The U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs recently reports that one in five combat veterans develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, either during or after their service. However, while PTSD is becoming more widely-recognized, the illness was not fully accepted by the medical community until after the Vietnam War. Before then, the symptoms of PTSD were simply dubbed as “shell-shocked,” and no forms of treatment existed. So how did combat veterans ever cope with their symptoms?

The movie The Best Years of Our Lives is best known for its revolutionary and premature understanding of PTSD. The movie was released in 1946, way before the Vietnam War, and the plot surrounds the lives of three World War II veterans returning home after combat: Fred, Al, and Homer. Interestingly, the three men each personify a different category of symptoms related to PTSD. The Mayo Clinic defines PTSD as having three main categories of symptoms: “re-experiencing symptoms,” “avoidance symptoms,” and “hyperarousal symptoms”. These categories can be simplified to describe symptoms of flashbacks and nightmares, feeling of guilt and depression, and insomnia, respectively.

After he returns home, Fred finds that he constantly suffers from nightmares and flashbacks from his time at war. There are many scenes where he is tossing and thrashing around in bed, yet he can never wake himself from his nightmares. As his undiagnosed PTSD progresses, Fred experiences familial alienation, marriage failure, and eventually falls in love with his fellow soldier’s considerably younger daughter. In a single movie role, Fred’s characterization has addressed two direct symptoms of PTSD (nightmares and feelings of alienation), as well as how undiagnosed PTSD affects family members as well.

Al, another combat soldier, prominently develops a severe drinking problem throughout the course of the film, which addresses the growing rates of combat veterans who develop some form of substance abuse, whether it be through alcohol or drugs. Al turns to drinking once he returns home and realizes that he has completely missed out on his children’s entire childhoods while he was away at war.

Finally, Homer is perhaps one of the more intriguing characters because he supposedly had both of his hands blown off during combat, and has returned home instead with a pair of hooks. While this scenario is actually quite uncommon (and certainly outdated, as there has been a significant advancement in prosthetics since WWII), the character’s role is the only one that addresses physical injuries adopted during combat. For the rest of his civilian life after discharge, Homer struggles with adapting to using his hooks for usually easy daily tasks, and realizes that he can no longer perform many of them, including undressing for bed. Any veteran who has unfortunately experienced any sort of physical injury during combat can easily and immediately sympathize with Homer’s character, as he too feels alienated and resentful towards himself since he feels like he can no longer exist as the man he was prior to war— the man who had hands and was independent.

Unfortunately, since the characters of The Best Years of Our Lives suffered from PTSD prior to its official diagnosis by the medical community, the rest of their lives proves to be a constant struggle, since the symptoms of PTSD only worsen without proper treatment. But luckily, combat veterans who are returning from either Iraq or Afghanistan have access to many treatment options, including talk therapy and prescription medication.

However, veterans should be wary of seeking this sort of treatment through the VA, since reports released by CNN in 2012 revealed that medical professionals associated with the VA prescribed 259% more narcotics than in 2002, and that individualized therapy had fallen by the wayside. Therefore, ailing soldiers and veterans who suffer from PTSD might want to consider consulting outside organizations to rehabilitate their physical and mental health.

One of those organizations is Operation: I.V, a 501(c)3 non-profit founded in 2012 that helps combat veterans heal from both PTSD as well as traumatic brain injuries. Its founder, Roxann Abrams, is a Gold Star Mother who lost her son SFC Randy Abrams in 2009. Randy took his own life after experiencing a PTSD flashback from his service in Iraq. Randy had undiagnosed PTSD- a common occurrence among combat veterans either due to mistakes made by the medical field or simply the individual’s failure to report such grave symptoms.

As a result of her son’s death, Abrams founded Operation: I.V. so that combat veterans who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan have a place to receive treatment through a specialized “VIP”, or “Veteran Intervention Plan” program. “VIP” offers ten different rehabilitation programs, including hyperbolic oxygen therapy, service dogs, and anxiety reduction therapy. Additionally, veterans may also partake in programs such as job retraining, business mentoring, and educational assistance. Again, while there is no cure for PTSD, the programs provided by Operation: I.V. can drastically improve a veteran’s mental health and overall outlook on life!

Author's Bio: 

Abigail Fazelat is a contributing writer for Operation: I.V., a non-profit organization founded by Gold Star Mother Roxann Abrams who lost her son SFC Randy Abrams to PTSD. Randy took his own life after experiencing a wartime flashback- an experience not uncommon to any combat veteran. As a result, Abrams founded Operation: I.V. as an “intravenous of help” for other Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, and contemplating suicide. Fazelat has worked for the organization since October 2013 under a pseudonym.