Breaking Down Stigmas on PTSD Awareness Day

Infantrymen don’t get post-traumatic stress. We’re tough and we train for combat, and mental stress affects only the weak and unprepared. The only things that can hurt us are bullets and bombs.

Before I left for Iraq, I believed every bit of that. I ignored the warning signs I saw in the guys in my platoon who had already been deployed, alcohol abuse and depression chief among them. We trained together for nearly two years, and in that training a sense of invincibility developed. But the first time I lined up a body in my rifle sights and pulled the trigger with the intent to kill, I knew something changed—and when I couldn’t breathe in a loud, crowded club shortly after coming home, I knew the change was permanent.

In reality, PTSD can affect anyone exposed to a traumatic event, be it a firefight, a vehicle accident or sexual assault. It knows no rank, age or experience, and doesn’t even have to occur on a battlefield, but many still think the way I used to think. That’s why both awareness and treatment are vital. They go hand in hand to remove the stigma of PTSD so Veterans can get on with their lives after service.

Today is PTSD Awareness Day. Use the time to read up on post-traumatic stress symptoms and fill out a short questionnaire to see if you could be at risk. Resources even exist for family members too, and VA’s free PTSD Coach app for iPhone and Android can help regulate symptoms daily.

It can take only a few seconds for a traumatic event to unfold, and a lifetime of symptoms to come out of it. We can safely say that anyone can develop PTSD—even tough infantrymen. That should end the discussion of who is susceptible and who isn’t. What should be discussed is sustainable treatment to help effectively manage the stress. Everyone can get PTSD, but nobody has to be consumed by it.

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17 Comments to “Breaking Down Stigmas on PTSD Awareness Day”

  1. John Rogers says:

    Well said! One other side to this issue is the wide-spread perception that PTSD is a newer problem that only started with the Vietnam war. I’ve heard some people from other generations (most of whom never experienced combat) say things like, “In my day, men just came home from the war and went about their lives with NO problems!”. Or worse, “these guys today don’t know what it’s like to fight in a real war!”.

    WRONG on both counts. I read a statistic that shortly after WWII, thousands of GIs were being checked in to VA hospitals for ailments then called “shell shock”, “battle fatigue” or “going Asiatic” – if they fought in the Pacific. The latter term was also applied to the Korean War vets.

    I just wish the GIs in the past had been able to get as much help, compassion and benefits now available to today’s vets suffering from PTSD. I also wish that society had not swept under the rug these legitimate and very normal reactions to obscene and completely de-humanizing events.

    Whether you are a young vet or an older vet, GET THE HELP…you and your immediate family) will be grateful you did.

  2. Claudia Campbell says:

    Thank you for helping make others more aware. My husband suffers from PTSD from Vietnam and his REAL symptoms didn’t show their ugly heads until after 9/11. As a wife I am still trying to learn how I can help him and how I can recognize his symptoms.

    One of the most HEALING things that has helped him emotionally is when someone walks up to him and says “thank you for your service”. Those that came home from Vietnam didn’t get that kind of welcome. Be sure and thank our service men personally. It does wonders for their recovery.

  3. Coxhere says:

    I have been diagnosed with both Post Traumatic Stress and Major Depressive Disorders secondary to my experiences while voluntarily serving in the U. S. Army during the Vietnam War Era. I’ve been battling these two debilitating mental illnesses now for many years through many, psychotherapeutic processes, in-patient hospitalizations, and with many different kinds of psychotropic medications. Several years ago, my son told me that his wife thought that I could do “better.” I know that on the outside I look fairly normal but I am also aware that my behavior can look bizarre and “abnormal.” No one can “see” PTSD like one can “see” a broken leg, so I understood what his wife meant. I just looked at my son through sad eyes, not responding in any effective way at the time. It takes a lot of effort to try to educate about mental illnesses. It requires a lot of energy that I just didn’t have. I was in their home several states away from mine when he disclosed this information. The next morning, very early, I left a note and told them that I was starting for home before they would have awakened.

  4. Pam Richardson says:

    I was diagnosed with PTSD a long time ago but with the crummy treatment at West Los Angeles VA I found it is better to take cannibas, and rum than depend on medical care.

    • Vais Corrupt says:

      I’m sorry to hear that Pam. I don’t think cannibas and rum will help. You are correct that VA can’t help. But, rum and cannibas will make things worse.

      Don’t let incompetent bureaucrats or corrupt VA employees ruin you. Fight back and get help somewhere else.

  5. Dan says:

    Pam,

    I am a Vietnam vet that went the self medication route for many years. I stopped and “kept shopping” psychiatrists at the VA until I found one in which I have confidence. I also go to a Vet Center, where my therapist is a fellow vet. Believe it or not, he too is rated for PTSD.

    I had a good friend, a fellow Vietnam vet afflicted with PTSD that wouldn’t stop self medicating. He died in a car accident while driving drunk at age 59. That was two years ago and I miss him terribly. Keep trying, to get the help you need and deserve

  6. Dan says:

    TO THE FOLKS THAT RUN THIS BLOG:

    Would you please change the header picture. It is insensitive and a flashback trigger to those of us from the Vietnam era.

    Thank you!

  7. Ed says:

    Even Walmart has a customer complaint department! Every successful company has a customer complaint department and they hold their employees responsible for their incompetence. This in turn makes a better company and satisfied customers that are taken care of. VA you have customers, we are the Service Members that volunteered to defend our country. We have no complaint department, therefore people we deal with at the VA don’t care because if they take care of us or not, it does not matter, no one is checking on them, they are not held responsible.
    If the VA cares about us they would have already fixed this problem. Why can I get immediate expert service with my Civilian Doctor? Because I hold him accountable for his actions through a complaint department plus the court of justice. That makes him extremely good and efficient.
    I read and hear about vets all the time that are not being taken care of, no one cares either.
    I am a Vietnam Vet, Retired with 22 years service and 50% rating. VA has failed me. VA has failed the vets above that left comments on this site, VA has failed in the millions of service members over the years and it appears to me that VA will continue to fail the Vet.
    Why can’t VA fix this. VA would not even know where to start because of the red tape.
    Disgusting at best.

  8. Christine says:

    I really appreciate the awareness the V.A. is trying to promote. I also agree with the earlier posts that remind us PTSD is not some new condition- “shell shock”, “soldier’s heart” and even some individuals accused of malingering in earlier wars were actually suffering from PTSD. The awareness, prevention and treatment of PTSD is something that the V.A. and the military need to work on- TOGETHER. As for Ed’s comments- I am a social work student and my goal after I graduate is to work with active duty military and veterans. My hopes are to assist individuals who are dealing with PTSD and other trauma-related issues. I just want you all to know that if I do end up working for the V.A. I will do everything I can for my clients to ensure that they are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. I will make every effort to assist all of my client’s needs and I hope you all realize that there are others out there who are like me. I hope you can find someone who makes you feel secure and that help you with your individual needs. Good luck to all of you and thank you so much for your service!

  9. Vais Corrupt says:

    The VA is near worthless is helping with this. They want to fill you full of drugs without speaking to you. I went to the clinic in Alexandria, simply said I was depressed, and the immediately wanted to drug me up. More drugs=more money; more money=more power; more power = more corruption.

    When I got a call from some social worker in at the DC medical center, he copped an attitude. When I tried to go to the DC hosptial, waited serveral hours and left. I’m on my own.

    VA is corrupt, and you, Alex, have become a tool of their propoganda machine.

  10. Vais Corrupt says:

    Oh, my visit was about 4 months after returning from Afghanistan.

    Alex, stop sitting on the higher ups laps and start griping about corruption and incompetence. Otherwise, you are leaving fallen comrades behind.

  11. Craig B. says:

    Study finds meditation helps soldiers overcome trauma, PTSD. No stigma problem here. See the incredible video: http://wj.la/kKqDh3

  12. C Frazier says:

    If you really want to help veterans with PTSD, consider the impact of getting help after a traumatic event such as rape or combat. In 2008, Sec Gates amended the national security questionnaire to exclude mental health counseling regarding combat from disclosure. However, the requirement to disclose mental health counseling for rape and sexual assault remains. This means that career military and veterans are discouraged from getting help because they are 1. afraid it might affect their clearance or 2. reluctant to get help because they know that that they will have to disclose it to some stranger in the S2 section. The VA should be advocating that the OPM change this questionnaire so that people are willing and able to get help following a sexual assault, as opposed to waiting 20 years and letting the VA deal with what is left of them.

  13. Terry Bowman says:

    In 1989, at a local Veterans’ Reunion, I was privileged to listen as, for the first time ever, a WW II Veteran told his story. His wife, who was married to him prior to his military service and who was in the audience, also was hearing her husband’s story for the first time. He may have “sucked it up” and bravely bulled through life but he paid a price and, had his generation allowed it, would gladly have accepted help. Each and every one of us is responsible for doing our part to eradicate stigma and other barriers that prevent our Brothers and Sisters from accessing the care they earned and deserve. Don’t ignore the VA and don’t allow the VA incompetents to chase you off. Let your voice be heard, scream it if necessary; the VA can be improved. There are quite a few highly dedicated individuals in VA who do everything they can to provide quality care to Veterans. The problem is, there are not yet enough of them. We owe it to ourselves, our fellow Veterans, and all future Veterans to take on the good fight and make VA accountable for providing quality care to all Veterans in all instances at all times.

  14. Bill says:

    My story. I moved to Kentucky Dec ’09 after working for the Army at Redstone. I had a really good doctor in Huntsville, hated to lose her. After moving to Kentucky I was assigned a doctor in the Berea VA. I have been on pain meds for years for a crack in my back and severe DDD. This doctor put me on morphine suffate for the pain. From day one the morphine made me very sick, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, etc. I called Berea VA and told them the meds were making me very sick. I was told by this doctor “it’s the morphine or nothing”. I wa sick for over a year. During this year I went to the Lexington VA to complain to the patients advocate, emergency personnel, phamacist, etc numerous times. I was always told to see my primary care doctor, the one who put me on the meds. I really thought I was going to die. At the time I didn’t have the $ to see an outside doctor. I finally took myself off the morphine and went to the pain management doctor in Lexington. This doctor sent an email to the Berea VA telling them to put me on hydrocodone 5mg. The Berea VA doctor got mad and would not do it. Since I couldn’t get any response from Lexington, I filed a complaint with the Department of Veterans Affairs in D.C. I was finally taken off the morphine and put on hydrocodone. The next visit I was given a urine test for drugs. It took nine days from giving the sample to the testing, it was kept in the clinic at the Berea VA. The doctor told me he could fix it so I would never get another pill from the VA. Guess what, my drug test showed I had fentantyl in my sysytem. This is a drug 100 times more powerful then morphine. I have never used fentantyl in my life, it’s for people on their death bed. I wanted a retest, denied. A test of my hair, denied. This was pay back for filing a complaint with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Doctors name, Bennett. I knew when I first met him, he had a screw loose.

  15. Kelley says:

    For the last 18 years, I have been dealing with the VA. It is a full-time job. Inadequate healthcare, substandard treatment of veterans, and complete disregard for timeliness. It is sad that we, veterans, who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our Country, are treated in this manner. When I was discharged from AD, I was told that my service-connected injury was due to a birth defect. I had hopped out of the aft lower lobe of a 707 after recovery landing primarily on my right leg as I had an inflamed bunion on my left foot. For 15 years, I lived with the understanding that there was nothing that the medical profession could do until an MRI was performed that found I had an acetabular tear within my hip. The solution to resolving this pain after 15 years was a total hip replacement. Hmmm? Really?
    So… I had the hip replacement. After about 6 months, my back was killing me. I reported this to the Ortho surgeon. He measured the length of my legs and found that one leg was 1 1/2 inches shorter than the other. Quality healthcare… I’m not seeing it and this was a civlian provider.
    I am also being seen for PTSD, Major Depression, OCD, anxiety, and anger issues due to circumstances that occurred during AD. However, since I did not report any sexual harrassment or rape, the VA will not compensate me for these debilitating illnesses. No… they were not incurred during combat, but nontheless, they are real and painful. I can’t tell you how many doctors I have seen only to hear the same response. “Do you have any documentation?” Hell NO! Why would I report this stuff to the same people that are hurting me? What a screwed up system.
    At this point, after 17 years, I feel lost, isolated, depressed, suicidal, and stupid for even believing that the government would even help me. Lonely and sad in Sioux City, IA.

    • Alex Horton says:

      Kelley, I’m sorry you had to go through all of that. No Veteran deserves that kind of treatment. But I want you to know that you don’t have to feel lost and isolated. If you need to talk to someone, the Veterans Crisis Line is staffed 24/7. Give them a call at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1. If you’d rather speak to a responder online, there is a chat feature as well.

      Stay with us, Kelley. Help is there if you need it.