War veterans need counseling

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Tomorrow, January 23rd 2016, former combatants of the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia, PLAN, the military wing of Swapo, colleagues from both the Voice of Namibia, the Namibian Broadcasting Cooperation (NBC) and the family and friends of the late Comrade Isaac ‘Gerros’ !Kharuxab will be laying this indomitable freedom fighter to rest in Stampriet.

The passing on of Cde !Kharuxab brings to the fore the age-old concern over the lack of rehabilitation and counseling for comrades who exhibited signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) after returning from exile, especially after the doctor at the hospital he was taken to advised that he should have been taken to a military facility that deals with post-war trauma and depression.

PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of life-threatening events, such as military combat, natural disasters, serious accidents, or physical or sexual assault in adult or childhood. Most survivors of trauma return to normal.

However, some people will have stress reactions that do not go away on their own, or may even get worse over time. These individuals may develop PTSD.

People who suffer from PTSD often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached or estranged, and these symptoms can be severe enough and last long enough to significantly impair the person’s daily life.

People with PTSD experience three different kinds of symptoms. The first set of symptoms involves reliving the trauma in some way, such as becoming upset when confronted with a traumatic reminder or thinking about the trauma when you are trying to do something else.

The second set of symptoms involves either staying away from places or people that remind one of the trauma, isolating oneself from other people, or feeling numb.

The third set of symptoms includes things such as feeling on guard, irritable, or being easily startled.
Research has established that many military veterans develop symptoms of PTSD. In fact, it is recorded that military service is the most common cause of PTSD. It is also recorded in research that it is common for PTSD to take root decades after a traumatic experience.

Bearing this in mind, and recognising that Namibia’s Independence is not an accidental historical occurrence, but an event born out of planned military, political and diplomatic struggle, one would naturally have thought that the leadership of that struggle should have put mechanisms in place to deal with cases of PTSD.

Admittedly, Namibians both inside and outside the country were exposed to traumatic situations, much more so those on the battlefield and in prisons and torture chambers. Unfortunately, we failed to plan and, therefore, planned to fail.

Our leadership ought to have laid a bold and solid foundation at Independence – a foundation that would have resulted in the provision of facilities to rehabilitate and counsel Namibians exposed to traumatic circumstances.
Now that no such provision was made for post-war Namibia, it is incumbent upon government, particularly the Ministry of Veterans Affairs, to act accordingly.

As we bid adios to comrade !Kharuxab, both the ruling party and government need to make concerted efforts to establish centres that deal with cases of PTSD throughout the country. Comrade !Kharuxab is not the first – and most certainly will not be the last – to succumb to PTSD.

His involvement in various combat missions, including the unfortunate April 1, 1989 battle, significantly and negatively impacted on his wellbeing. After undergoing such a horrific experience, he and thousands other Namibians, received no counseling.

On repatriation, just like all others, he was sent home to Stampriet and then had to start another struggle looking for a job to feed himself and his family. Thousands of formerly exiled Namibians went through the same situation, and some are still struggling to make ends meet.

It should be noted that during repatriation in 1989, 43 400 Namibian exiles were registered. This is a conservative number and does not include those who were exposed to PTSD inside the country, including those Namibians who fought against freedom. All these never received any form of counseling after a grueling struggle for independence.

For the children born in exile, the situation has been even more complex. Apart from the absence of psychological, emotional or social preparation, these children were left to fend for themselves.

Some knew no home, no family and had no home or family. Namibia was a strange country for them. Those who were united with their parents’ families were often subjected to abuse.

It is from this perspective that we need to understand the situation in which some Namibians find themselves. It is disingenuous to label such people as troublemakers. They are victims of failed planning.

It is time we admitted that we collectively failed to plan before, during and after repatriation.

Sober reflection on the situation and a comprehensive strategy to address the status of Namibians who were exposed to PTSD situations is imperative. Piecemeal solutions have not worked and never will.
Rest in eternal peace Comrade !Kharuxab.

* Dr Charles Mubita holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of Southern California.

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