By Skip Dreps

Combat Heart Rx

I was the Veterans Representative on an Institutional Review Board for veteran medical research. I served on committees to promote research into finding answers to hypotheses. One of the reasons I served on the committees was that I wished we could take the mystery out of why so many veterans for so long have suffered from the aftermath of their combat trauma through studies. Wouldn’t it be nice if medical research discovered a simple test to diagnose, and a tool kit to help the patient try to repair their new neuropsychiatric condition and adapt to life when home from the battlefield? Would it help de-stigmatize the trauma and promote more warriors to seek help?

My wish may come true before I pass from this veil and everyone can start doing his or her part to help the process today. When I was discharged from the Army and entered the Veterans Administration (VA) health care system in 1979, I was screened for VPTS. At the time of the examination I had never heard the acronym before, nor knew that it was an abbreviation for Vietnam Post Traumatic Stress (VPTS) syndrome. The syndrome became a disorder if the condition lasted six months or more following deployment to a combat zone. VPTS could mature into VPTSD, which evolved in medical terminology to PTSD (acute or chronic).

If we want to help evolve the future of treatment become sooner than later, we can stop calling posttraumatic stress (PTS) a disorder, and drop the “D”. The acronym has become a stigma and does not represent what we know today and will tomorrow through medical research. Everyone has the potential to suffer from posttraumatic stress, some more than others, even before they are traumatized and trigger their recessive gene into action. Gene? Has science discovered a key that may someday lead to a simple test?
Yes, and more.

We know that PTS can be acute and chronic; mild, moderate, severe and catastrophic in severity. It is like cancer in that way and we should battle both conditions, not as a disorder or disease, but a condition that can be treated, and the patient can heal.
PTS, like cancer diagnoses, are reports on your body’s health and not a damage estimate of a car from a crash. PTS is a condition that can, like cancer, be healed. And like cancer, PTS can also become dormant, return and be treated again.

Tomorrow we may see a modulated chemical treatment for PTS that may be as simple to use as an insulin pen for the control of diabetes. We know we are all different, and no one size fits all, and that’s why we need a tool kit of responses to treat an individual’s condition. We also know that some individuals may have PTS and never need treatment.

But today is not tomorrow. A simple blood test to diagnose PTS and a delivery system to provide the cure are years away from researcher to patient. But one thing we can do today that can help reduce the severity of PTS is to remove the stigma and drop the “D” from its common acronym. Reducing the severity of PTS symptoms will help reduce the rate of suicides, currently 20/day, and help reduce the public image that half of our returning soldiers are broken from PTS.

Now is the time we should begin to tell all of those who have had their PTS gene activated that the condition can be reversed. It can be turned down or off, and it is not a disabling condition for life. If each time we talk about the soldiers heart, battle fatigue, or PTS, let’s consciously remember that if you use the “D” with the appropriate acronym, you’re part of the past, and it’s time we all moved on together to help find a cure for PTS, as we are doing for cancer.