165765 A veteran's view of the unpaid costs of the Iraq War

Tuesday, November 6, 2007: 4:45 PM

Garett Reppenhagen , Iraq Veterans Against the War, Philadelphia, PA
I served as a sniper in Iraq, and witnessed brutalities that left many of my colleagues with post-traumatic stress disorder. The attacks come out of nowhere and sever human body parts straight off the body. My peers in Walter Reed are missing arms, legs, and have significant burns, all considered common injuries of this war. My friend Jason lost everything below his elbow on one arm and the use of one of his legs. He wakes up every day forgetting his lost arm and must relive the realization. Another colleague, Adrian, whose face was blown apart with shrapnel and burns, is now too ashamed to face the outside world. With no clear enemy, soldiers constantly search for meaning to justify their actions and situations, but find this challenging and sometimes impossible. They are consumed by nightmares, hallucinations about phantom limbs, and relapses of their own vivid memories. Upon returning to the United States, the military frequently denies them treatment for PTSD on the grounds that pre-existing personality disorders, adjustment disorders, or anxiety disorders are instead responsible. Without compensation and treatment, the soldier feels like a victimizer, criminal, murderer, or rapist, and often self-medicates with alcohol or drug use. They end up abusing their families, endangering their communities, living with severe trauma, or worst of all, taking their own lives. This presentation will describe these outcomes as the unpaid costs of war and present how Iraq Veterans Against the War is confronting the social and political problems causing them.

Learning Objectives:
At the conclusion of this presentation, participants will be able to: Describe and discuss how Post Traumatic Stress Disorder manifests itself in many forms and will limit the ability of vets to normally function in society. Triggers such as loud noises, the clanking of pots and pans in a kitchen, or night terrors inhibit daily life if PTSD is untreated; Recognize that although the media reveres soldiers as heroes, chronic conditions such as alcoholism and drug use make them social pariahs, and this can worsen the soldier’s mental state; Understand and discuss as a result of this first-hand account, the need for support structures to be in place for the soldiers’ family, friends, and loved ones who may not know how to cope with PTSD; Recognize and discuss the changed nature of combat—from military attacks to types of weaponry—which is different from past wars and whose health consequences are still unknown. Soldiers might develop physical and psychological conditions over time and need treatment to be available.

Keywords: Veterans' Health, War

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Any relevant financial relationships? No
Any institutionally-contracted trials related to this submission?

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.