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PTSD: A Different Perspective, Part I

written by Carla Lois
on December 01, 2009

PTSD looks to be the diagnosis of the decade. Seems everyone has it, or wants to claim it. In the 80s the diagnosis was ADHD... In the 90s, was it narcissism? And now, PTSD: apparently you can get it soon after watching a movie, or years after some bad act. It's all the rage in the news, and a convenient excuse for bad behavior. Even if someone has never personally experienced the trauma, it seems like they only have to hear about someone else's trauma, and POOF — they have PTSD! Worse still are those who point to combat stress as proof that service members are the victims of some nefarious plot. If you believe the media and some politicians, every bad act by someone who happens to be a veteran is the result of some neglect or refusal to identify and treat this condition.

The unfortunate truth is that there are those who will not seek help and, with rare exception, no one can force them to seek or receive it. Some veterans will become criminals, some will become unemployed and some will become homeless. For very few, it will be because of their military experiences; for others it will be in spite of their experiences. But there are also policemen, firemen, teachers, bankers, lawyers and doctors who also become criminals, unemployed or homeless. One condition may have absolutely nothing to do with the other.

Most veterans and active duty personnel that my family and I know are completely sympathetic to the plight of these veterans, but resent the heavily promoted idea that military service (combat or otherwise) is the reason for every malady a person may endure. Of course there are exceptions — some people may be in desperate straits because of their military experiences — but it is not as widespread nor as pervasive as those who use veterans to promote a political or social agenda would have us believe. We base this on our highly personalized experiences.

My husband is a two-tour Vietnam veteran, and although he does not suffer from PTSD, we both have friends who not only fought in Vietnam and the Gulf War, but fought the invisible war afterwards. So even before my son Noah suffered from its symptoms, PTSD was no stranger to us... As Noah's symptoms emerged and worsened, we strongly encouraged him to seek help. We have been there every step of the way of our son's struggle with PTSD.

Through this road with our son, we have learned a few things:
1. 80-85 percent of all returning Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)/Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) military do not and will not have any symptoms of post-traumatic stress (PTS).
2. Of the 15-20 percent of OIF/OEF survivors that do exhibit symptoms of PTS, less than half will develop symptoms that are severe enough to require extensive treatment — most symptoms actually resolve with time or brief treatment and/or counseling.
3. No one with chronic symptoms gets better without first admitting they need help.
4. If they ask for help, they will receive it.

I have preached that we should not rush to judgment, and not paint everyone with symptoms of combat-PTS as being "broken": PTS is a normal response to war and it usually doesn't rise to the level of disorder. But if it messes with you, your relationships and your daily life, it is okay to seek treatment. You are not a victim of anything but your biology. PTS is biologically real and can be treated.

The most significant part of the often-[mis]quoted 2008 Rand Study is not that 1 of 5 of the 1,984 service members interviewed reported symptoms of PTSD or major depression, but that almost half of those who had symptoms had not sought treatment. From our personal experiences, I can tell you that OIF/OEF veterans who accept that they need help dealing with their PTSD and seek care at the Veterans Hospitals and Veterans Centers are getting that care.

We also know from our experience that it can be difficult to get the necessary care in the active service — but it can be done. The wait can be long for counseling appointments because there is a shortage of military and private clinicians. There can also be dissuasive tactics at sick call. But ultimately, insisting on help will get you help.

In our son Noah's case, it took a lot of guts and him repeatedly asking for help. He overcame the extreme resistance of his non-commissioned officers (NCOs), the unit/group resistance and his own personal reluctance to say, "I'm f!@#$ percent up and I need help." He knew that he could no longer "suck it up," as his NCO commanded. This was the same NCO who, even after Noah sought treatment, interfered with his efforts at every turn. As the guys in his company told me, "[the NCO] talks big and walks very small."

We know a number of OIF vets — some are still active duty. As the statistics bear out, almost all have returned from their combat experiences with no symptoms of post combat stress. We know a few who exhibit symptoms, but who believe that they do not need help, that whatever they are experiencing will get better with time. Again, statistics bear out that this will be true for a majority of that group: they will adjust and assimilate. They may never be the "old" person again, but that does not mean the "new" person will not be a functioning and contributing member of society. And the very few in the group whose symptoms worsen and interfere with a productive life — those are the ones who need to ask for help.

Bottom line: IF you have (or someone you love has) PTS or PTSD and it's not getting better, get help. Treatment can work. You can get better.

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