Older Man Naps on Porch

In July 2010, the Veterans Administration (VA) changed regulations for proving Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to make it easier for veterans suffering from the disorder to get disability compensation. The change helps veterans of all wars. And yet, would a veteran from an earlier war connect emotional problems such as depression or melancholy to PTSD? The signs for PTSD in troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan more commonly manifest as rage, alcohol or drug abuse, suicidal tendencies, or violence. What about our older veterans?

Leila Levinson, the daughter of a World War II veteran, and an expert in trans-general trauma, did a five-year research project about how unhealed trauma affects families. In a recent Huffington Post article she poignantly shares her observations, not only about her own father who never spoke about his war experiences, but also the 71 veterans she interviewed for her study who are still gripped by the trauma they experienced during World War II.  “They showed no rage, no signs of alcoholism, no nervousness or numbness. There were no indications of domestic problems – all the indicators of what the media has presented as the hallmarks of PTSD.” Her research revealed that “the much more common face of combat PTSD is one of depression, melancholy, silence, distance, avoidance of the memories,” traits and emotions that could have affected their children. Levinson’s own depression, she says, was inherited from her father.  “I inherited his war.”

She suggests that misperceptions of PTSD symptoms are preventing older veterans from getting needed help, though the last 10 years has seen an increase in the number of PTSD diagnoses for this veterans group.  We just haven’t heard much about them in the media. We are, however, very aware of the effects of war trauma on younger troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.  PTSD has been diagnosed in about a third of the troops who have returned home and “…it’s quickly becoming clear that our society cannot afford to ignore their invisible wounds – especially the way we ignored those of our older veterans, namely World War II soldiers.” We have a responsibility, she says, to support our veterans, “not with a bumper sticker but with heartfelt commitment and engagement” to help them heal.

Her message to help our fellow veterans is shared by all our veterans disability advocates here at Alpha.

Note: Levinson’s book, Gated Grief: The Daughter of a GI Concentration Camp Liberator Discovers a Legacy of Trauma, was named “Best Narrative Nonfiction Manuscript” by the Writers League of Texas in 2006.

Note: All representation coordinated by Alpha is provided by our employees, the Advocates, who are accredited by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). No private organization that trains and employs accredited agents has been legally recognized by the VA for the purposes of preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims. This work must be done by the Advocates themselves and not organizations.