Combat soldiers are placed in a very precarious position once they join the military. While they were civilians, soldiers were taught that violence and murder were both morally wrong, and should refrain from committing such acts against others. However, on the battlefield, these same soldiers receive just the opposite message—in order to win, and more importantly, live, they must learn to hurt and kill.

But how hard is it to strip someone of their morals a-la basic training? In order to answer this question, we must first delve into how morals are originally developed and stored in a person’s brain (or not).

A study based on answering the two aforementioned questions was reported by CNN in an article called “How your brain makes moral judgment,” released in March of 2014. The article cites a previous study conducted in 2001 by Harvard University’s associate professor Joshua D. Greene in order to see if there was a psychological network in the brain responsible for moral connections. In fact, scientists have confirmed that “there is a specific network of brain regions involved in mediating moral judgment”. This network includes, according to Greene, the cooperation between “the medial prefrontal cortex, the posterior cingulate and angular gyrus on the left and right sides”.

These regions of the brain are each largely responsible for decision-making and thus, moral judgment. That is, civilians know that it is morally wrong to act violently towards another person, and so those three regions of the brain kick into action and ultimately help refrain that civilian from acting violently, even if they want to.

The article also addresses how this intracranial connectivity “goes wrong” in psychopaths. A psychopath, by definition, is “a person suffering from chronic mental disorder with abnormal or violent social behavior”. Not to say that combat soldiers are psychopaths, but the military does require that soldiers adopt psychopathic tendencies in order to do their jobs. Yet while soldiers do possess these sort of behaviorisms that are similar to psychopaths, ultimately, soldiers cannot be classified as such. According to Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, a professor of practical ethics at Duke University, “[psychopaths are] not scared of punishment, they don't feel empathy towards other people, they don't respect authorities that told them not to do things, and so there's nothing stopping them from doing what other people would dismiss in a nanosecond”. Those who are enlisted in the military therefore cannot be classified as expressing complete psychopathic behavior, since soldiers are committing acts of violence and murder because they are listening to authority that sends them mixed messages about morality. That is, it is expected that combat soldiers kill, and that such acts are deemed “heroic,” instead of malicious.

However, when veterans return from the battlefield back to civilian life, the transition can be quite complicated. After all, soldiers must once again readjust to another set of morals, ones that probably seem difficult to adhere to after the stress and traumas of war. This transition can also be further complicated by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. The U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs reports that one in five combat veterans develops Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, either during or shortly after combat. 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.

Veterans who suspect that they are suffering from PTSD should seek medical intervention as soon as possible. PTSD can easily cause a soldier to remain in a detached, immoral (in civilian standards) world, where they are still easily prone to extreme rage and violence.

However, veterans who suffer from PTSD are strongly discouraged from seeking medical attention by ways of the VA. Reports released by CBS News in 2013 revealed that medical professionals associated with the VA prescribed 259% more narcotics than in 2002, and that individualized therapy had fallen by the wayside. A medical practitioner associated with the VA anonymously admitted to CBS News in a TV interview that “it is easier to write a prescription for narcotics and to just move along and get to the next patient” so that more veterans would be “treated”. This news outbreak, coupled with the 2014 VA scandal, hopefully cause ailing veterans to consult non-associated medical facilities 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.