I truly believe the military medical system was ordered to limit the number of PTSD diagnoses they gave out for fear of the massive cost ramifications to the government and the Veteran’s Administration (VA) Health System after all the folks got out of the service. I know this exact scenario was taking place in the VA itself. Some of the major newspapers even ran stories in 2009 about the cover-up and the VA’s attempts at minimizing the number of diagnosed cases of PTSD.
Later in 2008, as I was preparing to leave the military following nearly 14 years of service, I was sent to see a civilian psychologist as part of my service-connected disabilities claims process. I drove to the office, located about 12 miles from the military base, and readied myself so as not to say something nasty to the guy if he added his name to the long list of “mental health professionals” that felt like I simply had anxiety or a passing case of “adjustment disorder.” Maybe this guy would be different since he wasn’t part of the system. Maybe he would objectively listen to my symptoms and tell me what was really going on.
I arrived about 15 minutes early and sat in the waiting room of the sparsely furnished upstairs office. I could hear him in the adjoining office rustling through papers and pulling drawers open, only to quickly slam them shut. The secretary, in her tight brown skirt and cheap blouse, nonchalantly walked over to his door and peered in.
“Sir, Mr. Dan is here to see you.”
“Fine, fine, send him in,” he responded.
Upon hearing him finally speak and request my presence, I immediately stood up and began my way across the small carpeted reception area. The stock art and other boring paintings on the walls had annoyed me from the second I saw them. “If people are going to decorate, why not do something unique instead of looking like every other fucking office from here to Timbuktu?” I thought.
“Good day, sir. My name is Stringer.”
“Yes, yes, come in, have a seat. Would you care for something to drink or a snack?” he asked. His friendly gesture caught me by surprise, as I had been used to dealing with the military healthcare system, where I was treated like a number and liability instead of a patient.
“No thank you, I’m fine,” I sheepishly replied.
“So, tell me about yourself.”
Once again, his line of questioning and the fact that he wasn’t facing his computer as he spoke to me were surprising. I was taken aback at how different civilian doctors acted. I knew stereotyping was an ignorant thing to do, but I had always subscribed to the notion that if something is true, then it’s not a stereotype per se—rather, it’s simply an observation about society. With that said, military medicine and patient care sucks my nutsack, and that’s a fact. Call it a stereotype if you will, but I’ve been on both sides of the fence, and it’s the truth.
I began to answer his probing questions by recounting what had happened to me in Iraq and Afghanistan, as I felt that that was the most pressing and important part of my life at that point. As I recounted some of the experiences I had overseas, and some of the things from which I was now suffering, he furiously scribbled notes on his legal pad. Occasionally, he looked over his reading glasses and silently nodded his head in agreement. After I had exhausted my story, he asked if there was anything else. Once again, another surprise after the stellar care I had received through the military.
He then began to ask me a series of questions that paralleled the DSM-IV list of PTSD symptoms. When the military psychiatrist had showed them to me a month or two prior, I had made a mental note about each of the symptoms that pertained to me. I was surprised to see that I was actually suffering from almost all of the “classical symptoms” that he had alleged I was not suffering. I guess I could have told him that his hasty diagnosis of anxiety was perhaps a bit less than what was actually going on. But was there any point? I had sought care for almost five years in the military, and all I got was a social worker that sounded like a Southpark character and liked to talk about his other patients, and a field-grade officer that smelled like Doritos and shitty cologne.
I responded to each symptom in the affirmative as he went down his list. After finishing, he slowly removed his reading glasses and looked at me for a moment without saying a word. He asked if the military had already diagnosed me with chronic PTSD. I told him no, and he shook his head in what was obvious disgust.
“I’ve been seeing this happen a lot. The military tells you young soldiers that you’re just stressed out, or have anxiety, adjustment disorder, or that you’re anti-social. They’re so full of shit it’s not even funny. You, my friend, have both chronic and severe manifestations of PTSD. Your symptoms are so clear cut that there is no way any mental health practitioner in his right mind could not diagnose you with it. You really need to seek professional help in the form of clinical treatment.”
His words seemed like daggers and hung heavily in the air as I imbibed the sweet taste of vindication. His advice had made me feel somewhat nauseated. The obvious seriousness with which he had delivered his message felt like an illness overtaking my thoughts. “What does he mean, I really need to seek professional help in the form of clinical treatment? Does he mean they might need to commit me as an in-patient? What the fuck?” These and other thoughts raced through my head as he ushered me out of his office and wished me luck.
I only had another three or four weeks on active duty before I began my terminal leave while waiting to get out. I knew that trying to get treatment through my local troop clinic was about as pointless as trying to go see “Lieutenant Colonel Doritos” on the 13th floor again. So I decided that I’d deal with it as it came. Maybe I’d be able to get some treatment after I got out and got settled in my new job in the private sector. It seemed like things were starting to look up after I was a offered an executive management position at a private security company in northern Virginia.
I had never envisioned myself as executive management material, but my leadership and management training, and experience in the military had more than prepared me to work in the business world. My time at the unit had also tested my operational decision-making skills under fire and had developed in me a keen sense of strategic planning and analysis. I was ready for whatever the civilian world was going to throw at me. Haha. Yeah, right.