This Book Is Changing The Conversation Around Post-Traumatic Stress

news
Iraq War combat veteran Dave McBee speaks on the phone while sitting on his bed in his quarters at the "Soldier On" veterans homeless shelter.
AP photo by Steven Senne

Where, exactly, is the intersection between religious faith and good science? Does it even exist? And might both be used by today’s military to build more resilient warriors?


America’s military is facing a very public mental health crisis. Many veterans view this crisis as a direct result of a flawed Veterans Affairs system and an uncaring American public. In turn, the VA points to abysmal therapy completion rates, piles more money into the budget, and continues serving up a top-down approach to care that is statistically ineffective. Public service announcements about veteran suicide grow America’s concern about the mental and emotional stability of its veterans.

In her bold, gripping new book, “Brave, Strong, True: The Modern Warrior’s Battle for Balance,” U.S. Marine veteran Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas examines the virtues and flaws of the American military’s cultural mandates for strength and invulnerability. She argues that treatment for mental health issues requires a disempowerment narrative that is starkly at odds with our military’s cultural values. Treatment may be part of the solution, she says, but today’s military culture does not allow for it to be the complete answer.

What if, she suggests, the military developed and offered mental fitness training programs that shifted the paradigm from treatment to resilience?

A strengths-based approach, Thomas notes, would be more likely to resonate with modern-day warriors who embrace intensity, shared hardship, and challenge. Today’s service members voluntarily joined the military during wartime; difficult transformation and growth are part of our DNA.

“The research is clear,” writes Thomas. “We need to focus on resilience as something that can be learned and grown before combat and transition are experienced. Post-traumatic stress and depression must be reframed as normal, recoverable conditions. When we talk about them as disorders, we give them an inaccurate air of permanence.”

Moving with fluidity between veteran narratives and current research, Thomas unpacks three evidence-based components of resilience: social support, self-care, and spirituality.

“Social support is vital to our ability to grow through traumas,” says Thomas. “It is a known contributor to physical health and longevity. Having a trusted tribe around you lowers stress.”

The author points to Team Red, White, & Blue, a veteran fitness organization, as one example of a ready-made tribe offering modern-day warriors a valuable connection to other veterans and civilians.

(Left to right) U.S. Marine 1st Lt. Kate Hendricks Thomas stands with Capt. Abigail Steinke and 1st Lt. Gideon Grisset at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island.

In a culture where pain is weakness leaving the body, the concept of self-care, which may include a balanced training calendar along with mindful eating and thinking, may seem especially alien, says Thomas.

However, self-care is ultimately (and perhaps counterintuitively) a way to increase physical and mental performance, she notes. It provides opportunities for self-mastery that build our capacity to handle future stressors more effectively.

Finally, Thomas tackles what is perhaps the most controversial chapter in her book — the chapter on faith.

“There is tremendous personal utility and some health benefit to personal, nonorganized spiritual practices,” writes Thomas. “However, the majority of religion and health science shows maximum benefit for people involved in organized religious communities.”

Thomas seems prepared to cater to skeptics. Readers who prefer to trade on hard facts over faith will appreciate her emphasis on multiple studies that overwhelmingly demonstrate how affiliation with an organized religion correlates positively to practical and statistical outcomes.

“Much like exercise, religion offers true protective effects against heart disease, depression, and even cognitive decline,” Thomas writes. “Religiosity is correlated positively with improved mental and physical well-being, and is important for people coping with trauma. How intensely involved a person is in their faith community strengthens the positive impact it can have.”

The brain’s response differs dramatically when engaged in mediation or prayer, Thomas notes. During mediation, the body’s stress response is calmed. In attentive prayer to a transcendent God, not only is the body’s stress response calmed, but the regions of the brain involved in love and relationship light up.

Thomas cites multiple studies to support the well-established connection between faith and wellness, but concludes this way: “The question of God’s existence and interest in our wellness cannot be answered by statistics. Belief is too personal for that and we must come to our own conclusions.”

The book ends with an emphasis on the value of peer leadership, community engagement, and active duty training in teaching and testing resilience.

Ultimately, “Brave, Strong, True” is a rousing challenge to health, packed with practical principles, and written for those of us weary of the victim narrative and looking for a more powerful way forward.

“Brave, Strong, True” (Innovo Publishing, 2015) is available for purchase.

Iran's top diplomat threatened an "all-out war" Thursday with the U.S. or Saudi Arabia if either country launches a retaliatory strike over a drone and missile attack on oil reserves that sent energy prices soaring.

Tehran's tough-talking foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, threw the gauntlet down, promising a battle that would go on "to the last American soldier."

Read More Show Less
Task & Purpose photo illustration by Paul Szoldra

After a pair of Army explosive ordnance disposal technicians were indicted on federal charges for attempting to sell weapons and explosives to smugglers headed to Mexico, one of the two men involved has been sentenced after taking a plea deal, according to court documents filed on Wednesday.

Read More Show Less

JALALABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A U.S. drone strike intended to hit an Islamic State (IS) hideout in Afghanistan killed at least 30 civilians resting after a day's labor in the fields, officials said on Thursday.

The attack on Wednesday night also injured 40 people after accidentally targeting farmers and laborers who had just finished collecting pine nuts at mountainous Wazir Tangi in eastern Nangarhar province, three Afghan officials told Reuters.

"The workers had lit a bonfire and were sitting together when a drone targeted them," tribal elder Malik Rahat Gul told Reuters by telephone from Wazir Tangi.

Read More Show Less

Colt, one of the nation's largest and best-known gunmakers, will stop producing AR-15s for the civilian market, the company said this week.

Read More Show Less

The F-35 is built to win wars against China and Russia, but since the United States is not fighting either country at the moment, it's mostly being used to bomb caves and weapons caches — a mission that older and cheaper aircraft can do just as well.

The Marine Corps' F-35B variant flew its first combat mission in September 2018 by dropping two bombs on a weapons cache in Afghanistan. The Air Force's F-35A's combat debut came in April, when two aircraft attacked an ISIS cave and tunnel complex in northeast Iraq.

More recently, F-35s joined F-15s in dropping 80,000 pounds of ordnance on Iraq's Qanus Island, which was "infested" with ISIS fighters, Army Col. Myles Caggins, spokesman for U.S. and coalition forces fighting ISIS, tweeted Sept. 10.

Read More Show Less