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PTSD is real

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13.06.2019

By Andrea Plate

For 15 years, I was a senior staff social worker at the United States federal government's Department of Veterans Affairs ― the country's largest integrated healthcare system ― in its largest branch, located in West Los Angeles, California. Each year, the system serves 9 million veterans nationwide.

One summer evening, on vacation in Vietnam, we were at dinner in a high-end home on a small suburban street south of Ho Chi Minh City.

"The war was thirty-two years ago. What troubles them so?" asked a former high-ranking Vietnamese ambassador to the European Union who was a teenager when Americans bombed her hometown of Hue.

Typically, I explained, PTSD surfaces years ― sometimes very many years ― after the trauma.

Then the dinner host, a Vietnamese media and government representative, wondered, "Why don't our soldiers have PTSD?"

"Perhaps," I said, "because your physicians don't diagnose it."

I did not like playing the Ugly American. I did not like being perceived as an overly-dramatic, Western-centric, know-it-all. In fact, in America, I had grown callous to questions like these. But to be asked this in Vietnam, of all places ― with its history of warfare! Wasn't it inevitable that soldiers would be traumatized by their gruesome war experiences, sometimes decades afterwards?

Even so, I was often pressed: Is PTSD really that real? Aren't veterans just crybabies? Don't they fake it for the financial benefits?

To me, the truth was clear:

1) PTSD, to quote the American Psychiatric Association, "can occur in all people, of any ethnicity, nationality or culture, and any age … who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event........

© The Korea Times