post traumatic stress disorder

How To Really Support Our Troops

Silhouette of U.S. soldier, © Oleg Zabielin /
Silhouette of U.S. soldier, © Oleg Zabielin /

A 10-year-old boy holding a grenade approaches a group of soldiers. He does not respond to their shouts. One shoots him with his M-16 and the boy crumbles to the ground, dead.

Did he have a choice? It was do or die, kill or be killed. Still he killed a little boy, and those images still haunt him.

This is a classic example of psychological trauma: A person is put in horrific life-threatening situation where they do not feel they have control. That's the situation he found himself in. It was a no-win scenario — kill a little boy or have you and your friends all die.

Soldier suicides have reached epidemic numbers. As the AP reports, More soldiers are taking their own lives than are falling in battle. Add on top of that, the many who suffer from PTSD, and who as a result find themselves estranged from their home, their loved ones, and indeed from themselves.

Away from the Killing Field

Fleeing a tragic civil war, almost one million refugees from El Salvador live silently in our midst. Some come with families. Some are alone. Few speak English. Few have work skills. Very few have money. Some have medical problems. Many have mental problems rising from their experiences at home: repression, terrorism, and outright combat.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the diagnosis given so many of our Vietnam veterans, is widespread among Salvadoran refugees. Because most of them have entered the United States illegally, they are afraid to seek help for their difficulties because of the threat of deportation by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, whose policy accords political asylum to only a tiny percentage of their number.

What follows is an account of one refugee's story, changed only in minor details to protect her identity. A similar story could be told by almost any one of the million refugees. --

We did not need the money to put food on the table. I got the idea of having a store just to earn a little extra--to buy a pretty dress for the baby, books for my older son who was doing so well in the primaria. He was so intelligent. He could become a teacher like his father. Extra money can buy food for the spirit, help it grow strong and beautiful.

I started with a few staples--flour, salt, cooking oil, some cans of milk, coffee--arranged on a shelf in the living room. The neighbors soon learned to come through the open front door to buy a little of this, a little of that. I liked to feel the weight of coins in my apron pocket.

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