Thank you to Linda Cmur, L.P.C., of The Wellness Connection for this post!
A Soldier’s Heart
Today we celebrate Veteran’s Day, a special holiday where we honor and thank the thousands of brave men and women who have served or are currently serving in the U.S. armed forces.
But, what many of us do not realize is that these heroes among us are often still fighting a daily battle to remain good citizens, strong family members and productive employees while coping with the often times paralyzing distress associated with their experiences while overseas. What I am referring to is something called posttraumatic stress disorder – or, PTSD.
Simply put, PTSD is a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event – either by experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety.
According to the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Text Revision, 4th edition, (DSM-TR),PTSD is clinically defined as follows:
“A person has experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event, or events, that involved actual or threatened death, or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others, and the person’s response involved intense fear, helplessness or horror.”
As a result, the individual experiences the following:
“The person persistently re-experiences intrusive recollections, recurrent dreams, flashbacks, and distress when exposed to familiar cues. The person demonstrates a diminished interest and participation in once enjoyed activities, emotional detachment from others’, restricted affect (emotions) and a sense of foreboding.”
In effect, the individual will feel “Trapped”:
T – trauma
R – re-experiencing
A – avoidance
P – persistent arousal
P – Persistent symptoms
E – escape
D – disturbance
Unfortunately, this “trapped feeling” effects 20 – 50 percent of combat Veterans across the lifespan. Or, 1 in 6 non-wounded and 1 in 3 wounded can be formally diagnosed with PTSD. The statistics are higher for Reservists and 2 times higher for women Veterans. In 2007, the reported data indicated a rise of +46 percent for Gulf War Era Veterans.
PTSD has always been a part of the human condition. Early writings from 2027 B.C. and 2003 B.C. have uncovered that following regarding embattled persons:
“. . .it’s terror filled me full . . .” and “ . . .in my nightly sleeping place verify there is no place for me . . .”
In the aftermath of the Civil War, the term Soldier’s Heart was applied to those returning to their homes and farms battle weary and downtrodden. Following WWI, the term shell shock was used. After WWII, we used the term battle fatigue. It wasn’t until the aftermath of the Vietnam War, and the hard fight fought by this generation of Veterans against the Veteran’s Administration (VA), did the mental health community and the VA stand up and acknowledge that Veterans were suffering a unique form of PTSD; but PTSD nonetheless. Today, we use the label service-connected PTSD.
Despite the VA acknowledgement of Veteran PTSD and the extensive research on service-connected PTSD conducted throughout the Gulf-War Era, Veterans across the country are still fighting a war – they are unfortunately still fighting to acquire effective treatment for their service connected injuries.
For the veteran, service-connected PTSD unfortunately does not diminish over time. As a society, we see increases in divorce rates, unemployment and underemployment, misdemeanor crime rates, and homelessness among our veterans. The heroes among us continue to suffer chronic panic attacks, chronic depression, substance abuse and chronic anxiety.
With time and proper self-care techniques, support groups, and counseling, coping with PTSD symptoms is possible. Varying relaxation methods like mediation, yoga, swimming, stretching, breathing techniques, and prayer can be helpful. The U.S. Department for Veterans Affairs website is a useful resource. If you are a veteran or know of someone who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, it is important to seek help right away. Make an appointment with your doctor or mental healthcare provider. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) and staffed with trained counselors. Use that same number and press 1 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line. If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 immediately. If you know someone who’s in danger of committing suicide or has made a suicide attempt, make sure someone stays with that person and call 911 immediately.
While the heroes among usare deeply committed, fiercely determined, unfailingly loyal, proud, confident, honorable and intelligent individuals, it is important to remember that service-connected PTSD is a normal human reaction to those traumatic events experienced every minute of every day while in service. We are, after all, first and foremost human beings.
To the Heroes among us – May God keep you and bless you, always. Thank you for all you do.
–Posted by Linda Cmur, L.P.C., The Wellness Connection
Linda is a Licensed Professional Counselor (L.P.C.) and is Nationally Board Certified (NBCC credentialed) in her new home of Virginia, and in New Jersey. She received her professional Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology and a certificate in Substance Awareness Counseling (SAC) from Georgian Court University in New Jersey. Previously, Linda was in private practice for over 10 years in New Jersey where she worked primarily with our Veterans and their family members. Through her work with Veterans, across generations and Veterans advocacy entities, she developed an expertise in treating service-connected PTSD and sexual trauma. Linda works for the Wellness Connection in Stone Ridge, Virginia.
References: Counseling Today, July 2008; Down Range, To Iraq and Back, Cantrell & Dean; Heroes Among Us, Major Chuck Larson; Monitor on Psychology, July/August 2008; National Center for PTSD, www.ncptsd.va.gov; Psychotherapy Networker, September/October 2008.
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