A Different Way to Help Wounded Warriors
By Tim Maxwell
The best part of every speech that I have given and every special dinner that I have been invited to is meeting the people who are there. Most of those who come to these events just want to show their support. But many, if not all of them, wish they could do more. I know this is true, because I make every attempt to meet as many of these fantastic people as I can. And nearly every one of them asks me what they can do.
They want to know how they can help Wounded Warriors get through it all. Many say that they do thank them for their service, but they want to do more. They want to make them feel better. But they simply do not know what to do.
I encourage them to talk to the warriors about their injury. I encourage them to ask a warrior what had happened. Ask them where they “got that scare?” “Is that your only scar, or are there others”? “What was your unit”? How are they doing”? Etc...
As you can see, many questions will do. As long as you listen to what they have to say. If a Wounded Warrior is unwilling to talk about his/her injury, it will be clear. They will tell you that they do not want to talk about it. At least, that is what I think they will say. I have never met, or heard about, a Wounded Warrior who did not want to talk about it.
However, I have met many, many warriors who have never been asked “Do you mind telling me what happened?” by anyone. Including psychiatrists and psychologists.
I have stories about psychiatrists who do not know what to say to combat vets. The toughest story that I know is the one of the kid who had seen more friends get killed and wounded than anyone I have ever talked to. He was passing out all the time, freezing up you might say. He was a mess.
When he got to the Barracks, in Camp Lejeune, NC, I sat with him and chatted about his problem. I asked him about his combat, how many friends had been killed, etc. I asked him what had happened. He told me that a lot had happened. He told me some of it, told me about IEDs and mortar attacks, firefights, etc. It was more than usual. Throughout history, there has always been one unit that has had the most intense combat, the most KIA, and the most wounded warriors. I told him that I thought it was his squad.
During that time, I had started learning about PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I have met many wounded warriors who are experiencing PTSD. Not because of their injuries, but because these Marine/soldier have lost a friend, and they think it is their fault. For example, I know several who are mad at themselves for changing seats on his the High Mobility Multipurpose Military Vehicle (HMMMV). One was sitting on the “right” and the explosion hit on the “left”. He lost his legs, but his buddy lost his life. “It’s my fault”, I have heard them say. A good topic to talk about.
So when I was talking to this Marine, the Marine who has told me the number of battles he has experienced, I asked him: "Did you loose any of your buddies". Before that, he had told me how many Marines in his unit had been killed. But that was just a number. Now I had asked him about his buddies. His best friends. And he looked straight down at the ground. He was seeing the faces of the friends who were no longer with us. I could see it in his eyes. And I thought I made a serious mistake.
He told me about a few friends who were gone. Of course, he could not tell me about all of them. It was over 10. More than anyone had ever told me. And he was pretty confused why he had survived.
Even though I am an infantry officer, a sizeable portion of my brain is dead, and I had known very little about medical issues, I understood why he was passing out in the middle of the day.
He had PTSD.
And I told him so. His doctors had already told him that, of course. I just wanted him to understand, to believe, that it was a serious PTSD. I wanted to convince him that having PTSD did not make him a sissy. I told him that now he needed to just take care of himself.
What he wanted the most was simple. He wanted to go home. I told him that we would send him home as soon as we could.
After we chatted a bit more, and I again promised him that we would send him home to be with his mom and dad, he said to me "Sir, before I met you, no one has ever talked to me about those things".
I was confused. Why had he not had a doctor? Clearly he needed someone he could talk to. So I asked him why he didn't have a psychiatrist or psychologist. Has he been skipping his appointments?
"I have THREE of them. One navy, and two civilians. I have been to all of my appointments. But none of them have ever asked me what had happened. You were the first."
The grunt was the first one who talked to a warrior, identified as having PTSD, about death and destruction. Not the doctor, the grunt, was the first one who had talked to a warrior about his feelings. His sadness. His guiltiness.
How about those who feel guilty because they changed seats, and it is their fault that their friend was killed? Do they see psychiatrist or psychologists as soon as they reach Bethesda? Yes, they see them. And in every case that I know, they are asked if they are thinking about killing themselves. They are not asked “What happened?”.
While I am not a trained psychiatrist or psychologists, I believe that many of these doctors are uncomfortable when dealing with wounded warriors. Many Navy psychiatrist/psychologists have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, but of course, they have not seen the same things that the regular warriors have seen. It could also be that there are normal techniques that work well, during peace. But for whatever the reason, most don’t. Something needs to be changed, but that is out of my ball park.
So I share my idea to Americans. Particularly those who are seriously interested in helping wounded warriors. Donations are critical, don’t get me wrong. They help families pay their bills, travel to see their families, and many other things. But chatting, which is very inexpensive, is much needed.
If you are interested in learning more about this, check out the Psych SemperMax web page. There, you will see a list of instructions on how to access community mental health in anyone's back yard, nation-wide.
This information is provided by a psychologist who was a Corpsman during the war in Korea. He is extremely passionate, and he is a great talker. What more is needed?