of children who grow up in turbulent households? Manageable, especially if understood and compensated for, but certainly not good in any case.
All actions have consequences and it is vital that we have a FULL and complete understanding of the incredibly long-term, even generational impact of certain decisions. The benefits may be worth the costs but unless we truly know and understand the full costs of our decisions, we cannot make good ones.
We all are decision makers at some level and the better decisions we make (and the more we understand the complexities of our decisions, the more time we take to review and learn from our decisions in all aspects of our lives), the better our lives will be.