I am subject to a malady caused by observing or participating in events so horrific that the soul is permanently damaged. The experience that produces the malady can be anything from an auto accident or housefire, for example, to a natural disaster, such as an earthquake or hurricane. As far as I can tell, the event that produces the malady usually or maybe always involves damage to or death of human beings.
The commonly accepted name for the soul sickness is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but I call it Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) because it is invariably inflicted by an external event; it’s not the mind suffering an internal dysfunction.
The occurrences of the malady I’m familiar with are those associated with combat. Men who have killed and seen their fellow combatants killed before their eyes on the battlefield almost invariably suffer from PTSI to some degree. Not being horrified by ghastly deaths is in and of itself unhealthy. In other words, those subject to the disease are normal people.
All too often, I have heard people condemn soldiers suffering from PTSI as weak or cowardly. A brave soldier, according to these people, should emerge from combat healthy, no matter what he may have seen or done. My sense is that the opposite is true: only men who are mentally competent and courageous enough to fight on the battlefield are subject to PTSI.
The compulsory draft into military service in the U.S. ended in 1973. As a result, the number of men and women enlisting in the service as I did with a specific assignment guaranteed, thus avoiding being drafted into the infantry, dropped to almost nothing. That meant that we have fewer and fewer veterans. The number of veterans who have seen combat gets lower every year, as does the number of those suffering from PTSI.
By some uncanny circumstance I can’t understand, we veterans with PTSI recognize one another. Nothing needs to be said. There is a look in the eyes, a knowing smile, a light slug to the upper arm.
My occasional contact with other PTSI sufferers, becoming rarer all the time, helps me maintain my sanity. I hope that is a gift I give to others.