PTS or Post Traumatic Stress (the D for Disorder is often dropped by those in the military community) is known as the “signature wound” of OIF/OEF, sometimes in combination with TBI(Traumatic Brain Injury).
This wound can be, and is being treated in a variety of ways, not only the old “here, take a pill for anxiety, and here’s one for sleep disorders, and another one for headaches”, but also counseling for both the service member and the family. The National Center for PTSD which is part of the Veterans Administration has an extensive library of links for those who have been diagnosed, their family and friends.
According to the National Center for PTSD, symptoms include flashbacks, hyper-arousal including aggression or anger, avoidance, feeling numb or loss of memory. Those friends and family members I know who have been diagnosed with PTS can get angry quickly, and I know at least a couple who suffer severely on July 4 or any other holidays that feature fireworks. Some experience depression or sleep disturbances and have decided to take medication, others find that exercise, meditation, yoga can keep them feeling better.
Unfortunately, at the beginning of the conflicts, when a flood of returning troops overwhelmed the military health system, when there weren’t enough psychiatrists to take care of them, the inclination for a flooded system was the “temporary stopgap” of overmedication and getting the service member back to their unit or alternatively out of the military. The horror stories of overmedicated soldiers who are also self-medicating with alcohol and get into trouble or who commit suicide were all over the news. The misdiagnosis and a perception that the military was trying to bury the problem didn’t help either. However, the senior command structure woke up to the problem a few years ago and have been working hard to help service members deal with their diagnosis; calling attention to the need for treatment and support.
The new mantra is “resilience” as well as de-stigmatizing the diagnosis. Having senior leaders up to and including Sergeants Major and Colonels talk about their own battle with PTS and how they were able to work with others to help themselves and their families, has been a huge step. The military is using many other avenues to help servicemembers with PTS – including canine therapy ! There is an ongoing effort to show servicemembers that it isn’t good to deny, that a “suck it up” attitude can be dangerous, that realizing you have a problem and getting help is the best way to handle this. General Chiarelli, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, speaks on PTS, TBI and suicide prevention constantly.
Another perception that those of us in the military family are trying to overcome, is the perception by many civilians that a person with PTS is liable to “crack”. Or that every single person coming back from Iraq or Afghanistan is suffering from severe PTS and is going to need extensive treatment, is liable to snap, or is severely depressed and will retreat to their room and sit in a corner. There are men and women on active duty or working next to you in the civilian world who may have a diagnosis of PTS who have, with treatment and counseling, overcome or learned to deal with it and continue to function perfectly. The stigma attached to a diagnosis of PTS is a huge problem for this population; the need for education of both our servicemembers and civilians is the reason the Senate declared Monday June 27th the 2nd Annual PTSD Day.
Photo by MilitaryHealth