The phrase “veteran-resistant post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)” was coined recently to refer to a unique and more debilitating version of PTSD resulting from combat trauma. With some research showing veteran-resistant PTSD more damaging, and more trauma types being identified, knowing the differences is crucial. To start understanding the distinctions of trauma, especially as they relate to PTSD, knowing the history of PTSD is a must.
Veteran-Resistant PTSD: Long History, Short on Solutions
As science progresses in the 19th and 20th centuries, our fundamental understanding of the brain, mind, and trauma has improved. Maybe not a lot, but it has improved. Considering the near eternal affliction that PTSD poses on mankind, one might be surprised by the lack of treatment progress. Learning that PTSD didn’t start at the end of the Vietnam War might be a surprise too.
Ancient Mesopotamians identified PTSD going as far back as 1300 BC! Although, their understanding of if was primitive, they had an interesting take on it given their limited knowledge. They believed that “the spirit of those enemies whom the patient had killed during battle” caused the symptoms. The Mesopotamians even identified some of the same symptoms, still haunting veterans today: nightmares, flashbacks, and depression.
WWI and PTSD
Leap forward a few thousand years. World War I was the next battleground that raised the societal consciousness of PTSD. However, during WWI PTSD was referred to as “shell shock.” This originated from the constant barrage of artillery shelling inflicted on soldiers in the trenches.
The hundreds of millions of artillery shells launched in WWI weren’t the only horrors that soldiers faced. Additional atrocities and the exponential increase in shelling led to greater instances of PTSD. With their rudimentary understanding, doctors made a connection between the mental state and the sound of exploding shells, thus the name “shell shock.”
WWI soldiers dealt with symptoms modern veterans can empathize with. They had “the fear, paranoia, hysterical crying, terrible nightmares, mutism, fatigue, facial tics, and tremors [that] were symptomatic of shell shock.” Sadly, sometimes this wasn’t the worst of their plight.
In turn, PTSD got rebranded by authorities as “desertion.” “Deserters” were seen as being weak and/or lacking the “fighting spirit” and “heart.” They suffered from “cowardice.” Thus, their damaged mental state must have been a conscious choice. Veterans suffering PTSD were widely stigmatized. Sadly, Great Britain sometimes condemned sufferers to the firing squad. This is a fate no human should ever face.
WWII and PTSD
Skip forward a couple of decades to World War II. The number of American soldiers showing PTSD symptoms roughly doubled in WWII, compared to WWI. The symptoms stayed the same but the name changed. “Combat fatigue” or “battle fatigue” became the most commonly used replacing “shell shock.” The name changed, perhaps to acknowledge a subtle, but notable, shift in perceptions of PTSD. PTSD gradually became seen less as “weakness” and more as the actual, longstanding cost of war. Even though the scars are invisible, they’re no less horrific.
Again, skipping forward a couple of decades, PTSD arrives center stage with the Vietnam War. This is when “combat fatigue” became known as “post-Vietnam syndrome.” Some 700,000 veterans returned home suffering from PTSD, or about 25% of those who served. Sadly, the lack of a warm welcome home for returning soldiers further exacerbated their symptoms.
The awareness of PTSD leapt forward. Unfortunately, the solutions didn’t advance as far. Nonetheless, PTSD as a diagnosis was adopted in the late 1970s and became official in1980. For an excellent overview of PTSD’s history, going from disregarded dysfunction to proper medical diagnosis, read this article from National Geographic.
Modern PTSD Definition
Even though the terminology changed over the years, the symptoms of PTSD never have. And if the Mesopotamians were dealing with PTSD, then as long as war exists, we can expect to be dealing with it too. PTSD symptoms include everything from concentration problems, nightmares, flashbacks, hyper-vigilance, and negative beliefs about self and others, to amnesia.
The modern PTSD definition is the most inclusive. Today’s definition includes survivors of a wide variety of trauma: bereavement, accidents, natural disasters, health crises, mass shootings, sexual abuse or assault, and others.
Trauma defined is “actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence.” This traumatic experience and its symptoms affect a person’s coping ability in the present moment.
In turn, it’s important to realize that PTSD can affect anyone, whether soldier or civilian. Undoubtedly the probability of experiencing trauma is highest on the battlefield. However, anyone who witnesses or experiences a traumatic event may develop PTSD.
Sadly, a perfect storm of factors in this era has left the door open for more soldiers to suffer from veteran-resistant PTSD. So even though trauma and PTSD are increasing across all demographics in the United States, veterans have unfortunately become the face of PTSD.
More Deployments + More Wound Survivors = More PTSD
Mental health care is a crisis in the United States. The country, and the world, is in dire need of bold, imaginative solutions to problems that can’t be solved by the systems that created them. As the old world dies giving birth to the new, a painful transition happens. We see this now in the critical need for improved mental health care. No group of people highlights this need better than veterans.
Unfortunately, the United States sends a lot of soldiers on deployments. Not much has changed in the 21st century except for the fact that veterans with PTSD are reaching epidemic levels.
With simultaneous, ongoing wars in the Middle East for the past 20 years, the number of veterans suffering from PTSD is increasing. Estimates indicate 20% of returning Afghanistan and Iraq veterans suffer from PTSD.
Somewhere between 17 and 22 American veterans commit suicide daily. According to StopSoldierSuicide.org veterans face these heartbreaking realities:
– Veterans are at 50% higher risk of suicide than their peers who have not served.
– By 2030, the total number of veteran suicides will be 23x higher than the number of post-9/11 combat deaths.
– Since 2006, there has been an 86% increase in the suicide rate among 18-to-34 year old male veterans.
Improved Healthcare/Wound Survival Irony
Furthermore, we’re living in an era of morbid irony. Evolving technology makes weapons more destructive, while simultaneously increasing the likelihood of trauma. On the other hand, as science, health care, emergency medical treatment, and even things like armor improve, so too does the survival rate of battlefield deployment. More soldiers are surviving more physical wounds, and worse ones at that. What does this increased survival rate mean?
It means that the United States is producing more veterans suffering from PTSD than ever before. The longevity of modern day warfare, coupled with increased time spent in combat, in addition to increased survival rates, means larger numbers of veterans are returning home with the mental and physical wounds of war. Without the backing of robust mental healthcare treatments, veterans with trauma are likely to develop PTSD, revealing a massive hole in veteran health care upon discharge.
What does Veteran-Resistant PTSD Look Like?
PTSD does not discriminate. According to “PTSD Treatment for Veterans: What’s Working, What’s New, and What’s Next” published by Miriam Reisman in the October 2016 edition of Pharmacy and Therapeutics, veteran-resistant PTSD includes the following increased risk factors:
–(in some studies) younger age at the time of the trauma
-racial minority status
-lower socioeconomic status
-higher number of deployments
-lower military rank
-prior psychological problems
-lack of social support from family, friends, and community
-a strong association with generalized physical and cognitive health symptoms attributed to mild traumatic brain injury (concussion)
The paper continues, outlining the latest PTSD diagnostic criteria from the 2013 fifth edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. PTSD symptoms fall into these 4 clusters:
- Intrusion – spontaneous memories of the traumatic event, recurrent dreams related to it, flashbacks, or other intense or prolonged psychological distress.
- Avoidance – distressing memories, thoughts, feelings, or external reminders of the event.
- Negative cognition and mood – myriad feelings including a distorted sense of blame of self or others, persistent negative emotions (e.g., fear, guilt, shame), feelings of detachment or alienation, and constricted affect (e.g., inability to experience positive emotions).
- Arousal – aggressive, reckless, or self-destructive behavior; sleep disturbances; hyper-vigilance or related problems.
No person can live with this kind of suffering, as reflected in the veteran suicide rate. Veterans are primed to look for solutions and, as fate would have it, they found serendipity in the most unlikely of places.
Updated Solutions for Veteran-Resistant PTSD
U.S. veterans deserve help addressing the PTSD epidemic. The need comes at an interesting point in history.
Western science has advanced far in repairing the body and flesh, especially in regards to mending battlefield wounds over the past century.
However, Western science still finds itself behind in healing the mind, heart and spirit. For centuries now, the Western establishment’s embrace of the rational materialist mindset directs the health care establishment. Thus, the advances in body rehabilitation outweigh advancements in mental healing and rejuvenation.
Even though we’re living in this future-sounding time of 2021, we still have a rudimentary understanding of the mind. The human mind is more nebulous mystery than mapped territory. Widely prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, failed to address the PTSD problem and only medicate the symptoms.
We’re living through a transitory period between an old world and a new world. The old world no longer suits our collective health and well-being. This causes widespread mental health deterioration, with few to no solutions available. The new world hasn’t arrived yet to help us. Or has it?
We’ve arrived at an intriguing time that renews interest in psychedelic science. Breakthrough therapies like MDMA-assisted psychotherapy and psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy show promising benefits. The renewed interest ushers in amazing potential for healing veteran-resistant PTSD.
Who would have believed a time traveler from 2021 in 1967 if the time traveler told them psychedelics would heal veteran-resistant PTSD? There’s nothing much more subversive than that.
Contemporary Solutions for an Age-Old Problem
Fast forward to today. This is exactly what we’re doing. And not only are we doing it, but we’re healing PTSD in multiple ways.
One way is to treat PTSD with MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. Thanks to the decades long work of Rick Doblin at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), MDMA is on the verge of being legalized for clinical use. Watch Rick discuss the promise of psychedelic for PTSD below.
In addition to MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, other substances have been found to be quite effective for treating PTSD.
This veteran used psilocybin-containing magic mushrooms to treat PTSD, and he wants them to be decriminalized.
Just days after filming, Denver, Colorado became the first city to decriminalize psilocybin in May 2019. Since then, Oakland and Santa Cruz, California, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Washington D.C. have voted to decriminalize psilocybin, along with the state of Oregon.
So, the legal use of MDMA and psilocybin in treatment of veteran-resistant PTSD is becoming a reality. Moreover, it works.
Psychedelic Solutions for PTSD Work
As veterans have increasingly sought solutions to PTSD outside of the medical mainstream, they’ve stepped into the psychedelic realm. For their courage, they’ve been rewarded. As Joseph Campbell says, “the cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
Tony Macie’s well-known Reddit AMA has become of the most prominent and enduring testimonials for treating PTSD with MDMA-assisted psychotherapy.
Tony, a U.S. Army sergeant received an honorable medical discharge after spending 15 months in Iraq during the surge in 2006 and 2007. He participated in a MDMA clinical trial for his PTSD. Now, Tony is an advocate for the treatment. In Tony’s words:
“After being accepted as a participant and receiving the treatment, I am proud to say that I am no longer on medications, I am able to more fully live my life, and my relationship with PTSD has changed completely.”
That says it all.
If you’re still not convinced by the effectiveness of psychedelic-assisted therapy for veterans, read on. There’s a theme here.
Former Navy SEAL Marcus Capone
Then, there’s Marcus Capone. Marcus is a former Navy SEAL who, after thirteen years of deployments, experienced cognitive decline, depression, and isolation. When he and his wife Amber were out of options, Marcus traveled to Mexico for psychedelic therapy with Ibogaine and 5-MeO-DMT. As a result, Marcus and his wife Amber now lead VETS (Veterans Exploring Treatment Solutions).
According to the VETS website, they are “committed to ending the veteran suicide epidemic by helping veterans heal from traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) ”by connecting veterans to psychedelic-assisted therapies, as well as supporting continued research.”
Both Tony and Marcus have become advocates for their respective treatments. In fact, Marcus has become such an advocate, he is now speaking in support of legislative efforts, such as HB 1802 in Texas, that would bring psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy trials to the state. The trials would specifically focus on veterans and include the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Better yet, if you’re interested in learning more about psychedelic-assisted therapy for veteran-resistant PTSD, read below. Psychedelic Support has teamed up with VETS to offer a new course to help veterans learn about psychedelics and improve their psychedelic comfort level.
At the moment, psychedelic-assisted therapy for veterans looks like it will become a mainstream therapy option well within this decade. So, as more testimonials surface and psychedelic-assisted therapy gains more notoriety and legitimacy, the widespread adoption of it seems inevitable. There is hope that these treatments are here to stay. As success continues at expanding rates, and our loved ones continue to get the help they need for veteran-resistant PTSD, we owe it to our veterans that they can live happy, healthy lives once again.