Following the most recent Fort Hood shooting, many people seem to think that veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are walking around like zombies with a psyche ready to explode at any time. That’s just not true. Most veterans with PTSD (and non-veterans, for that matter) are non-violent.
When we generalize and attribute violent tendencies to veterans simply because they have a diagnosis of PTSD, we are perpetuating the stereotype of the “crazy Veteran.” That’s just not right!
The negative results of this kind of thinking are far-reaching. First, it may cause Veterans to hesitate before seeking out the treatment they need. PTSD can make life miserable for those who are living with it, and overcoming the stigma associated with seeking help is difficult enough. In addition, it may keep veterans who are looking for work from being hired, and that’s just tragic.
America’s Veterans have given so much to maintain our freedom and to make our country great! It’s important that we take the time to ensure that they are not the victims of media-hype and instead provide them with all the support they need and deserve.
The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq (OEF/OIF) have resulted in increased numbers of Veterans who have Traumatic Brain Injury or TBI. The main causes of TBI in OEF/OIF Veterans are blasts, motor vehicle accidents, and gunshot wounds. Symptoms are likely to last only for a limited time. With proper treatment and healthy behaviors, they are likely to improve.
Many veterans with a TBI also develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Assessment is necessary because:
• People with TBI should not use some medications.
• No matter how mild or severe the injury itself was, the effects could be serious.
Diagnosing a TBI is hard because there may not be visible signs of injury; and because many symptoms of a TBI mimic those of PTSD.
The length of time that a person is unconscious following the injury is one way of measuring how severe the TBI is. If the injury caused loss of consciousness for less than 30 minutes, the TBI was most likely minor or mild. If the loss of consciousness was for over 30 minutes but less than six hours, it is most likely a moderate injury.
• Feeling dizzy
• Being tired
• Trouble sleeping
• Vision problems
• Feeling bothered by noise and light
• Memory problems
• Trouble staying focused
• Poor judgment and acting without thinking
• Being slowed down
• Trouble putting thoughts into words
• Anger outbursts and quick to anger
• Personality changes
These symptoms are part of the healing process, and will improve as time passes.
When someone has PTSD, his or her symptoms often include anger, frustration, withdrawal, and “numbness.” Add in nightmares, sleepless nights, flashbacks, avoidance behaviors and a variety of other problems, and you can understand how it can have a very negative impact on personal relationships.
The reaction by the veteran’s partner may result in symptoms matching those the veteran is experiencing; I’ve had a spouse tell me she suffered PTSD the same as her husband…the difference was that she felt her husband’s PTSD caused her PTSD!
Other feelings that may play a part include detachment, anxiety, and disillusionment with a partner. Since social support is critical to the treatment for PTSD, it is important to keep relationships healthy.
Relationships can counteract feelings of being alone, and may improve the veteran’s level of self-esteem. This in turn may help reduce depression. A relationship can also give the survivor a way to help someone else. Helping others can reduce feelings of failure or feeling cut off from others. Relationships provide a source of support when coping with stress.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, people with PTSD can create and maintain good relationships by:
• Building a personal support network to help cope with PTSD
• Sharing feelings honestly and openly, with respect and compassion
• Building skills at problem solving and connecting with others
• Including ways to play, be creative, relax, and enjoy others
Relationships take work, hard work. But they can be very healing too.
One of the most damaging effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) I see in veterans is social withdrawal. It’s so hard to watch someone struggle with their memories and know that they don’t feel comfortable sharing that load with anyone else. And yet, so often sharing what happened with another person is what starts the healing process. It’s almost as if in speaking what happened out loud, we release the horror and emotions connected with those memories. Unfortunately, having PTSD means we often don’t trust others enough to make ourselves vulnerable, and that can keep those wounds festering.
Sharing the problem allows the veteran to validate his or her feelings and experiences. It provides an environment where those memories can be processed, understood, accepted and finally, released.
Fortunately, there are people out there who really care and are willing to provide an environment that is safe and non-judgmental. In many instances, the people willing to take on this role are other veterans.
This week I watched a veteran who has been attending the Support Group at Disability Network/Lakeshore go to a younger veteran, thank him for his service and then tell him he was available to listen…to anything. I was astounded at the amount of healing that happened right before me as the younger veteran stood up and began talking about some of the problems he’d been facing and how much he wanted to turn things around now and move forward. The most delightful thing is I saw healing in both veterans!
The courage demonstrated in that room was astounding! Funny, isn’t it, that in helping others we often end up helping ourselves too! I felt privileged to be there, and honored to be allowed to witness such an act of courage.