On the 11th of November, Remembrance Day came to pass which celebrated the courage and sacrifice of soldiers who had fought in the First World War. The same courage and sacrifice that has lived on, and inspires future generations to fight for their country. With the current activity of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, more and more people are returning home from duty, these soldiers often need to receive rehabilitation, in order to get back to functioning normally after being crippled by the reality of war. The question that needs to be asked is whether enough is being done to ensure that these soldiers are in fact rehabilitated? In other words, is the rehabilitation process working?
In Britain, the government should be called upon to provide appropriate assistance for those who are suffering from their time spent in war zones. This ensures individuals who return are forced into a regimented schedule for many months to get them back on their feet as quickly as possible. However, rehabilitation into real life is another issue. Soldiers who are not able to return to the army are discarded to the side and left to their own devices. This leaves them in society with no direction, which can worsen their mental state.
An example of such mistreatment can be seen with L/Sgt Dan Collins; a tragic case which demonstrates the toll war has on these individuals, and raises questions about the current process of rehabilitation. Having returned from Afghanistan, he had been given a 10-month treatment course for PTSD, and after, the army had stated he would soon be able to resume military activity. His wife commented on his constant struggle after his return saying: ‘It was pretty clear he was back there reliving everything’. Three months down the line, he attempted to kill himself twice and eventually succeeded in doing so on New Year’s Eve 2011. Surely the rehabilitation process should have prevented this?
The effectiveness of these rehabilitation programmes could also be questioned when enquiring about mental health therapy on the whole. Figures have suggested that similar numbers of British soldiers commit suicide compared to those who die in battle. In 2012, seven soldiers were reported to have killed themselves, while 14 others have died of suspected suicides.
Progress is however being made in identifying these mental illnesses, as from 2009-2012 the number of cases of PTSD rose from 108 to 231.1. This suggests that the process of diagnosing the illness is improving. Therefore, fewer soldiers should have to deal with their mental issues without any help or direction. What’s questionable is whether or not the programmes are providing the necessary support to deal with such issues. What is more, suicide cases in soldiers continuously rose from seven in 2010, to 21 in 2012.
A range of other psychological issues are also more prevalent in military personnel than in the civil population. Heavy drinking is shown to be more widespread in the UK military compared to the general population, with 17 per cent of men in the military versus 6 per cent of the general population partaking. Meanwhile, alcohol dependence and alcohol-related harm are also more common in the UK’s Armed Forces personnel than in the general population.
This inability by the government to deal with mounting mental health issues and suicide rates is also not just an issue in the UK. Within the USA, the government has the responsibility of reporting the number of suicides in soldiers, yet there are questions asked whether the whole truth is being told. Evidence of this comes from a former sergeant, Chuck Luther founder and director of the Soldier’s Advocacy Group of Disposable Warriors. He realises the reality of the situation, having lived through a lot of it himself.
‘I see the ugly’, Luther told IPS. ‘I see soldiers beating their wives and trying to kill themselves all the time and most folks don’t want to look at this, including the military’. As the US military is reported to have masked the real number of suicides and refused to make the crucial radical policy changes to properly treat soldiers for PTSD, Luther has little hope of seeing improvements. ‘I’ve heard commanders tell soldiers requesting psychological help that they are full of crap and don’t have PTSD…so if we can’t implement these needed changes quickly and rapidly we are going to have more loss of life on US soil by soldiers killing other soldiers’. The need to implement changes for soldiers suffering from trauma brought about by war is therefore obviously an important issue which needs to be addressed.
Reducing incidences of suicide and managing the mental health of former soldiers within both nations is a very complex issue. But if more radical moves are made from higher up the governmental hierarchy to establish more awareness and knowledge into dealing with the scarring of war, improvements should be seen in rehabilitating future soldiers. This could take the form of initiatives placing soldiers into society, allowing a sense of purpose and a direction after military service, letting soldiers adapt to everyday life. Follow-up appointments after the official rehabilitation, as concluded could also help to monitor former soldiers’ progress with more flexibility and tailoring to a soldier’s specific state of mind.
Charities like ‘Help the Heroes’ appear to be the ones responsible for such processes currently, but shouldn’t the government be playing a greater role?