I recently listened to a podcast of an interview with Dr Brian O’Toole on ABC Classic FM. (To listen, click HERE.) Dr O’Toole is the Director of the Vietnam Veterans Family Health Study at the ANZAC Research Institute at the University of Sydney. The Australian Vietnam Veterans Family Health Study was the first national epidemiological study ever conducted in Australia on the post-war health of war veterans and their families. It began in the early 1990s, firstly of the veterans themselves, then of their spouses and children.
Unsurprisingly, the data to date has shown a much higher prevalence of psychological and psychiatric disorders among the veterans and their families than in the general population. In the first wave of the study in the early 1990s, the most common disorder was alcoholism, followed by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)*. In the second wave of the study in the mid-2000s, of the same cohort, PTSD had become the most common condition, its prevalence among the veterans more than doubling over that period from 20.1% to 42%. The prevalence of alcohol abuse had decreased, but was still 28%.
Among the veterans themselves, they found rates of depression forty times higher than the general population, and in their spouses, the rate of depression was 50%, thirty-three times higher than in the general population.
Enhance Management published a report in 2009 on the psychological issues facing the sons and daughters of Vietnam veterans, using the results of the Vietnam Veterans Family Health Study (Read it HERE). Over 600 veterans’ children completed questionnaires in 65 centres all over Australia. The findings are startling, particularly given that this war had ended over three decades prior to the study. Obviously, the repercussions were and are still being felt. The offspring of the veterans described their families as abnormal, saying they’d missed out on a normal childhood. They described their father as aggressive, angry, moody, abusive, violent, unpredictable, controlling, detached, distant, and their mother as neurotic, unstable, mentally ill, as ‘having a difficult life’, ‘holding the family together’, ‘peacemaker’. The children themselves had high rates of relationship issues (81%), depression (65%), drug and alcohol abuse (36%). Seventeen per cent were victims of violence, and sadly, 14% perpetrators — yes, the cycle continues. Especially saddening, 15% had attempted suicide in the past and 8% had attempted it recently.
Dr O’Toole finished up by saying that in the course of the study he did not meet a single veteran who was pro-war. About 5% felt that the war experience had been good for them or ‘made a man out of them’, but not one said they would go back. The overwhelming majority commented that war is hell and it is futile.
So, on this ANZAC Day, not only am I remembering the warriors that died on the battlefields, but also those who survived and who must carry their war experiences with them. I’m also thinking of their families who are living with the aftermath.
In war, there are no unwounded soldiers. ~Jose Narosky, Argentinian writer
Meanwhile, as John Lennon said, I’ll stay a dreamer and hope that sometime, and soon, a government, somewhere, will realise it’s time to start a path to Peace.
Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures. ~John F. Kennedy
*Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a recurrent, debilitating syndrome that can affect people after a severe and traumatic life experience that is outside the realm of normal life experiences, such as those of war. It is characterised by flashbacks triggered by seemingly innocuous situations, nightmares, and panic attacks, among a host of other symptoms. One example Dr O’Toole gave in the interview was of a ten-year-old’s birthday party, with kids running around making noise and having fun, and the father running in, hands over his head, calling, ‘They’re after us. They’re after us,’ triggered by the noise and excitement of the party. Read more about one vet’s battle with PTSD HERE.