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First of all, I want to thank everyone who posted comments on my last entry. I appreciate more deeply than I can express the kind words and thoughts, as well as the honesty and openness about how wide a swath PTSD cuts.

What I talked in public about issues relating to returning vets, those who suffer from PTSD as well as those who are either undiagnosed or whose symptoms don't place them into PTSD category, I invariably get the question, "what can we do." The most important thing, I think, is to simply listen. (And I think this is true of anyone suffering from PTSD, regardless of the cause.) After that, let's make sure that they get the help they need, particularly those in crisis.

I think veterans learn early on that very few people really want to hear about what she or he has experienced. If they are honest, their stories rock the very foundation on which many non-veterans build their images of the military and their government. It's difficult, I imagine, to sit and listen to someone who is angry, depressed, and who has lost something of him/herself describe the conditions that led them to that state. It's much easier to fall back on the images of the brave, heroic, honor-bound warrior that seems to permeate our culture. Speaking only for myself, I honestly don't expect anyone to "understand" my experiences. Hell, I don't understand those experiences; I'll be trying to make sense of them, no doubt, for the rest of my life. Outside of my wife, therapist, and other veterans, however, I have found very, very few people who are willing to sit and listen to me talk about Iraq. To listen honestly and without judgment is difficult; but to listen honestly and without judgment shows true compassion. So just...listen.

Of course, not everyone is going to come into contact with a veteran (of any war) who wants to talk about his or her experiences. There is another way, however, that I think we all can support our vets. My wife and I testified before a hearing of our state legislature last year about issues related to returning combat veterans. Before we spoke, a representative from a nearby county presented what his communities were doing. Every first responder in the county -- police, fire, emergency medical personnel, social workers, etc. -- receives several hours of training in how to spot the signs of PTSD in a veteran, practically a combat veteran, who is in crisis. What an idea! What if every are first responder in the country had an understanding of the behaviors associated with PTSD? Think of how many suicides could be prevented (especially those suicides termed "death by cop")? Think of how many instances of alcohol and drug abuse could be referred to mental health professionals rather than prisons? Think of how many families suffering from domestic violence could have it put to an end by healing all members of the family? While certainly not a panacea, I can't help but believe that we could reduce the amount of suffering by simply becoming more aware of what PTSD looks like.

Let's do something concrete: let's bring combat-induced PTSD into the open, watch for those in need of help, and then see that they get it.

"Every instance of severe traumatic psychological injury is a standing challenge the rightness of the social order"
-- Judith Lewis Herman
1990 Harvard Trauma Conference
(quoted in Achilles in Vietnam, by Jonathan Shay, M.D.)

Originally posted to teachervet on Mon Jan 05, 2009 at 06:26 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Certainly wider training for first responders (6+ / 0-)

    is a fine idea.

    Every first responder in the county -- police, fire, emergency medical personnel, social workers, etc. -- receives several hours of training in how to spot the signs of PTSD in a veteran, practically a combat veteran, who is in crisis. What an idea! What if every are first responder in the country had an understanding of the behaviors associated with PTSD? Think of how many suicides could be prevented (especially those suicides termed "death by cop")? Think of how many instances of alcohol and drug abuse could be referred to mental health professionals rather than prisons? Think of how many families suffering from domestic violence could have it put to an end by healing all members of the family?

    But I am uncertain as to how recognizing the condition, necessarily translates into ameliorating it. For instance, how IS "suicide by cop" to be avoided, given that police forces are unlikely to change a zero-tolerance policy for lethal threat to officers?

    "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

    by lgmcp on Mon Jan 05, 2009 at 06:33:14 PM PST

  •  Listening is hard (8+ / 0-)

    Getting vets to talk is harder.  

    I wonder about your experience, but in my professional experience I've found that almost the only intervention that helps combat vets with PTSD is a group of similar vets in a therapeutic environment.  Listening is good, and acceptance is better, but only giving vets a chance to talk in a group of fellows seems to be truly healing.

    Our long national nightmare is almost over. Congratulations and blessings to all.

    by Dallasdoc on Mon Jan 05, 2009 at 06:34:45 PM PST

  •  Vets need vets...... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tigerdog, llbear, Ninepatch

    The best therapeutic environment for vets suffering from PTSD is to be talking with a mental health profesional in the company of other vets.

    If the mental health professional was a combat vet that would be even better.

    The faster we identify and begin to treat vets the better outcomes this society will have.

    "I would like to see less people go to church on Sunday and more people volunteering among the poor and hopeless"

    by comeinpbrstreetgang on Mon Jan 05, 2009 at 06:46:35 PM PST

  •  Yesterday I had Jonathan Norrell up to my house. (5+ / 0-)

    If you remember, Kim Dozier interviewed him on CBS:

    Today, he bought his College textbooks, and starts on January 15th. We spent a lot of time talking. He is getting help from VA through Hines, but he is really dissatisfied with non-combatant psychiatrists and psycologists.

    He wishes they would hook him up with Iraq-era veterans who better understand what he has been through. One of the best things that has happened - and one he will always appreciate is going to Netroots for the Troops.
     title=

    [Here is a whole album of Netroot for the Troops pictures]. Everyone who helped pack all of those packages made him feel like his service was truly appreciated.

    The good that Netroots for the Troops will live long beyond the time all those wonderful people who participated have forgotten what they did.

    noweasels for Secretary of Humanity, Decency, and Civility: President Obama deserves our best.

    by llbear on Mon Jan 05, 2009 at 06:48:59 PM PST

  •  Vets with vets (6+ / 0-)

    As a PTSD survivor I can say defnitively it makes a big difference to whom one speaks, and under what circumstances.

    Vets need to have vets to talk to - period.  I needed others who had experienced my traumas to talk to - period.

    The worst thing you can say to someone with PTSD is "I understand" unless you have actually experiecned the same traumas that they have experienced.  Empathy, caring, and support are all wonderful, important elements in any journey to wholeness, but the company of those who have walked your road makes all the difference in the world.

    We need to make more funds available to train vets in managing therapy groups, doing intake, doing first response - doing whatever is needed to help these men and women who answered the call to service and now find themselves unable to return intact to their lives.

    Peace.

    Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain.

    by Ninepatch on Mon Jan 05, 2009 at 06:56:53 PM PST

  •  As a (non combat) PTSD survivor (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tigerdog, iampunha

    I know how hard it is to get help, even when you know you need it. People with PTSD feel besieged and vulnerable 24/7. Trust is a huge challenge. If a PTSD sufferer feels like they're being treated like mere cog, that they're just being "processed" so the are not so much a "burden" on others, they will react very negatively. People with PTSD have had their humanity ripped to shreds at least once, perhaps several times. They will not volunteer to have that done to them again, if that's how they perceive your attempts to help them.

    I felt my skin crawling reading about training people to spot signs of PTSD. I know I would have run fast from that. I can only imagine what it would be like for a vet. There's a lot of potential for triggering defensive anger when confronting PTSD sufferers about their PTSD when they haven't had the chance to come to terms with it themselves. So such professionals should be likewise trained in tact and respecting the PTSD sufferer as a human being, as opposed to treating her/him as a casualty who requires treatment.

    What I think needs to be done is foster a culture of acceptance that opens doors for vets with PTSD but does not corral them or force them to accept help they may not be ready for. PTSD often leaves people feeling deeply ashamed of their "weakenesses" and feeling "damaged," and those feelings take a lot of time to process and confront. I do think vets talking with other vets would be an excellent first step, but the door has to be open for them to leave and come back later if they need to. As someone once told me about acceptance, grief, healing and understanding: "It takes as long as it takes."

    -8.50, -7.64 "In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was within me an invincible summer." - Camus

    by croyal on Mon Jan 05, 2009 at 08:42:48 PM PST

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