For years the military has focused on FEAR as the main component driving PTSD. But veterans rarely mention fear; instead they talk about loss or shame, guilt or regret. They tried to be heroes, to protect the weak, save their buddy, take the hill. Instead they mistakenly killed civilians, forced themselves to drive past wounded children, failed to save their comrade.
Now psychiatrists in the Department of Veterans Affairs are investigating the possibility that “moral injury” and the guilt associated with killing and/or losing a comrade (survivor’s guilt) may be the key factor in PTSD and military suicide.
It is a “radical” idea, they say. It shifts the focus from what was done to the soldier, to what the soldier has done (or failed to do) to others.
To which my first response is: Well, duh!
Maybe the higher-ups in the DVA need to read romance novels. Perhaps in some respects, authors understand the human psyche better than psychiatrists, because we dig deep into it when we create characters (and we tend to make our characters suffer).
Authors have been mining the guilt associated with soldiering for decades. Guilt over loss of a comrade is a common theme not just in novels with a military hero, but novels with emergency responders such as firefighters, paramedics and search-and-rescue members.
This loss/guilt theme is one I explore quite a bit in my writing, and it’s evident in both of my books. In Last Chance Rescue, search-and-rescue team member Brad experiences guilt because he was unable to save a man drowning in a river; his comrade Jessie’s past as an Army medic is rife with guilt and loss, especially in relation to her best friend who was killed in action. In True Surrender, Major Aaron Bricewick becomes obsessed with a missing officer’s plight after his own torture; and a co-worker’s suicide nearly pushes him over the brink.
My books are just a small sampling; there are many excellent stories exploring this theme. So my question is: what in the world is taking the psychiatrists so long to figure this out?