Honoring Vets and Learning About PTSD
Today, all over the country, people are celebrating and honoring those who have served in the military of the United States of America. Veterans attend assemblies, receive commemorative pins, and are part of presentations where they shake hands and, in some cases, speak with community members about what it means to sacrifice for this country. It is a well-deserved honor. These men and women were and are willing to sacrifice their lives to preserve a most precious commodity: freedom. Americans are duty-bound to honor those whose duty it is and was to protect us.
Many more veterans, however, do not attend the assemblies, because being in crowds creates too much anxiety. Others could not even get out of bed this morning because this day, November 11th, forces them to remember things they do not wish to remember. It forces them to recognize that, as they are being called heroes, all they can think about their brothers and sisters in arms who did not get to come home. Spouses and children all around the country know that November 11th is a day to leave Daddy alone, let Mommy have quiet time, and make sure to not make noise or cause problems. For many veterans, today is a trigger day.
Thousands of veterans have returned home from war over the last decades only to bring another kind of war home with them. They battle with physical and mental injuries from the war, and struggle to readjust to civilian life. Many veterans are able to use coping mechanisms to work through the trauma they have experienced and maintain a fairly “normal” lifestyle after returning from war. Other veterans have a daily battle fighting the repercussions of their experiences day and day out. Anniversary dates, such as the day they experienced a trauma, as well as other trigger days like Veterans Day and Independence Day, can cause flare-ups in symptoms of post traumatic stress.
Understanding post traumatic stress and its symptoms, as well as how to best approach and assist a veteran experiencing a trigger, can benefit the veterans as much as, and sometimes even more so, than a heartfelt thank you or handshake. Many family members and caregivers are working to spread awareness and inform neighbors and friends of their veterans’ triggers. Signs are placed on lawns during the week of Independence Day to ask for consideration. Loud noises, especially those like fireworks, can trigger flashbacks. Neighbors can contact a veteran ahead of time if they plan to drop off treats or cards thanking them for their service, as surprises can also trigger PTSD episodes.
Many veterans with PTSD have learned coping mechanisms and how to reach out for help, but still meet barriers when they employ those methods. Last Independence Day, a veteran from Southern Utah found himself experiencing a severe trigger as he drove down the street. He had prepared for scenarios like this, and knew he needed help. He stopped his vehicle and calmly asked the nearest passersby if they would call someone to help him. He received no assistance. He again requested assistance from some other people nearby. Again, they turned away from him. The veteran ended up walking over a mile back to his home in an extremely agitated state, confused and frustrated at why he could not receive help when he needed it most.
Unfortunately, this is a common scenario for too many of our veterans, because people are unaware of what is happening and do not understand that a man reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness or something to fear.
Civilians can also help by being aware of what happens for a veteran’s family members after he or she returns from war. There is always an adjustment period, and, for many families, things continue on in a fairly healthy fashion after the adjustment period. But for those whose loved one returns with post traumatic stress, dreams of happily ever after can quickly turn into nightmares.
Community members can help by being aware of and checking in with family members and loved ones of the veteran, and even the veteran him or herself. Oftentimes, it takes weeks or even months for symptoms of PTSD to flare up, so remaining in touch even after the fanfare of homecoming ends is important. Watch for signs of veterans’ family members distancing themselves or becoming withdrawn. Family member often feel a duty to protect their veteran from the stigma associated with mental illness, and will frequently not speak up about what is going on their homes. Veterans will sometimes deny the symptoms or deny the help available through treatment because of fear of the negative connotations and limitations they feel will be put in place if they actively seek help and treatment.
If a veteran does seek after help, community members need not be afraid to assist the veteran in whatever ways they can. Sometimes their need might simply include being a friend to talk with. In other situations, the veteran or family members might need more serious assistance like a safe place to run or help from law enforcement. Many community members shy away from getting involved because they don’t want to seem too nosy or feel they will create additional drama, but for things to get to the point where the veteran or family members are asking for help, it is definitely much-needed.
Those interested in learning more about PTSD and how to assist veterans and their family members can go to http://www.ptsd.va.gov/. Other programs that effectively assist veterans and family members include the Wounded Warrior Project and the Vet Center.
Photo from TBO.com