The National Conference of Viet Nam Veteran Ministers, an organization
composed of clergy who served in Viet Nam, by electronic meeting on June
2000, issued the following statement concerning
the issue of trauma and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among young
As veterans of military service in Viet Nam, we know personally the effects of traumatic stress--the way in which it affects us immediately and the way it affects us for many years thereafter; the disruptions it makes to our families, our marriages, our jobs, our ability to contribute to society. As professionals, we know how traumatic stress affects so many others besides veterans: survivors of child abuse, victims of rape and domestic violence, survivors of holocausts and terrorism. To this list it is increasingly apparent that we must add an estimated 3-7% of middle and high school children who have experienced being closely exposed to extreme urban violence as witnesses and victims.
Untreated traumatic stress robs children of their ability to learn and robs society of the benefit of their talents and their energy. The Pasadena Project, jointly sponsored by Trauma Psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and by the California Office of Criminal Justice Planning (OCJF), demonstrates that successful treatment can be achieved and illustrates the destruction to children's lives which might otherwise take place. Looking at a sample of adolescent trauma survivors in this Project, the mean grade point average was less than 1.5 before the half-year UCLA intervention; afterwards, it was over 2. Conversely, the number of classes failed by students was over 35 before the intervention, while following the intervention it had fallen to about 7.
School success is not the only issue in untreated traumatic stress. The onset of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms is often delayed, and their magnitude over time often increases. In UCLA's 1997 study of its pilot program for early adolescents exposed to catastrophic trauma and death, not only did the school-based trauma-grief focused intervention significantly alleviate chronic post-traumatic stress disorder, but traumatized adolescents in the no-treatment control group experienced a significant worsening of symptoms. These are the children who can be expected, as a result of their trauma, to drop out and act out, and in many cases to be lifelong burdens on society's safety nets and its jails.
When we were in uniform in Vietnam, we believed that our efforts were being made on behalf of our country and our future generations. Those of us familiar with the vision of a new heaven and a new earth in Isaiah 65 identify especially with verse 23: "They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for sudden terror." It is therefore especially troubling to us that some in our future generations are being crippled, possibly for life, by experiences of trauma very similar to those we ourselves know all too well.
Traumatic stress of our young people due to urban violence is a problem which exists in every part of our nation. We call upon State and National Legislators all across the country to take actions appropriate to their own scopes of responsibility to authorize and fund programs like the UCLA program, which has been able to make such a dramatic positive impact on the lives of young people.
Return to Peace and Justice Statements.