A revolutionary look at methods to treat veterans in distress.
Alpern (Divorce: Rights of Passage, 2000) draws on decades of experience dealing with combat soldiers returning to civilian life in order to distill some essential lessons in his plainspoken book. He began his service as a neuropsychiatric technician in 1954 at an Army hospital in Pennsylvania and has seen firsthand the various ways—some embarrassingly simple, others complex—that many customary protocols for treating the problems of veterans ultimately fail the people they’re intended to help. The author aims his own findings and approaches at three main groups, the obvious target audience of this volume: the veterans themselves, their families and loved ones, and Alpern’s fellow mental health workers. His book breaks down the daunting intricacies of his subject into basic components: chapters dealing first with the phenomenon of veterans transitioning to civilian life, then with the common but wrongheaded ways these returning soldiers have been treated for their various psychological issues, then a chapter outlining the right ways to address these difficulties, and then two chapters elaborating on procedures that work. At every stage, Alpern, a Korean War veteran, stresses the alien nature of these ailments. “Many of the dysfunctional behaviors of our returning warriors (suicide, anger, hermitizing, the inability to relate to loved ones or common civilian tasks) are the direct result of the soul-destroying actions, fostered by extraordinary circumstances, in which a sizable number of soldiers have engaged,” he writes, adding emphatically: “There are no pills to heal such soul wounds!” His passages on the strain veterans’ families face are at times heartbreaking (wives describe feeling as though they haven’t regained their husbands but rather acquired an additional—and very troubled—child). The core of the author’s approach is in retrospect startlingly apparent: the people best qualified to help suffering veterans are other veterans. The hugely readable book’s most instructive section targets an exclusive audience: invaluable advice on how veterans can train to become mental health professionals (“Vets almost universally believe that they can be understood only by vets who have ‘been there’…Vets, through training, military ethics, and, especially, human bonding, are highly motivated to help other vets”).
A compassionate and eye-opening approach to healing mentally and emotionally wounded soldiers.