It’s a familiar story: loved ones drive to the airport to meet their veteran returning from war. What could be better? Life goes back to normal, at first. But once the initial euphoria has faded, the family realizes that the battle is far from over. These and other issues were explored at a panel discussion at Chapman University on Oct. 23 called “The Psychological Costs of Forever War.”
Moderated by Gregory Daddis, Ph.D., director of Chapman’s War and Society program, the discussion featured three panelists—therapist and associate professor Naveen Jonathon, Ph.D., author, psychologist and expert David Kieran and veteran Josue Barron.
According to Kieran, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological issues do not always show up in veterans right away. In many cases, it takes about 90 to 120 days for psychological symptoms to manifest. In his book, “Signature Wounds: The Untold Story of the Military’s Mental Health Crisis,” Kieran discusses psychological research conducted about veterans.
“Many times, the impact of those experiences is not immediately apparent. It takes time for the psychological consequences of having been in that environment to manifest, to the point that many service members and veterans don’t really begin to experience, much less acknowledge, the trauma that they might have experienced until much later,” said Kieran.
For many people, mental health issues are invisible at first. A prosthetic leg or a broken arm are easy to recognize, but invisible injuries are present in many veterans.
“I think that for someone like me who loses a limb, recovery is more noticeable. I was so focused on recovering that I felt like I had a mission or a purpose. I was excited with every milestone I was hitting because that kept me busy and made me feel focused. A lot of the guys that come out don’t have that. I think that kind of saved me from PTSD,” Barron said.
Some veterans struggle to acknowledge to their peers that they are dealing with a mental health issue.
“You can get easily influenced by alcohol or by other friends that don’t have that support system at home, that are at the bar or doing things that are going to trigger something that you don’t want to come up,” said Barron. “I think what saved my life is having the best support system. I think my wife being there kept me alive and motivated.”
Jonathon, chair of the marriage and family therapy program at Chapman, told the audience that vicarious and secondary trauma can often appear in veterans’ loved ones. The panelists stressed that it is important for families to go through treatment together.
“The husband has to understand that if you want this team to work together, you have to help each other,” added Barron. “I knew that she had done everything in her power to help me out, and she got me to a point where I felt like I was back to normal. But definitely, she needed some help too, and she got it.”