Military Trauma Working Group

Coordinator

Sam Coleman, PhD, MSW, samkcoleman@gmail.com

Mission

Our role, as VFP members who hate war, is to speak truth to the causes of veterans' psychological pain and work for its amelioration.  We strive to:

  • create new alliances among veterans, clinicians, researchers and the public for understanding psychological injuries from military service.
  • devise ways of reaching out to all veterans who carry the immense burden of their war experiences but do not seek help because they are thoroughly disillusioned and alienated from our country's formal institutions.
  • provide valuable information that is not censored or adulterated by our country's ambient pro-military ideology.
  • cooperate with sister VFP working groups in information exchange.
  • bear witness to the true costs of war in the lives of veterans and their loved ones.

The Concerned Clinicians and Researchers Network (CCRN) seeks to serve clinicians and researchers who want more effective interventions for troubled veterans, based on candid realization of the nature of America's wars.  Please visit the CCRN web site at  http://concernedcrn.org/

Roland Van Deusen's two-minute outreach message on Youtube to veterans, their friends and loved ones, has had over 4,000 views, with high praise and numerous reposting by veterans' organizations and publications.

We must do everything in our power to respond to the rapid increase in suicide rates among both active duty and veterans.  CNN's Pentagon correspondent reported in September of this year that the suicide rate among active duty units has increased between 2013 and 2018 from 18.5 to 24.8 per 100,000.  Roland's recent insightful article in Combat Stress on this problem is a must read.  (Or download the PDF version of the article)

Documentaries and Educational Movies

Wartorn 1861-2010.  2010. Jon Alpert, Ellen Goosenberg Kent, Directors / HBO.  The late James Gandolfini co-produced this documentary, and he appears in many scenes as an interviewer.  The viewer who listens carefully can benefit mightily from watching this documentary.  Perhaps the most powerful features of this film are its historical depth and the remarkable intimacy that veterans and their families allow the camera.  This video can help a lot to normalize a veteran's distress, and that's a crucial ingredient in seeking help. The production quality is excellent also.  I can't praise the production without some qualification, though.  Woman veterans got scant attention, and the top brass whom Gandolfini interviews--Raymond Odierno and Peter Chiarelli--are on their best sympathetic behavior, not only because of the enormity of the problem of PTSD -> psychological war wounds, but because one of America's most famous actors is holding the microphone.  

Another Kind of Valor.  2008.  Dan E. Weisburd, Director / California Institute for Mental Health.  Weisburd is a major figure in California NAMI.  This educational docudrama set is offered as a way to teach a variety of viewing audiences, from family members to clinicians, about a number of mental conditions among returning veterans.  Endorsements ring with virtuous adjectives.  This set of four DVDs is valuable for seeing different techniques applied, especially eye movement and desensitization reprocessing (EMDR), but it also suffers from odd gaps.  For example, in one session a black minister presents with complaints about his relationship with his wife, but the dialogue with his therapist focuses instead on topics like his ideals.  Kudos for the docudrama's depiction of the politics of rape, in which an officer in the chain of command squelches an investigation because he needs the manpower.  On the other hand, the rapist is portrayed as an entirely dismissable weirdo--but it's precisely the likeable, "squared away" ones who get away with the crime.  The title of the series itself smacks of military glorification, but I'm nevertheless including it in this list for its educational value.

The Invisible War.  2012.  Kirby Dick, Director / Cinedigm.  This Oscar-nominated documentary lays bare the shocking extent of sexual assaults in the US military and the toll they take on women's (and men's) lives.  Like the other documentaries recommended here, it owes much of its power to the brave people who stepped forward to reveal their experiences.  The movie also presents for critique the lame band-aid "educational" approaches that military bureaucrats concocted in response to the rape epidemic. The Invisible War created a deservedly high-profile splash among politicians and policymakers, but those who study attempts at reforming the military would do well to follow up on the ways in which the DOD and its legislative supporters mobilized to deflect attempts at genuine reform.

American Experience: My Lai.  2010.  Barak Goodman, Director / PBS.  This documentary doesn't ostensibly concern“moral injury” or PTSD -> psychological damage from combat, but it does a remarkable job of laying out all of the conditions that led to an atrocity and the military bureaucracy's response.  The uninformed viewer could regard the 1968 My Lai massacre as a one-off incident, but savvy veterans of all of our recent counterinsurgencies will find the dynamics entirely familiar.  

Publications

Each of these books also has bibliographies and references you can pursue.

Courage After Fire:  Coping Strategies for Troops Returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and Their Families. Keith Armstrong, Suzanne Best, and Paula Domenici.  2006.  Berkeley, CA:  Ulysses Press.  This book is evidently the standard recommendation to laypeople from the mainstream clinical community.  It has received many enthusiastic reviews from readers facing readjustment problems after deployment. There is much solid, valuable advice here, but some of this book's suggestions assume middle class resources and jobs--like "working out at the gym" and "asking your boss for a work schedule that fits best with your family life."  Discussion of guilt is confined to survivor guilt and seeing (as opposed to perpetrating) civilian deaths.  Evaluations particularly welcome!

When Johnny and Jane Come Marching Home:  How All of Us Can Help Veterans. Paula J. Caplan.  2011. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.  This highly readable work contains helpful and reliable advice for concerned loved ones of veterans.  Caplan gives friends and family members the confidence they need to communicate with the veterans they care about.

Shade It Black:  Death and After in Iraq. Jessica Goodell.  2011. Philadelphia, PA: Casemate.  This book contains a wealth of insight into the experiences of a woman marine, along with some insightful observations about culture shock on return to civilian society.

They Were Soldiers:  How the Wounded Return from America's Wars--the Untold Story.  Ann Jones.  2013. Chicago, IL:  Haymarket Books.  First-rate journalism from a seasoned observer who writes beautifully. If you could use a reminder that veterans' services must be liberated from DOD abuses, this is it.

Chapter Four, "Invisible Wounds:  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder," pages 158 - 209 in Gerald Nicosia's 2001 Home to War:  A History of the Vietnam Veterans' Movement.  New York, NY: Crown Publishers.  Clinicians, know the struggle to recognize PTSD->war-related psychological syndromes!

Making a purchase?  Support your local independent bookseller, but if you buy your books or DVDs through Amazon, please enroll for VFP in Amazonsmile!  

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