Post-traumatic stress disorder causes and symptoms have been around since the beginning of time, but it was not formally recognized by the American Psychiatric Association until 1980. According to estimates, several hundred thousand Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are expected to develop PTSDsymptoms.
Along with the definition of PTSD comes the redefinition of what it means to be tough, especially for those in the military. Recently former Army Capt. Luis Carlos Montalván, author of the bestselling book, “Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him,” talked about how he learned what it meant to be tough.
“Sometimes what resonates most in a person’s mind is like a parental mantra. For me it was when my father would tell me I had to be tough. Whether it was regarding sports, the Army or relationships, that is what I remember my father telling me, those four words, had to be tough.”
Capt. Montalván’s physical and mental health traumas, after two tours of duty in Iraq, challenged the meaning of tough instilled by his father and reinforced by life. After Capt. Montalván returned from his second tour of duty, his father could not recognize his own son. Instead he saw a broken man.
Capt. Montalván’s papá, as he was referred to by his son, warned his son not to become “another broken soldier.” His papá did not want his tough son to hang around with other disabled veterans, who would “trap” his son into the vicious circle of living “on the dole” and taking “maximum advantage” of benefits, instead of overcoming the disability.
Hurt by his papá’s sentiments, Capt. Montalván still knew his papá was expressing his fears out of love for him. The love of a Latino from another generation who could not understand his son’s demons, and one who had not yet expanded his idea of what it meant to be tough. Capt. Montalván and his father did not speak to each other for a long time after that.
Many months later Capt. Montalván received an email from his father which started with, “I went to a recommended psychiatrist to try to understand what’s happening between us…” and concluded with “…if you want to help me understand, I’ll be here for you anytime.”
Those words started an emotional process resulting in a Latino papá and son hugging each other and crying together when Capt. Montalván arrived at his parents’ house for an unannounced Christmas Eve visit two weeks later.
Capt. Montalván’s papá had learned a new aspect has been added to what being tough means, and that is PTSD.
Hoping to bring awareness to the new tough, a grassroots movement to educate the public about combat-related PTSD has sprung up. Retired Lt. Col. Linda Fletcher, who served in the Army Nurse Corps for 22 years, started a journey of understanding PTSD with her father as well. Lt. Col. Fletcher’s father was a Silver Star winner in World War II. It was not until after her father’s death that Lt. Col. Fletcher realized her father had suffered from PTSD.
After understanding her father’s condition, Lt. Col. Fletcher started a seven-year intensive self-directed study of PTSD. In the early part of this year she taught her first class at Northwestern Michigan College about the subject.
At the end of the first course her students said they wanted to continue meeting and learning about PTSD. Today there is a new non-profit group in Traverse City, Mich. called A Matter of Honor (AMOH). AMOH’s goal is to make Americans more aware of PTSD’s basic facts. AMOH believes that better informed Americans will unite, demanding changes that result in improved care for veterans.
At the Veterans Day kickoff event for AMOH, Capt. Montalván was the guest speaker, along with his handsome and irreplaceable service dog, Tuesday.
Sometimes the grandest epiphany comes from the simplest statement. Lt. Col. Fletcher summed up the love and empathy necessary to make PTSD sufferers whole again when referring to service dogs, like Capt. Montalván’s Tuesday, “…unconditional love makes a lot of things right.”
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Photograph Credit: Alan Newton