A Must Read for a Better Understanding of PTSD “Achilles in Vietnam” by Dr Jonathan Shay

Volunteers of America Michigan Veteran Homeless ShelterDuring a recent visit to a veterans’ homeless shelter in Lansing, MI, Patrick Patterson, the Volunteers of America Michigan Vice President for Operations gave me two books to read. The gift was a great way for me to find meaning as to how our veterans end up on the street. As I read, Jonathan Shay’s “Achilles in Vietnam, Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character” the memories of the Vietnam era came flowing back to me… not as a combat veteran of that era but as an American who could not understand what was happening to my country, its soldiers and my friends. While not a combat veteran of that war, I came on active duty during this timeframe and felt the national angst and some antipathy towards America’s service personnel.

Dr Shay is a psychiatrist who was treating a group of American combat veterans suffering from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of the conflict in Vietnam when he wrote this book. Comparing the experiences of the American soldiers and their “brothers” in the Greek wars was a wonderful way to delve into the trauma and why our soldiers were frequently damaged psychologically by this war! As a professional military officer, I wish I had learned more about this book while on active duty as it leads one to better understand the ways and means for a leader to help prevent some of the side effects of the trauma of battle.

What was interesting for me was the doctor’s attention and obvious caring attitude for our veterans who suffered unrequited grief during the war and had no way to resolve this grief which quickly turned to rage! (page 53). His efforts were not a condemnation of the American military community but lay the blame for much of our service personnel’s suffering directly at the feet of the country’s political and military leadership and how they conducted the war. But he uses that as a means to help the veteran, a way to help understand the conflict and what it did to our soldiers (I use the term generically for all services in this review).

I highly recommend this book for those treating the men and women currently serving or who have recently served in Iraq and Afghanistan! Family members trying to understand their loved ones struggles with PTSD would also benefit from information in this book. While we have learned much as a country and military institutions, the lessons learned from Dr Shay’s treatment of the Vietnam veterans are applicable to the recent conflicts. The book also should be read by those in leadership positions, political and military. Many of his thoughts would make us a better and stronger military. As I closed the last page on this book I look forward to reading his next one “Odysseus in America, Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming.”

Thank you Patrick for the mission that VoA does for our homeless veterans and for this wonderful gift and helping open my mind to the mindset and lives of some of our veterans.byColonel KonWednesday, July 06, 2011Military Life:,,,,

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