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Dr. Ed Tick's Comments on Walter Reed

By Remy Benoit

With permission from Soldier's Heart. I am passing along Dr. Ed Tick's comments on his visit to Walter from his newsletter. Again, if you haven't read his War and the Soul:Healing Our Nation's Veterans from ost-traumatic Stress Disorder. please do so. Put it on your holiday list - everyone should read this book!

Speaking of the holidays - there is the old confusion, angst, and upset that comes up with holidays. Some people do the Why didn't you tell me what you really wanted? thing; others respond with I thought should have known what I really wanted. That kind of thinking only causes grief, hurt, and unfulfilled wishes and needs. That is why it is so very important that you, the Veterans, tell your stories; tell them loud and clear - in written words, in speeches, over a beer. No, people who have not been there cannot possibly understand it all, but you could be the one to begin to open their eyes to the physical, mental, and spiritual needs of our Veterans. Do not assume they should know what you need. They don't, won't, and can't know until you tell them. Yes, of course, there are probably areas of experience where you don't want to go, most likely shouldn't go, with those who have not been there - but you can make them understand the needs of Veterans - the need to end the separation of you and them. That is the way to get help - make them know that you are them. With huge public support, Congress and the Executive will have to listen Thank you for your service, then, and now with this. Blessings, Miz' Remy
Dr. Ed Tick


Walter Reed Army Medical Center now touts the motto: "We provide Warrior Care." Indeed, many indications are that this esteemed facility provides the best and most up-to-date medical and technological care for physically wounded soldiers. New patients arrive almost directly from Iraq every week. Hundreds of soldiers are in-patients, hundreds more out-patients. Men and women who have lost limbs in the present wars are visible everywhere, wearing short pants and sleeves to display their new prosthetic devices. They are taught, as in warrior traditions of old, to be proud of their wounds and display them to public view.

I had the honor of visiting WRAMC on Oct. 5 to provide a day-long seminar on "Spirituality and Traumatic Stress." The seminar was organized by Chaplain Major Kristi Pappas and sponsored by the Department of Ministry and Pastoral Care. The hundred or so seminar participants included chaplains, psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, medical doctors of all specialties, social workers, administrators, patients and family members, as well as government and civilian institution representatives. Among the attendees were Kate Dahlstedt, John Fisher, Kristin Van Huysen and Joan Nelson from our Soldier's Heart community.

Staff at Walter Reed expressed great gratitude that we were there. They agreed with our assessment of the disordered relationship between the military and civilian sectors, and that this was one unfortunate social condition exacerbating Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. They were glad that civilian individuals and organizations wanted to cooperate with the military toward the mutual goal of healing our veterans and want to create strategies by which this can happen. They stressed that once wounded soldiers leave Walter Reed to return to their communities, there is a dearth of referral and support services so that traumatized vets and families must often survive alone, without adequate guidance and support. We agree that cooperation between military and civilian caregivers should increase to fill this gap.

Walter Reed staff from many disciplines expressed the need for spirituality as a strategy for healing PTSD. Members of disciplines as divergent as medicine, psychology, social work and ministry expressed mutual willingness to take a holistic, multi-disciplinary approach to PTSD treatment and affirmed that no one discipline has a lock on its interpretation or treatment, but all of us are needed to effectively respond to its demands. Ed, Kate and John facilitated a breakfast seminar for combat chaplains that reinforced this sensibility. Chaplains define themselves as men and women of peace whose purpose is to provide comfort to the war-wounded soul right in the combat zone or upon return. The chaplaincy declared that while they know spirituality is needed for such an effort, they need to deepen their own understanding and participation in active and experiential spirituality of all traditions in order to know how to use it effectively. At present, they receive their own religious education and preparation, which lacks any deep exploration of world spirituality as it manifests in the warrior tradition. They also lack the clinical expertise in interpreting and treating traumatic stress symptoms as spiritual disorder and soul wounding. Many of these good chaplains have been in the combat zone and carry their own PTSD as well.

Walter Reed staff believes in and foster the warrior tradition. They teach wounded troops to think of themselves as warriors and carry their wounds with honor. Many officers think of themselves as members of an elite warrior class. These men and women have studied Homer, Herodotus, Euripides and Shakespeare and understand the universal dimensions of the war experience. They seek ways of developing such a consciousness among lower ranking troops who may come from dysfunctional backgrounds and have pre-existing vulnerabilities and little education. They affirm that there is a divide in military culture between soldier and warrior classes, just as there is a divide in mainstream culture between veterans and civilians. These divides are harmful to our society and contribute to the social dimensions of PTSD. Remember, the acronym should be read as "post terror social disorder" as well.

There were troubling matters revealed during this visit as well. Care for physical wounds and disabilities is both extraordinary and extraordinarily expensive. Some staff complained that psychological and spiritual wounds retain the lowest rung on the ladder of concern (as they do in the civilian sector) and far less wisdom and resources are available for care and healing of the invisible wounding that is PTSD. The divide between warriors and soldiers is significant and the warriors do not know how to heal it. Officers affirm that soldiers need to learn ethical decision making to reduce unnecessary killing, and that this may put individual soldiers in conflict with their missions or commanders. Individual chaplains come from very different religious backgrounds and define their roles differently, ranging from peaceful spiritual support of traumatized troops to combat zone missionary work. Also based upon their religious orientations, they can have very different interpretations of the present wars, ranging from hating it and calling themselves people of peace to believing in and encouraging this war as a holy and just crusade. I have heard from combat veterans that the spiritual succor available to them in the field ranges greatly depending on their chaplain's orientation. A morally traumatized soldier may find a chaplain able to listen to his soul's anguish. Or he may be guided to pray and, as one chaplain put it, "renegotiate his covenant with God" so that the killing he participated in no longer feels disturbing.

We must examine all these issues with great care and without judgment. We must work together to insure that our soldiers and veterans receive the greatest possible spiritual support for healing the soul wound and social disorder that is PTSD. We must use the wisdom of spirituality and religion wisely and carefully for healing our honorable and deserving troops and their families. And the staff and wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and elsewhere deserve our utmost honor, respect and concern. To a soldier of honor, political debates do not matter. Their job is to willingly bear the battle for all of us. In return, it is incumbent upon all of us to be utterly vigilant, willing and proactive in doing right by them before, during and after the storm.


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This item is part of historian, author, editor, and educator Remy Benoit's ongoing weblog for Veterans, writers, students, and others who believe in learning from and making history; including thousands of articles and posts and the free writing seminar, Using History for Healing and Writing.

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