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Help for Veterans Suffering with PTSD

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Original image courtesy U.S. Army Original image courtesy U.S. Army

Post: after the event; after in time or order. Traumatic: emotional shock following a stressful event, sometimes leading to long-term neurosis. Distressing; emotionally disturbing. Stress: pressure or tension; mentally tiring. Disorder: a lack of order, confusion; disarrange; upset.

“PTSD was officially recognized in 1980, by the Veterans Administration, as a stress-related, combat-induced disorder,” reads a handout from a Spokane Veterans Outreach Program. The handout was reprinted from The Stars and Stripes­—The National Tribune, of February 1993.

Symptoms of PTSD generally include depression; anger and irritability; guilt over combat performance or survival; fear of loss of control; emotional hyperactivity; nightmares; loss of self-esteem; distancing between oneself and others; feelings of being misunderstood; feeling that something terrible is about to happen.

Other symptoms noted by psychiatrists and veterans include the inability to maintain a job; panic attacks during the day or night or both; difficulty in maintaining a relationship; suicidal thoughts, sometimes with a plan for carrying out the suicide; isolation; uncontrollable outbursts of crying in inappropriate places (i.e., while driving, at work, just walking along); road rage; uncontrollable anger; seeming to overreact to a minor situation and virtually exploding; doesn’t join organizations (unless it’s with other veterans); fear of emotional closeness or, when a vet does get close to a spouse or significant other, one day they may be fine while another day, for no apparent reason, the veteran pushes away (verbally or physically abuses) that person closest to him or her; difficulty in getting pleasure out of life; always seems to be waiting for the “other shoe to drop” and for bad things to happen; sucks the joy out of something that is or could be pleasurable; and frequent thoughts of death.

It has been noted in numerous newspaper and magazine articles that of the soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, only 17 percent seem to show signs of PTSD. Those same articles state the percentage could jump as high as 30 percent, but that at present, “It seems to be under control.”

I’m sorry, did I miss something? PTSD from a war situation can appear or be recognized five, ten, 20, 30 or more years after the traumatic event—“post” meaning “after.” “After” has no time limit.

Many veterans, not aware of what’s really bothering them, just figure they’re going nuts. Best thing to do? Keep busy. Hold down one, two, three or more jobs at the same time and/or go to college as well. Get by on very little sleep and, when the veteran does sleep, it’s almost a passing-out from total exhaustion, plus the nightmares and intrusive thoughts may very well startle them awake, in many instances in a hot or cold sweat, perhaps shaking and not knowing what’s going on. It’s not unusual for a veteran suffering from PTSD to only get one or two hours of sleep a night, with only broken or intermittent sleep for the rest of the night.

PTSD is sometimes called a “combat induced disorder.” Many vets who suffer from PTSD did not have a combat MOS (Military Occupation Specialty). They may have been a cook or truck driver, clerical staff, MP, or whatever. That doesn’t mean this veteran wasn’t traumatized by the death of someone they knew, from seeing the death, or the death of children, women, or others in the “war.” Non-combat MOS veterans may have been splattered by body parts, seen atrocities committed by our own or the enemy’s soldiers, seen best friends kill each other over a verbal disagreement, been on guard duty and been shot at or had to shoot others, been on guard duty and witnessed one of our own soldiers kill one of our own men because that person was trying to turn themselves over to the enemy. (And the main reason that soldier was shot and killed didn’t have to do with desertion, it had to do with the fact that he or she was driving a military vehicle, and the vehicle was deemed more important than the soldier.)

Perhaps the non-combat MOS had to fill in the blanks on the standard form letters being sent home to those who had lost a loved one. Maybe that soldier had to guard the dead, or load bodies into choppers or transports.

Of late, our “wars” have not been on an open battlefield where U.S. soldiers in military uniform fight enemy soldiers in military uniform. It’s been U.S. soldiers in uniform fighting men, women and children not in uniform—no way to tell who’s a “hostile” and who is an ally. There are no real “defined” lines of battle, but rather anywhere, at anytime, to anyone, an unknown or unrecognizable enemy may attack.

Many veterans, old and new, are afraid to approach the VA, afraid to admit they might have a problem with adjusting to civilian life. They are afraid because, on at least one occasion or more, the VA turned them away or treated that veteran as a bit less than human. Either immediately or years after, this treatment or lack of treatment has a serious impact on the individual and/or on their family. “What have they done to my son?” lamented the mother of a veteran.

The VA needs to be prepared to fulfill the promises the military makes to its soldiers, that they will be cared for and their health, physical and mental, will be treated. This pertains to ALL veterans, not just “combat MOS” vets.

If you are a vet experiencing these types of symptoms, or are a person in contact with a veteran who might be suffering from PTSD, please call the local Veterans Services Officer in your county. There are many programs available to help. Don Carr can be reached at 208-255-5291.

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Michael Harmelin

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veterans, PTSD

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