Help Veterans Battle Post-Traumatic Stress

Today has been designated as National Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Day by the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Highlighting the issues associated with this syndrome is long overdue, for it has been known by a number of names since the Civil War: shell shock, battle fatigue and thousand-yard stare, among other names.

The VA estimates 20 percent of our Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans may be suffering from it but may not even know it.

Until recently, treatment was often ineffective, and most warriors avoided acknowledging the possibility they could be experiencing the effects because they feared being stigmatized. They feared losing their jobs in the military. Often, they – and their families – suffered in silence.

I was recently corrected by a veteran experiencing post-traumatic stress when I used the expanded and more familiar term, post-traumatic stress disorder. He pointed out the very relevant point that using the term disorder labels anyone suffering from this syndrome as totally broken. This is not the case. They are bruised and injured, but they are not broken. They need proper treatment.

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Like any other wound, post-traumatic stress can be diagnosed in varying degrees of severity. These wounds may be deep and require a variety of treatment methods, sometimes lasting years. Some wounds may be less severe and require nothing more than the counsel of a close friend or a mentor who has “been there.” However, unlike a physical wound, the wounds of PTS may not be obvious. This is why it is so vital we raise awareness.

PTS is real. It can be treated. People diagnosed with PTS need not be shunned, kept from their jobs or feared. We owe our affected veterans the same level of support, dignity and care as someone who has been shot or has stepped on a land mine. They, too, have lost a part of themselves. With proper treatment and the support of the entire community, someone with PTS can adapt and overcome.

For the veteran, there are centers throughout the state where counselors can help.

The state Department of Veterans Services in cooperation with Presbyterian Health Services and others similar agencies offers opportunities for veterans and families to attend Healing Retreats.

Numerous community and church groups are forming support networks to connect those wounded by PTS to re-connect with themselves and their families.

With time, more and more is being learned about the triggers and the treatments for post-traumatic stress.

The key is to recognize it, to seek help and not to suffer alone.

Here are a few symptoms and warning signs: mood swings, nightmares, daytime flashbacks to a traumatic event, depression, panic attacks, lingering anger over no apparent reason and social withdrawal.

If you’re a veteran or a family member of a veteran who is showing symptoms of PTS, please seek help.

If you are an employer, a co-worker or a neighbor of someone who you think may be suffering from PTS, encourage them to contact the VA health care system. Bring them to a counseling center or into one of the many groups ready to help.

If you’re a veteran who feels you can no longer cope, call the VA suicide hotline at 1-(800) 273-8255. Help is available 24 hours a day.

Post-traumatic stress is a wound which can be treated. I encourage everyone to become part of a treatment team by holding out your hand to assist these warriors, who during the course of sacrificing to serve our country have brought remnants of the battlefield back home with them.

Give them a hand up and a partner to walk beside. Let’s help them become whole again.

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