A June 2012 issue of Writer’s Digest quotes George Orwell as having once said, “writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand". But for veterans, these demons can help heal their physical and mental wounds that they earned during their time at war, and can potentially turn their horror stories into bestsellers.

It is no secret how war both physically and mentally destroys a soldier's mind. In fact, the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs finds that one in five combat veterans suffers from a mental illness known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. PTSD occurs after an individual witnessed or experienced a traumatic event, and is therefore one of the more common mental illnesses among members of the military.

PTSD mainly causes a veteran to re-experience the more traumatic events of war, and leaves them with inescapable feelings of guilt and depression. If left untreated, the symptoms of PTSD can quickly cause a veteran’s life to spin out of control. However, writing out their traumatic experiences and feelings can greatly improve a veteran’s mental state and outlook on their new lifestyle as a civilian with a disability or mental illness.

BBC News article written by Cathy Edwards entitled “Writing – for Health and Happiness?” uncovers the many therapeutic characteristics that the art of writing possesses. “Decades of research have shown that writing down your emotions has concrete health benefits - even helping wounds heal.”

But how exactly does writing work in a therapeutic sense? To answer this question, the article referred to a study conducted by Professor James W. Pennebaker in 1986. He focused on college students and asked eight of them to write for four consecutive days. They were split down the middle, with four being asked to write about “superficial things like the shoes they were wearing”. The other four were asked to disclose more traumatic events—particularly those that had been kept a secret. The professor also documented the students’ frequency of visiting the health center on-campus, and found that the students who disclosed their trauma and explored their emotions took less trips to the health center for various ailments than the group who documented only superficial subjects.

So for veterans who already suffer from some sort of physical or mental ailment, keeping those feelings of frustration and alienation bottled up will only worsen their condition.

Plus, some elements of writing completely counteract the side effects of certain mental illnesses, especially PTSD. PTSD consist of three main categories of symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic: “re-experiencing symptoms,” “avoidance symptoms,” and “hyperarousal symptoms”. These symptoms can be boiled down to flashbacks and nightmares, feelings of guilt and depression, and trouble sleeping, respectively.

Veterans can transcribe their flashbacks or nightmares onto paper, and by doing so, allows for them to look more critically at their fears. More importantly, a veteran might even begin to realize that there is room for growth in regards to moving forward with or changing their perspective of the traumatic incident. Ultimately, a veteran suddenly experiences complete control over his or her thoughts and feelings over the event.

Of course, while writing surely has its therapeutic components, it is still no substitute for medication and other treatment options for certain physical or mental conditions. Veterans should still consult medical professionals in regards to more well-rounded rehabilitation, such as talk-therapy and psychiatric medication. However, this search should not be conducted through the VA, as CNN and several other news outlets in 2012 reported the VA’s tendency to overmedicate veterans rather than create individualized treatment plans for them. As a result, many veterans were accidentally overdosing on their prescribed medication, and others became tired of having the medication only serve as a temporary relief for their symptoms.

As a result, other organizations are stepping forward in order to help the veteran community. One non-profit in particular, Operation: I.V., is specifically geared towards veterans who suffer from PTSD or any form of traumatic brain injury. Operation: I.V. was founded by Gold Star Mother Roxann Abrams, who lost her son SFC Randy Abrams to undiagnosed PTSD. Randy committed suicide after he suffered from repeated flashbacks from his service in Iraq, and because of his death, Abrams became inspired to help other ailing veterans like her late son to prevent their suffering and premature deaths as well. The organization sponsors ten different and holistic treatment plans, all listed under “V.I.P,” or “Veteran Intervention Program”. Some of the services offered by the V.I.P. are “Vet-2-Vet” talk therapy, hyperbolic oxygen therapy (which reduces the effects of PTSD and traumatic brain injuries), and therapy through service dogs. These services, paired with the therapeutic powers of writing, can certainly put a veteran on the fast-track to a healthier lifestyle and a more positive 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.