When I pitched this story, the point was to talk about how post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was being over-reported and how there were all these myths about veterans that were causing them trouble back in civilian society. The title ended up focusing on the PTSD part of the story, but it’s about so much more. It’s about how veterans are judged on when and where they served, and how those who served pre-9/11 or who never went to Iraq or Afghanistan are seen as less-than, or as having not really served at all. And it’s about how female vets sometimes aren’t believed to be veterans because they’re women (a point that was driven home recently by this story). And it’s about hero worship and how even that has its downsides.
One of the first questions I asked each vet I interviewed was, “What are some stereotypes people have about veterans?” and the number of examples they came up with was astounding. Matt Selvage, whom I had interviewed years earlier for another story, came up with a list so long that it took up two full pages in my notebook. They told me about positive stereotypes that can be harmful, about negative stereotypes, about misconceptions and preconceptions. They also told me about the conversations they have amongst themselves regarding these issues. And they told me about PTSD—and part of that conversation was about whether it should be the more-familiar PTSD or the newer PTS (as some believe it is inaccurate to call it a disorder, which implies that there’s something wrong with the sufferer).
And while I really, really wanted the article to not be about mental health and post-traumatic stress, I’m glad that’s what it ended up being about. I got to talk to Will Simmons, an IAVA Leadership Fellow, about his experience with PTSD and how he came to accept his problem and work through it. It was an enlightening discussion, one that really changed the way I looked at mental health care. I thought about that conversation recently, when another veteran I’d interviewed (one who did not appear in the article) asked me to write a buddy letter for them to submit with their VA claim for PTSD. I remembered what Will had said about how long it took him to accept his problem and admit to others that he was suffering from PTSD, and I thought about all the other stories I’d heard from other subjects I’ve interviewed over the years about their experiences with seeking mental health care—including while writing stories about things as simple as veteran writing groups and art projects. All those voices were in my head as I wrote my letter, and I know it helped me see the situation differently than I would have had I not had the opportunity to talk to all those men and women who’d shared their stories with me.
That’s always what I’ve sought to do in Penthouse‘s Warrior Wire: to help at least one person learn something or see things from a new perspective. And what I write about may not always seem educational. Sometimes I write about guys going rock-climbing, or about cool events, or about music, but there’s always some substance. And as I explained to someone not too long ago, I like having my stories sandwiched between a bunch of naked ladies. I like thinking that someone could be turning the pages, looking for another sexy photo of the Pet of the Month, and, whoops!, they land on an article about veterans’ issues and maybe, just maybe, give me a few minutes of their time.
So, to make a long story not too much longer … If you want to read “The PTSD Myth” from the September 2014 issue of Penthouse, click here.