The writer, of Bellevue, is board president of At Ease USA. He is a career Air Force veteran, the father of an Afghanistan War veteran and the son of a World War II veteran.
In a book she co-authored with Dr. Harry Croft, “I Always Sit with My Back to the Wall,” the Rev. Dr. Chrys Parker, a chaplain and trauma therapist, recounts a veteran’s story of his PTSD. He returned home after serving in a combat zone, where he’d been exposed to hostile fire on almost a daily basis. He’d also survived an IED explosion.
Shortly after returning home, the veteran was at his son’s soccer game. Suddenly, a helicopter flew over the soccer field. He instinctively fell to the ground as if under attack. In this case he was reliving a previous event. The event so embarrassed him, and his son, that he did not attend another public event for the next three years. He wanted to avoid a situation that might again trigger memories of a traumatic event.
Imagine the impact PTSD had on this veteran’s personal life and that of his family. Multiply the impact knowing that as many as 20% of veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom experience short- or long-term PTSD. Similarly, about 12% of Gulf War veterans and 30% of Vietnam War veterans may have had PTSD. The Veterans Administration reports that about 23% of women veterans have reported being sexually assaulted, and a significant portion of them experience PTSD related to this traumatic event.
War correspondent and author Sebastian Junger notes in his book “Tribe” the sense of belonging and companionship found by servicemen and women in a combat zone. There is a focused sense of depending on your fellow warriors and them depending on you. However, some veterans returning from combat zones experience difficulties reassimilating into a nontribal culture. This may be further aggravated for those with PTSD.
Depression, anxiety, drug addiction, alcoholism, isolation and emotional detachment from family and friends are all consequences of PTSD. As a community we should understand symptoms that may manifest themselves with PTSD:
- Reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms). They may have bad memories or nightmares and feel as if they are going through the event again –- a flashback.
- Avoiding situations that remind them of the event. They might try to avoid situations or people that trigger memories of the traumatic event, or even avoid talking or thinking about the event.
- Having more negative beliefs and feelings. The way they think about themselves and others may change because of the trauma. This may include guilt or shame, or lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities. They may feel that the world is dangerous and that no one can be trusted.
- Hyper-arousal. They may be jittery or always alert and on the lookout for danger. This may include having trouble concentrating or sleeping. They might suddenly get angry or irritable, startle easily or act in unhealthy ways (abuse of drugs and alcohol or driving recklessly).
The Omaha-based nonprofit At Ease USA continues our commitment to the need for access to confidential trauma treatment and therapeutic support for active duty military members, veterans and their families, regardless of their ability to pay. We do this through financial support of many people and organizations in the Omaha area and throughout Nebraska. And we continue to build on our partnerships with Creighton University, the University of Nebraska Medical Center, the Women’s Center for Advancement’s Healing Warriors program, Lutheran Family Services and individual licensed mental health counselors.
President Abraham Lincoln affirmed in his second inaugural address that the government has a responsibility “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and his widow and his orphan.” That responsibility extends beyond the government to all of us today -– the 99% of us who reap the benefits of liberty because of the 1% of those who serve in uniform.