The upcoming twentieth anniversary of 9/11 is a somber moment, particularly for veterans who enlisted in the wake of the terrorist attacks.
To better understand the challenges facing such individuals, Houston Public Media spoke with Dr. Ray Love, who leads the post-deployment clinic for Afghanistan and Iraq War veterans at Houston’s Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What problems do post-9/11 veterans face that are distinct from prior generations of veterans?
It’s vastly different from the Vietnam-era veterans and the Desert Storm-era veterans or the World War II veterans. Typically, everybody thinks it’s PTSD, but it really is not. Traumatic brain injury is actually a bigger or more signature issue from the wars.
I’m not a psychiatrist, and obviously a lot of our patients have PTSD. I deal with what I would call the more medical manifestations that would be involved with the traumatic brain injury, PTSD, and musculoskeletal injuries. And so, these actually come together when you’re looking at something like the twentieth anniversary of 9/11.
How do you expect the upcoming twentieth anniversary of 9/11 to affect your patients?
I took the liberty to ask some of my patients how they were kind of addressing the upcoming anniversary, and this was before the recent events in Afghanistan. And they mentioned it as being potentially very triggering. They weren’t really sure how they were going to deal with it.
But most of them thought that it was likely just going to bring back everything that might have inspired them to initially enlist, some of the survivor guilt, some of the things that they encountered when they were actually in deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Kind of like many of our vets on 4th of July are not necessarily out celebrating because the fireworks can be triggering, the large crowds can be triggering.
Many of the veterans that I take care of have significant problems with large crowds, so the recent COVID actually has been a blessing for many of them.
Are you a veteran yourself?
I am not. I’m actually pretty unique. For someone who was not in the military, I may have as much military exposure as you might have. I’m the son of a 31-year career Army veteran.
So, my father was a command sergeant major in the Army. My sister was in the Army. I’ve uncles that were in the Marines. My roommate in medical school was in the Army and actually just came to our clinic. Almost everywhere you look there are our veterans, so it kind of made sense for me to actually end up here.
As luck would have it, I’m actually a post-deployment baby. So, I work in a post-deployment clinic, and I was born approximately nine months after my father returned from Vietnam.
What have you learned from talking to post-9/11 veterans?
I think I learn more from them than they learn from me. I can teach them medical stuff, but they taught me to understand what goes on and why they see things the way they see them. They like people to maybe listen to them, rather than asking them specifically about their activities while they were at war, if they want to talk about it, and many of them don’t really want to even talk about it. Just listen to them, and let them tell you about what they want to tell you about.
Our veterans love to be appreciated. If you’ve ever stopped and said, “Thank you for your service,” they may tell you all about it. You know, appreciation is a really, really big thing, and it can’t be overstated that everyone loves to be appreciated, but our veterans, particularly after having volunteered to go into service for the country, they really love to be appreciated. I don’t think it ever gets old for anyone.