Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide, and the Lessons of War

The Book

FLASHBACK is available through Beacon Press and Amazon (paperback and hardcover).

Flashback is a thoroughly researched chronicle of what was known and when about what is now called PTSD, how those lessons were applied (or not) during the Vietnam war years, and what the price might be of ignoring those lessons when contemporary soldiers, veterans and their families are in need. Framing the investigative portions of the book are the stories of thirteen women, myself included, whose husbands, fathers or sons came home from the war with psychological injuries that ended in suicide. Their stories give a human face to the theoretical and historical portions of the book.

It is widely believed by many experts in the field that more veterans of the war in Vietnam have taken their own lives since coming home than there are names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Whatever the actual numbers (and no official attempt has ever been made to count), the suicide rate for soldiers now in Iraq has continued to climb and newspapers around the country continue to publish entirely disconnected stories about recently returned veterans who have taken their own lives. We, the public, have been encouraged to accept the military's obfuscation of casualty statistics and pretend this has never happened before.

The soldiers who are now in Iraq and Afghanistan will come home changed. Many will come home damaged. Aside from physical wounds, they will suffer from PTSD, and their families will suffer with them. If past experience is a predictor, many will die in desperation by their own hands. The inevitability of such injuries, their intractable nature and the tragic deaths to which they so often lead, represent an extraordinary social cost, both in fiscal and in human terms, and should be prioritized as public conversation. Flashback is an attempt to gather and analyze some of the personal, historical and scientific evidence that must inform such a conversation.