Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is a serious diagnosis that affects many American soldiers. PTSD by definition is ‘a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event’ (Mayo Clinic, 2015). War is a terrifying event and the things that our men and women see while fighting for our country can be devastating. Here in Vermont at the Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital and the National Center for PTSD, we see and help many veterans who are returning home to live ‘normal’ lives.
I have the honor of working with people who have served our country, and I see signs of PTSD all the time. One of the first things that I was told when I started working for the VA is that these men and women are trained to fight. It is an automatic reaction, so I was to be careful. I don’t mean that they are going to fight just anyone for no apparent reason, but because they are so vigilant and are trained to react, doing things like waking them up could get you hit. The way I was taught to wake up a veteran is at their feet, keeping your distance. None of these men and women want to hurt you, but it is like second nature for them to attack if startled.
This brief video is very informative about how veterans feel when they come home and are suffering from PTSD:
(Veterans Health Administration, 2014, June 5)
The National Center for PTSD is located in White River Junction and helps veterans coming back from war to cope with the changes they face. According to VA Healthcare (2012), there are 9 things that everyone should know about PTSD:
- PTSD is a medical condition.
- Recognize the symptoms PTSD – nightmares, outbursts of anger, feelings of mistrust, depression, anxiety and problems sleeping
- PTSD can cause physical symptoms- Headache, chest pain, or feeling dizzy.
- PTSD often starts within 3 months of the event
- Previous trauma can increase a person’s risk
- PTSD can be treated – Talking with your doctor, Medications, or support groups
- Recovery takes time
- Positive actions can help the healing process – learn relaxation techniques
- Friends and family members can help
- If you need more information contact – http://www.ptsd.va.gov
Serving in the military has many stressors: You are being shot at, you are shooting others, your comrades are dying in front of you, and then you come home to a whole new world. The chart below shows the men and women who fought in Iraq have more stressors compared to those who were in Afghanistan:
|Combat Stressors||Seeing dead bodies||Being shot at||Being attacked/ ambushed||Receiving rocket or mortar fire||Know someone killed/ seriously injured|
Based on research from the national center for PTSD, 10%-18% of veterans who return home from Iraq will experience PTSD. These numbers are up from previous wars, so why is it that these men and women are suffering from PTSD more than those before them? The answer is:
- Longer deployment times – Previous wars did not deploy there men and women for as long
- Severe Physical Injury – Weapons inflict more pain as technology progresses
- Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI)
- Lower Rank
- Lower Level of Schooling
- Not being married – This may seem silly but if you think back to WWII men were married when they went off to war and they came home to their wives. Some of these men don’t have that.
- Family Problems – Maybe their families did not want them to go and now not willing to help them re-establish themselves.
- Prior Trauma
- Female Gender – Many more women are now fighting for our country
(U.S. Government of Veterans Affairs, 2015)
These are serious issues that our men and women have to deal with. There are different treatment options for PTSD, as described by this video:
(Veterans Health Administration, 2014, December 9)
It really is an honor taking care of and working alongside these veterans every day. I actually work with a gentleman who served in Iraq, and he was willing to sit down and talk to me about his time in Iraq and his transition home.
To give you a little background, John Foote is a member of Bravo Battery 2nd 197th Field Artillery out of Plymouth and Woodsville, NH, and he works with me on 1-South at the VA Hospital. We’ve been working together for two years now, and although I knew he was a veteran I never guessed that he lives with PTSD. I was shocked by some of the things that he told me. I have to give credit to these men and women because I honestly don’t think I would be able to do what they have done.
Tabitha: What part of the military were/are you in?
John: I started in the Army but after my first tour finished I enlisted in the National Guard where I am today.
Tabitha: Thinking back how would you describe your experience?
John: That is a hard thing to explain but basically there is a switch that gets flipped when you spend a year with people trying to kill you. It leads to hyper vigilance, you find yourself always scanning the area, and you feel like every nerve is on end. I think one of the biggest things is that you hear everything, you are alert to every little noise. The hardest part is that when you get home nobody tells you how to shut that off.
Tabitha: How was your return home?
John: Scary, I remember the car ride home. I was on edge, when you are in Iraq speed and unpredictability are what keeps you alive. The car ride home was slow, and I was stuck in traffic, this made me very uncomfortable. I knew that I was no longer in Iraq but my brain was having a hard time. You spend a year being on edge and when you come home things don’t get instantly better.
Tabitha: What were your coping methods?
John: I turned to alcohol. I found myself having just a couple at first, then more and more and more, then beer wasn’t enough so I started drinking liquor until that was no longer enough. I remember a couple times I was looking down the barrel of my shot gun thinking it would just be easier to end it, but for some reason I did not pull the trigger. Today I am glad that something stopped me.
Tabitha: What are some other challenges you face now that you are back?
John: It’s little things like going to the store. Most people when they pull into a parking lot they look for the closest parking spot, take it and go get what they need. Not me. I scan the parking lot, find the spot that looks to be the “safest” park, and when I go in I have to be quick. I hate crowds, I can’t spend time in places where there are a lot of people. Also road construction, that was a real trigger for me when I came home.
Tabitha: I guess you wouldn’t like Black Friday shopping then?
John: (Laughs) No, no I wouldn’t but honestly I didn’t before going overseas.
Tabitha: What made you decide that you needed help?
John: I was in bad shape, I did not want to be around anyone. I hated my life, I just wanted to shut off everything that happened over seas until some of my brothers, the men I fought with, saw how bad I was and they urged me to get help. Getting help was really hard for me, I am not the type of person to ask for help. I finally decided to go to the Vet Center, and they helped me work through stuff. I still have bad times but for the most part I am okay. They have me on some meds which help me to function day to day. I am grateful for my brothers pushing me to get help.
Tabitha: What are you doing now?
John: I am actually working at the VA and going back to school for social work. I want to be able to help fellow veterans cope with day-to-day life after coming back from war.
(Foote, J., personal interview, August 11, 2015)
John is an example of what our veterans go through and how they have to cope with life after returning home. Unfortunately, in Vermont and New Hampshire we see this too often. Our friends and family fight for our country and come home a changed person. I am glad to say that we have the resources right here in Vermont to help them through this tough time.
Mayo Clinic (2015). Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/basics/definition/con-20022540
VA Healthcare (2012). 10 Things everyone should know about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Journeyworks Publishing.
Veterans Health Administration. (2014, June 5). What is PTSD? [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/YMC2jt_QVEE
Veterans Health Administration. (2014, December 9). PTSD treatment: Know your options [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/FeLLt39DI8A
U.S Department of Veterans Affairs. (2015). PTSD: National Center for PTSD. Retrieved from http://www.ptsd.va.gov/
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APA cite in text as: (Clews, 2015)
APA cite in full References as: Clews, T. (2015). PTSD and our veterans. Vermont Psychology. Retrieved from http://wp.me/p4elXk-ob
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Tabitha Clews: I was born and raised in Vermont. I am married with two wonderful little boys. In 2008 I was graduated from Vermont Technical College with a Bachelors degree in Business Management and Technology. After graduating I worked in an office doing accounting for a couple of years. When my first son was born I decided that I was meant to be a nurse, so I changed my career path and now I am currently enrolled at Norwich University in the nursing program. I work at the VA Hospital in White River Junction taking care of our veterans.