The reality is that Veterans interact with society on all levels every day. They may sell you a car, may service your car, may write your insurance policy, may set the actuarial tables on that policy, may be the CEO of that insurance company, may be the police officer checking to see if you are OK in the accident you just had. In truth, there is no job a Veteran with PTSD cannot do.
But perhaps this doesn’t answer the question, which may be, “Am I safe?” This question, in light of the recent global attacks in Europe, is a valid one, born of fear. My answer is, “Who would you rather have next to you in times of stress, someone who is trained to act under stress or someone who is not?” Even before a Veteran is exposed to trauma, they are highly trained to work under stress, under ‘what if’ situations, training and retraining, until it becomes second nature and one reacts instinctively. Most likely, in a situation that produces incapacitating fear, the Veteran won’t and may be the one protecting you.
But there is a cost. For many, traumatic experiences have a visceral effect soon after the event. But, like a scratch on the skin, it doesn't take long for the body to heal itself, and while the wound may leave a scar, the effect on the body is negligible. The difference is, of course, the wound we are talking about is spiritual, moral, or a "soul injury", and the scars aren't always visible. But, the scars can heal.
Turning off the mental scars is not easy. Some try different coping mechanisms. Some have intrusive memories of things they have seen, things they have done, or things they failed to do. It is these intrusive memories that can become problematic. Imagine, trying to sleep, but unable to, due to one dream, a nightmare really, that comes every night. You know it’s coming, you know the dream, you know the ending, and you know you wake up in a cold sweat. So, you don’t sleep. Wouldn’t you do almost anything to get a good night’s sleep? That helps to explain why some Veterans try drink or drugs, if for no other reason to forget or to not remember, for a time. This self-medication causes its own problems.
My own research has found that several factors help in mitigating the severity and length of PTSD. These factors are faith, family, and friends. People look to faith to make sense of that which doesn’t make sense. And of course, people can always use a friend. When families are distant, the Church can become a family. The Church can help. Begin by asking some simple questions: Are there Veterans in your midst? Do they feel welcome? Do you write to your congregation’s service members when they are in ‘harm’s way’? Does the church have ‘Welcome Home’ events for the community for when they return? Do you provide services for those who are left behind? Cutting the grass, changing a tire, or fixing a faucet can be for others like encountering a ministering angel. Do we become the Body of Christ, a family, to those that need a family? Do we remember them and their needs? Can we be the friends, like John Wesley urged, who hold each other accountable?
Scott Jimenez is currently a Department of Veterans Affairs Chaplain working with veterans struggling with substance abuse and, often, PTSD. He was a Navy Chaplain, often serving Marines. Prior to that, he was an enlisted Marine, then an officer of Marines. Scott's DMin dissertation was on the spiritual effects of combat PTSD.