The reality of war is something that many folks in this country face, whether they're serving or know someone else who’s overseas. As many troops come home, some return with visible injuries. But many have injuries that we don’t see. Those can sometimes have devastating effects on a veteran. We're talking about post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Newscenter 16's Sarah Platt sat down with some local veterans diagnosed with PTSD. She has more on their fight within.
On any given day, there are thousands of U.S. troops stationed in some 60 countries around the world, all assisting in missions with the Global War on Terror. Many who serve, especially in combat operations, often experience struggles when they arrive home.
It's been two years since Marine Sergeant John Samuels returned home from his tour of duty in Iraq. “I fought in the three day wars over there, fought in a little bit of action in Fallujah, fought almost every day,” says Samuels.
But after the initial high of getting home, things quickly took a turn for this Marine. “Anger was out of control, could never calm myself down, I couldn't stop, thinking I was still in a fight,” says Samuels.
“It's nice to come home and see your family, but the guy that left is not the same guy that is coming back…. Big one for me, seeing little kids play in the street and they run, leads to flashback, because in Iraq, when they run out in the street, the (bleep) about to hit the fan,” says Samuels.
Just a few weeks after getting home, Samuels sought help at the VA in South Bend. He talked to a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, a result of his combat experience in Iraq. The Marine now attends support groups with other vets. “It's important because you realize you're not the only one. A lot of us come back, hide it, bury it deep down inside, don't think about it. Don't do anything about it.”
“Some of our veterans, especially with PTSD, there are actually changes in the physical structure of the brain,” says Dr. Don Wilson, a psychologist at the VA in Fort Wayne. Dr. Wilson treats many soldiers affected by their war time experiences. “After a conflict is over, we no longer pay attention to the veteran. When the conflict is occurring, we pay attention. When it's over, we don't,” says Wilson.
Dr. Wilson says PTSD got it's name around the Vietnam era, but he says the syndrome is far from new. During the World Wars, it was called "shell shock" or "battle fatigue." Psychologists say the sooner veterans get help for this, the better off they'll be in the long run.
Wilson says PTSD can also ignite problems in relationships, whether it's with family, friends or on the job. Some symptoms of PTSD include: flashbacks, anxiety, anger, depression (including suicidal thinking), change in sleep (nightmares, cold sweats), and increased alcohol and drug use.
Retired Army Sergeant Herb Begeman is also dealing with PTSD. He was diagnosed two years ago. “It's hard to say that I have a problem. That's something I have to deal with too,” says Begeman. The soldier has served three tours of duty; once in the Gulf War on active duty and twice in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a reservist. “Your senses are all heightened. As soon as you walk out the gate, you gotta be on guard. It's very draining on the body and the mind,” says Begeman.
Like Samuels, Begeman is also attending a support group with other veterans. “Talking with other people that have the same symptoms. I can relate more knowing there are other people with the same problems and issues that I have,” says Begeman.
“A lot of veterans need help, maybe they're too scared to get it or they don't know how to get it,” adds Begeman.
To help make the transition home easier on returning troops, Dr. Wilson tells us the VA is working on some new video exposure treatments, like Virtual Iraq and Seeking Safety. Those provide veterans with video reenactments of what some of their experiences may have been like during war. Mental health experts say it allows veterans to relive moments in a safe environment, so they can process their feelings and hopefully make an easier transition back into the civilian world.
If you're a veteran experiencing symptoms of PTSD or know someone who is, there is help in your area. To contact your regional VA in Michiana, call 1-800-827-1000. The number for St. Joseph County's Veterans Service Office is 574-235-9978.
Coming up Friday night on Newscenter 16 at 11, Sarah talks to a Vietnam veteran with PTSD.
We'll also hear from a couple of spouses of veterans with PTSD. Plus, more on what's being done to help local veterans who are living with the syndrome.