The Fight Within: Part Two

By: Sarah Platt
By: Sarah Platt

While many veterans are remarkably resilient in assimilating back into the civilian world, it is not so simple for everyone.

While the V.A. has faced criticism in how it handles returning vets, others within the system say there are resources for veterans in need. It's just a matter of seeking out the help.

The veterans we talked with tell me they are sharing their stories about PTSD, with the hopes of helping others who might be going through a similar struggle.

Edwin Benjamin is a Vietnam veteran. He saw combat action as a navy swift boat engineer.

Benjamin was diagnosed with PTSD in the late 80's. He says he wishes he had a better outlet for help when he originally returned. He says he dealt with his issues about 20 years too late.

The Vietnam veteran now goes to weekly meetings with other vets.

“I can talk to guys, I can talk about Nam, about things that happen and it helps, it's not the only thing in the world, but it helps,”says Benjamin.

Wife Sandra knows his struggles well. “It's a little hard because sometimes he doesn't want to talk. And there's other times where he likes to talk and I’ll sit and listen to him.”

PTSD also plagues retired army sergeant Herb Begeman. His symptoms appeared after his third tour of duty. He says he was angry, irritable, and had trouble sleeping.

"Don't be proud,” says Begeman. “If you see some of the symptoms, talk about it and hopefully get some help for it."

His wife Jill says she immediately noticed changes in her husband when he returned from his final tour.

“At first it was kinda hard to express to him that he had changed, to the point that I didn't want to hurt his feelings.

Support groups, medication, and family support are helping Begeman through his struggles with PTSD.

Kevin Kelsheimer is the Veterans Service Officer for St. Joseph County, and a Vietnam veteran.

He says he is filing more claims than ever for PTSD. Many, for older veterans.

“You're talking Vietnam era, that's over 30 years ago that these guys had to live with this.”

V.A. psychologist Dr. Wilson sees the same thing.. Recently, he treated a veteran from World War II. While many of the symptoms of PTSD are similar for vets of all ages, Dr. Wilson says younger vets are experiencing new challenges.

Upon return, he says many veterans have problems driving.

“Many of the IEDs are along roadways and for many of our veterans, being on a highway of any type is a trigger for them to go back to that time when we were under attack.”

Dr. Wilson says red tape, embarrassment, and fear an employer will find out are some of the reasons vets don't come forward.

But those who have been through the struggles say it's worth seeking help. Even if it is just talking to other veterans.

Being brave is going and asking for help. And I think that's important that you know there is support, groups to talk to,” says Dr. Wilson. “I think if we can say, this is something that does happen, it's a consequence of war, it's certainly nothing to be ashamed of, I think that's the best we can do in that regard.”

Experts we talked to tell us another cause for PTSD among veterans is military sexual trauma.

Dr. Wilson tells me reports for sexual assaults are up among men and women in the military.

V.A. statistics show that about 25% of women in the military have faced some sort of sexual abuse.

Finally, Dr. Wilson says the best advice he can give to returning vets is to register with the V.A. when they come back. He says this will minimize the red tape if and when they need to seek help with the V.A.

Doctor Wilson also says some older veterans are suffering now because they are watching coverage of the current war on TV.

And as for younger returning veterans, experts say helping them get back into their "normal" pre-war routine is also key to making a smooth transition into the civilian world.

If you are a veteran with symptoms of PTSD or know someone who is, there is help in the area.

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.

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