» By Brittany Hickey
More than 10 percent of APSU’s enrolled students are veterans of the military, not even accounting for the active duty soldiers and members of the reserves. The Military Student Center had that demographic in mind for the Friday, March 1 screening of PBS’s “The Soldier’s Heart,” a documentary from the Frontline series.
“The Soldier’s Heart” was shown twice Friday, March 1 in the UC ballroom, with the Military Student Center coordinator, Justin Machain, hosting the event. The film explores the psychological effects of combat on the soldiers in the Iraq war.
Before the film began, Machain gave a short introduction and explained that post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety condition that usually happens after a traumatic event. However, for the purposes of the film and the Military Student Center, Machain focused on those who acquire the disorder as a member of the military in combat.
“I think that unless you have personally been either through it, like firsthand experience, or with a loved one – family member, spouse – I think it’s hard to understand what that person may be going through,” Machain said. “Not only that but service members themselves may not understand that what they’re dealing with is actually a disorder.”
PTSD is not a new issue despite the recent rise in media coverage. According to a report published by the Vietnam Veterans of America for Congress from over 20 years ago, PTSD is “a new name for an old story.”
The report goes on to describe recorded instances of a similar condition by many different names that span from the Egyptians in 490 B.C. to soldiers in the American Civil War in the 1860s and through the Vietnam War.
The story of PTSD has changed dramatically since the trailblazers of the Vietnam War, according to Machain.
“Medical advancements helped people realize this isn’t ‘battle fatigue,’ this isn’t delirium, this is a disorder that takes place when you experience trauma,” he explained.
Soldiers considering getting help are often hesitant for a number of reasons, namely concern over the stigma they perceive to be attached to mental illness. However, Machain insisted the stigma is nonexistent.
“I see mental disorders or illness the same as you would see someone with a physical ailment,” Machain said.
In his experience as a counselor at a psychiatric hospital in Pennsylvania he found a consensus among psychiatrists who believed that those with mental illnesses should seek help — whether it is therapy or medication — just as a person with kidney disease should seek treatment.
For those who are suffering from PTSD, Machain sees a solution in having a strong support system and an opportunity to reach out and request help. He knows that the issue is prevalent and most soldiers are aware of it, but he thought the film would push them forward.
“It’s more like the fire under the veteran or service member’s butt who hasn’t gotten help yet and they know they have something going on,” Machain said.
At the screening, APSU senior Elizabeth Burnett was hopeful that it would help her understand the issues that face the service members, like her husband, after being in combat.
“It’s so common,” Burnett said. “So many soldiers suffer from it.”
Her friend, Brittney Jackson, came with Burnett to learn more about the issue, and being married to a man in the Army as well, she is already acquainted with PTSD. Jackson found that people underestimate how difficult recovering from PTSD can be.
As a veteran himself, Machain hopes APSU’s veterans take advantage of the resources at their disposal, like the Military Student Center resources that were not so common when he left the service in 2003.
“Hopefully I can be a tool and a resource for them,” Machain added.
But he is concerned that the prominent coverage of the issue is creating the false impression that every veteran suffers from it, when only 29 percent of veterans receiving Veterans Affair’s health benefits have been diagnosed with PTSD, according to a congressional report.
“Is it a pressing issue?” Machain asked. “Absolutely it is. But I also want to get out there that not every veteran has PTSD.”
“The Soldier’s Heart” is available in full on the official PBS Frontline website.
For students and families who are interested in learning to work with veteran issues, Machain said that the Military Student Center will be offering workshops next fall and spring. For more information on PTSD, visit the national PTSD center at ptsd.va.gov.