It wasn’t too long ago when most people thought only military veterans suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. More recently, the condition has become known simply as PTS, in an effort to reduce the stigma that calling trauma a disorder can create. But in reality, many people still do think that PTS only happens to people who have experienced war.
But rape victims, those who survived a physical assault, a parent who loses a child – anyone who has experienced trauma can receive a PTS diagnosis. Those who have fought in a war, especially those who have killed people, often have a co-occurring diagnosis called “moral injury.”
Moral injury is experienced by people who do something that goes against their own set of values, even if it is their job.
“I did it because I thought I wanted to do what a soldier does, not work behind a desk,” Anthony Anderson explained in an interview with Foundations Recovery Network. “I think a soldier carries a heavy pack. When I was in basic training I saw some emblems, and one was an infantry badge. I remember seeing that and thinking, ‘I want to get that.’ I was 20 years old and naive.”
Anderson co-stars in the feature documentary “Almost Sunrise” which had its world debut in May in Telluride, Colorado. The film follows Anderson and comrade Tom Voss as they walk across America to raise awareness about “moral injury” and try to reconnect with civilian life. Anderson and Voss both served in Iraq.
“When you first become engaged in combat, it’s violent, and you’re not questioning it at that time, you’re just doing it,” Anderson said. “You want to make sure you are safe and your buddies are safe. Later than night, and five years later, reality hits you.”
No Medications for Wounds of Moral Injury
Using explicit footage shot by Anderson and another soldier during their deployment, “Almost Sunrise,” shows viewers the war Americans never saw on the evening news. Things like dead bodies in the street, Iraqi families whose homes were raided and children left without parents, and soldiers shooting aggressively from the back of a truck while barreling down the road, trying to avoid roadside bombs.
It’s unimaginable until you actually see it.
A common symptom of PTS is an inability to trust anyone. For both men, the cross-country trek helped restore faith in their fellow man and ease the transition back into civilian life.
“People who barely knew us were opening their doors, letting us stay with them for the night, and reaching out to people they knew to help us find other places to stay down the path,” Anderson said.
Still, the wounds of moral injury do not heal easily. While medication can soothe some symptoms of PTS, such as anxiety and fear, director Michael Collins said “no amount of medication” will ease the sting of moral injury.
Collins said he learned of moral injury, and got the idea for the film, while volunteering for a veteran organization, helping make a video. “Almost Sunrise” also has a two-year awareness initiative that is running alongside the film’s screening which will include a broadcast on PBS’ documentary series POV (date and time yet to be announced). There also will be a multimedia exhibit including a photo essay, video, audio, articles and educational materials.
“I did it because I thought I wanted to do what a soldier does, not work behind a desk. I think a soldier carries a heavy pack. When I was in basic training I saw some emblems, and one was an infantry badge. I remember seeing that and thinking, ‘I want to get that.’ I was 20 years old and naive.”
‘Veterans Think They Don’t Need the Help’
Voss and Anderson found healing through meditation and a special breathing workshop for veterans called Project Welcome Home Troops. It helped them to see profound improvements in their outlook on life when nothing else seemed to work. Voss now works for the organization.
Voss even testified before Congress in support of a bill being sponsored by congressman Tim Ryan called the Veterans Wellness Act. The act would provide funding for facilities that offer holistic wellness programs and therapies.
Anderson and Voss agree that not only do veterans need more help, but they need to know when to ask for it.
“Veterans think they don’t need the help, and they don’t ask for help,” Anderson said. “They will compare their experience to that of their peers. Let’s say one guy never shot his weapon, never was hit by a roadside bomb. He may say, ‘Well, I didn’t fight in Fallujah,’ and think his experience is less (injurious). Your experience is unique to you, and how you process the war experience is unique to the individual war fighters. Veterans that are struggling need to be honest and not compare their experience with that of their peers.”
Voss echoed that sentiment, saying, “You need to let in someone, whether it’s a family member, a friend, someone that you trust…and let them into your world and what’s going on. You can start out with any version of the story that you feel comfortable with. Tell them, ‘This is what happened to me.’ Be non-judgmental. As soon as they understand what’s going on with you, they can support you. Family members want to support you but don’t know how to do that.”
Written by David Heitz
Articles posted here are primarily educational and may not directly reflect the offerings at The Oaks. For more specific information on programs at The Oaks, contact us today.