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A Lone Star State PTSD Debate

In 2014, George Bush will run for the office of Texas Land Commissioner.  He’s campaigning already, according to a recent article in the Mid-Valley Town Crier, and, as a veteran, he has plenty to say about PTSD and other issues regarding military service.

Julie Silva’s Crier article first caught my eye for an obvious reason—is Former President George W. Bush running for Texas Land Commissioner?  After my double-take, I discovered that US Navy Reserve Ensign George P. Bush (and nephew to our former president) is actually the commissioner-hopeful.

The next reason for my interest in the Crier article is a debate about PTSD that arose during Bush’s visit to VFW Post No. 7473 in Elsa, Texas.

George Prescott Bush served in Afghanistan in 2010 as an intelligence officer.  On returning to the homefront, he explained to his VFW audience, his greatest concerns for fellow veterans were the high rates of suicide and unemployment, as well as providing increased access to education.

Bush created some controversy when he began to talk about fellow Texan and former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who was killed earlier this year on a shooting range, allegedly by a fellow veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder.  Based on his own experience with PTSD, Kyle had decided to create FITCO Cares, a foundation with the goal to help veterans overcome PTSD.  “He proved that PTSD is not something permanent,” Bush stated of Kyle.  “To me, this was a call to action, not only to my generation of veterans, but to all veterans.”

But a member of the VFW audience objected to Bush’s statement.  “Many times we have a hard time getting our benefits and the last thing we need is for somebody to say that PTSD is not permanent,” a Vietnam veteran responded.  “A lot of times PTSD doesn’t hit you until years later.”  Bush clarified his stance by explaining that he believes that the condition can be permanent if left untreated.

Whether PTSD is “permanent” is a thorny issue and I’m not going to go into all the background for taking one position over another in this post.  What I want to highlight today is a point I make in my new book, Trauma: Healing the Hidden Epidemic.  There is a crucial difference between “healing” and “a cure”.

In short, I believe there can be healing for post-traumatic stress disorder.  But there is no cure.

Let me quote from “To the Reader” in Trauma:

“Healing is possible.  We have witnessed such healing time and again at the Bernstein Institute for Trauma Treatment in Petaluma, California.  However, only by addressing the wounds lodged deep in our subconscious mind and, quite literally, in our bodies can true healing begin.  The process of discovering and developing a method of healing at this profound level is described in this book.”

Notice my carefully chosen term: healing.  Not cure.  I suffer from PTSD myself (you’ll discover the multiple sources of trauma in my life as you read my book).  And although I’ve done much work to heal my PTSD and the PTSD of my patients, I know there’s no cure.  Put me in a particular set of circumstances, in the “right” situation, and I can be triggered into a reaction of violence and rage.  And to their dismay and regret, this is true for my patients as well.  For them and for myself, getting triggered happens a lot less often than it used to, but it can and does happen.  Most of the time, I’m able to stop myself from acting on my violent emotions, but their intensity can still be consuming.

Let me say, briefly, that healing PTSD means being less frequently triggered into the past, less frequently confused and overcome with potentially destructive emotions and pain.  Healing means being more often in the present, enjoying the sometimes stressful challenges of a fulfilling life and relationships, with fewer debilitating intrusions from memories of the past.

No, there is no cure for PTSD.  But there is hope.  Our veterans can find healing.  And if you suffer from PTSD, so can you.