Voices of Veterans: Finding Help During PTSD Awareness Month

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Monday was National PTSD Awareness Day, capping PTSD Awareness Month in June.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) defines post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a mental illness in which an individual fails to recover from a traumatic event. This can lead to a series of symptoms such as nightmares, hallucinations, panic attacks and even depression.

The VA estimates that there are currently about 8 million people in the United States with PTSD, and most of those people are veterans. The VA also believes that there is a large percentage of those affected who do not receive the help they need.

PTSD has really been around since our lineage attained self-awareness and was first mentioned in ancient Greek writings over 2,500 years ago. It has been observed that many Civil War veterans exhibited episodes of blind rage and experienced suicidal tendencies to a much greater extent than the general population. The First World War, arguably the first “modern” war in Western civilization, generated many cases of what have been called “shell shock” or “war neuroses”, and certainly bore the stigma of cowardice and mental weakness in society.

Even in World War II, there was the famous incident of General George Patton slapping a soldier, who was diagnosed with “combat fatigue” in Sicily in 1943. PTSD wasn’t even listed as a formal diagnosis. until 1980, nearly ten years after the end of the Vietnam War, which was the first conflict where this condition finally came to the fore in society.

Like much in life, PTSD can be complicated. A veteran may suffer physical injuries at the same time or suffer poor health from exposure to Agent Orange or other toxic exposure. Additionally, addiction to alcohol or drugs, or other addictive behaviors related to sexual and eating disorders, or “workaholism, can be the result of PTSD.

A retired VA psychologist, who asked not to be named for this story, said that sometimes treating addiction has to become paramount to treating PTSD.

“But often both can be treated at the same time,” he said. “For those who are hesitant to seek help, or worried family members, the VA is the best place to get help, but while some veterans may not care to deal with the VA, n any mental health professional can help you get started with the critical first steps of assessment and diagnosis. Even talking to a pastor or priest, most of whom are trained in counseling, can help.

For more information about PTSD and how to get treatment, see the VA PTSD website at https://bit.ly/3xPAJyo.

More benefits to come for toxic exposure

There is pending legislation to extend benefits for veterans exposed to radiation during the Cold War. This adds to the list of illnesses linked to the use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War and extends the benefits to Vietnam War veterans who may have been exposed to Agent Orange while serving. in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Guam. The bill has strong bipartisan support, so its eventual passage looks positive.

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