Post-Traumatic Stress Awareness: Increasing Visibility for an Invisible Wound

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In WWI it was shell shock, in WWII battle fatigue. Korean War veterans were diagnosed with war neurosis and Vietnam veterans with post-Vietnam syndrome. 


Whatever you call it, Post Traumatic Stress (PTS), as it’s now known, has affected soldiers for centuries, with symptoms ranging in severity from insomnia and nervousness to nightmares and debilitating social anxiety.

There’s nothing black and white about PTS, making it difficult to diagnose and challenging to treat. Compounding the problem, there is a lingering stigma around the condition, at least among service members, who would probably call it combat stress instead of PTS, explains former marine Michael Andrews.

He attributes his PTS symptoms less to one traumatic event and more to the overall experience of combat—deploying six consecutive times and grieving the death and injuries of many friends.

“Every time service members deploy, we have to put together casualty packets, which include directions from the nearest airport to our next-of-kin’s residence, a will, and even an obituary,” Andrews says.

He says, this, in addition to talking with loved ones about your potential death, takes its toll and has a lasting effect.

Author and speaker Lt Col. David Grossman describes the ambiguity of Post Traumatic Stress:

“PTSD is not like being pregnant. Pregnancy is a yes/no, binary equation; either you are or you aren’t. PTSD is like being overweight. Most of us have a couple pounds we can do without, but some people are 500 pounds overweight, and it’s going to kill them any day now.”

Despite the vast gray area, issues associated with PTS affect 7.7 million adults in the United States, mostly veterans. But, there is hope and help.

Here are some organizations working hard to help people with PTS and their families.

afterdeployment.org
 shares mental wellness resources for service members, veterans, and military families on topics like PTS, traumatic brain injury, suicide prevention and much more.

Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health & Traumatic Brain Injury
 offers support, authoritative information and resources 24/7 to service members, veterans, military families, and caregivers.

National Resource Directory
 is a web portal that connects wounded warriors, service members, veterans, their families and caregivers with support services.

Real Warriors Campaign
 is a multimedia public education campaign that encourages service members and veterans with invisible wounds to seek help. In addition to raising awareness, the campaign provides resources to help overcome barriers to care for invisible wounds, like PTS and traumatic brain injury.

WarriorCare.mil 
is a blog that provides wounded, ill, injured and transitioning service members information on programs, initiatives and support.

Commemorating the 70th Anniversary of D-Day

Today is the 70th anniversary of the WWII D-day invasion of Normandy, France. Over 156,000 troops waded or parachuted onto French soil on June 6, 1944. By the end of the day, 4,500 were dead.

On a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach, the setting of the battle’s bloodiest combat, sits Normandy American Cemetery, the burial site of 9,387 US service men and women.

World leaders are heading to France to remember the deceased and commemorate the occasion. The series of events began Thursday, the first of which honor the survivors—most now in their nineties.

Recently, a member of our team visited Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial and the D-day Beaches. It was a moving and enlightening experience

Here are a few photos from the trip
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One of the most compelling parts of the trip was learning about the heroic acts of the, often very young, service men and women.

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Sgt. Peregory risked his life during the D-Day invasion by single handedly attacking a fortified German machine-gun emplacement, killing several and taking more than 30 prisoners. He received The Medal of Honor and the Purple Heart.

 

From Deployment to Employment: How to Adjust to a Civilian Work Environment

Transitioning from military service to a rewarding career can feel like a daunting undertaking. The work environment and requirements are usually pretty different. What made you successful in the military may not work as well or could even be counterproductive in civilian life.

Many veterans have trouble coping with this adjustment for several reasons:

  • The lower stakes lead to boredom.
  • The lack of straightforward rules and missions can cause confusion and anxiety.
  • Survival behaviors learned during combat, like a flight or fight response, are counter-productive in a work environment.
  • Stress and painful memories from deployment can make it difficult to concentrate and remember important information.
  • Military skills don’t always translate to a new work environment.

But the structure and discipline you mastered during your military service can also help you succeed in a civilian work environment. Here are a few things to remember:

Focus on your health.

  • See a doctor when necessary and only take medications as prescribed.
  • Stay away from unhealthy foods (high fat, high sugar).
  • Don’t use non-prescribed drugs or drink alcohol excessively.
  • Keep a routine—get enough sleep, exercise regularly, eat at the same time each day.

Learn and practice communication skills.

  • Maintain polite and friendly communication with co-workers
  • Ask for help about talking about deployment with colleagues
  • Learn the appropriate ways to handle conflict and criticism, taking into account the culture of your workplace.

Practice organization

  • Keep you workspace neat
  • Make task lists
  • If you have trouble staying focused, write your thoughts in a journal or notebook.

Create your own structure

  • Assess your values and make a list.
  • Determine the ways your job fits with your values.
  • To identify your values, ask yourself questions like:
    • What kind of an employee do I want to be? Hard-working? Dependable? A trustworthy officer?
    • What parts of work are important to me? Using and building my skills? Fixing problems? Leading a team of people?
    • What do I like about my current job? The way people treat each other? The feeling of accomplishment? Good benefits?
    • How does this job fit with serving my country?
  • Set long-term goals, like an ideal future position or promotion, and then set short-term goals that will help you achieve them.
  • Stay current on training and the technology used in your field.

If you are looking for some training, check out Purple Heart’s Veterans Vocational Technical Institute.

If you want to go back to school and complete an undergraduate degree, learn about Purple Heart scholarships.

For career counseling or other services, find a National Service Officer near you.

Resources:

MilitaryOneSource

The Leaders Institute

TurboTAP (Transition Assistance Program)

Veterans’ Employment and Training Services

Military.com Veteran Employment Center

Post-traumatic Stress: An Invisible Injury Gaining Visibility

In a dangerous situation, it’s natural and healthy to feel afraid. Even after a traumatic experience, it’s common to feel frightened, sad, anxious, and disconnected. But when these symptoms persist, and the feelings of fear and helplessness don’t subside, it may be post-traumatic stress, a condition that can occur after living through a harrowing experience. 

Many veterans returning from combat experience post-traumatic stress, often referred to as PTSD, or PTS.

According to experts:

  • Records of PTS exist from over 2,500 years ago.
  • 7.7 million people are affected by PTS.
  • 11-20% of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffer from PTS.
  • 10% of Gulf War veterans suffer from PTS.
  • 30% of Vietnam veterans suffer from PTS.

Post-traumatic stress is hard to diagnose because it doesn’t always appear immediately. Depending on the individual, it can take weeks, months, or even years before symptoms appear. 

So, how can you tell the difference between a normal response to trauma and post-traumatic stress? There are three main symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress.

Re-experiencing the traumatic event 

  • Intrusive, upsetting memories
  • Flashbacks 
  • Nightmares 
  • Intense distress when reminded of the trauma
  • Intense physical reactions to reminders of the event, like a pounding heart, rapid breathing, nausea, or sweating.

Avoidance and numbing

  • Avoiding activities, places, thoughts, or feelings that remind you of the trauma
  • Inability to remember important aspects of the trauma
  • Loss of interest in activities and life in general
  • Feeling detached from others and emotionally numb
  • A sense of a limited future (you don’t expect to live a normal life span, get married, have a career)

Increased anxiety and emotional arousal

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Irritability or outbursts of anger
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling overly vigilant and anxious
  • Feeling agitated and easily surprised

Other common symptoms

  • Anger and irritability
  • Guilt, shame, or self-blame
  • Substance abuse
  • Feelings of mistrust and betrayal
  • Depression and hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts and feelings
  • Feeling alienated and alone
  • Physical aches and pains

Regardless of the initial trigger or when these issues begin, it’s important to seek help immediately. The good news is our understanding of post-traumatic stress is increasing. You are not alone. PTS can be successfully treated and overcome.

If you experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress, here’s what you can do:

  • Seek the support of a counselor at a military base or VA hospital.
  • Let us connect you with a National Service Officer near you. Find out more
  • Find some companionship though Canines for Combat Vets, a service dog program run by the nonprofit organization NEADS
  • Take care of yourself by eating nutritious foods, exercising regularly, relaxing, and avoiding drugs and alcohol.
  • Connect with other veterans through Purple Heart volunteer opportunities

Resources:

Post-traumatic Stress Help Guide

Online Mental Health Screenings

Purple Heart PTS Resource Guide

National Center for PTSD, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. What is posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

National Center for PTSD, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Treatment of PTSD

Military Mental Health, Military PTSD