Veterans' Voices: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

22 July 2018 By Zach Waddle Zach Waddle (69) 0 Comments

CONTENT WARNINGThis post deals with difficult subjects such as suicide, combat, sexual assault, and other traumatic events. I strongly urge ANY veteran to use the available resources that the VA provides. Visit the nearest VA, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, or visit the Veterans Crisis Line website -- there are people who want to help! For more information, please visit the Veteran and Military Center’s Psychological Counseling page on the WSU website.

The military prides itself on being a community that takes care of its members. It doesn’t matter during which era or in which branch you served. Service members past and present share a common bond, at the very least, of having taken the plunge to join the military. It’s pretty common to run into others who served and, even if you’ve never met them before, to get into conversation if you’re a current or former member. Many veterans keep in touch with at least a couple of their former military peers. Some join their local VFW (which is a great idea!) to find camaraderie with other veterans. Others still take civilian jobs for the VA or the nearest military base.

Nevertheless, some veterans still find themselves feeling alone in their experiences even if they keep in contact with other veterans. It can be extremely difficult to discuss certain aspects of service such as deployments, separation from family and friends, and other traumas on and off the battlefield. A lot of people think that the only traumatic experiences veterans see are combat and on-the-job accidents, but there are many different events that can be just as traumatizing for servicemembers; for instance, physical or sexual assault.

The good news is that there are a lot of options for veterans and their families to get whatever kind of help they need. There are a lot of veterans, however, who don’t know where to turn. Some don’t have a VA office near them, or their nearest VA is unable to directly assist them. Maybe they’re angry. Maybe they don’t know who to trust. Maybe they’re scared. Maybe they’re embarrassed. Maybe they’re all of the above. Life is hard enough when you’re trying to overcome issues, but it is even worse when you’re not trying to. Veterans’ Voices has conducted many interviews with servicemembers who have shared their difficult experiences. These interviews go to painful places, but they also serve as a symbol of hope. Despite what they’ve endured, these veterans are still here, and they’re still willing to share their experiences with others.

Looking for Answers about Suicide and Veterans

George Denillo, Matt Bauer, Will Davis

Air Force veterans Matt Bauer and George Denillo sat down to remember their friend, Sean Malec. The three men served as Security Forces together and were good friends. Sean, who had spent more than two years in Iraq during his time in the Air Force, unfortunately died by suicide. None of his friends saw it coming. Military suicide rates have recently seen a dramatic increase; many friends, families, and coworkers have been affected by the loss of someone they knew. As the two men discussed the heartbreaking loss of the friend, Denillo expressed how he was in total disbelief when he heard the news of his friend’s passing. “He always made people laugh," he explained, "and then out of the blue he’s gone from the world by his own hand.” However, these two friends chose to focus on the good times they had with their friend.

Tragically, this is an increasingly common occurrence as many people don’t reach out until it's too late. Prior to deploying, the military briefs its members on the behavioral signs to look out for when returning home from deployment. They’re briefed again once they’ve returned. However, it can be easy to just nod along and shrug it off. Next thing they know, they’re waking up in a panic from night terrors, or feeling completely detached from the family they thought about every single day of their deployment. But often it's not so visible. Maybe they’re just more irritable, and the slightest trigger causes a severe reaction to a mundane situation. Trauma can sneak up on anyone, no matter how strong-willed or rational they are.

Different Generations of Veterans on Learning to Share Their Stories

Charlie Dyke, Jeremy Dobbins, Will Davis

Marine Corps veteran Jeremy Dobbins served four years as an infantry rifleman in Afghanistan before getting out in 2012. As is the case for many vets, Dobbins had a difficult time discussing his experiences. He reached out to someone who could truly grasp what he had been through: an old family friend who had also served in the military. Charlie Dyke is a WWII veteran who enlisted around the same young age that Dobbins did. After Dyke shared a painful memory, Dobbins asked Dyke if he spoke about his wartime experiences once he had returned home. Dyke responded that he didn’t speak about it, stating, “We were just glad to get home.” Dobbins explained that he had a lot of free time when he returned from war, and a lot of anger which he had to learn to let go of. "You can’t hate,” Dyke replied, adding, “if you’ve got love in your life, you’re all right; you’ll get through.” As Dobbins pointed out, despite the horrible things Dyke endured, the choice to remain optimistic has undoubtedly served him well over the years.

Air Force Veterans Discuss PTSD in the Vietnam, Post 9-11 Era

Greg Meriwether, David Morse, Will Davis

An interview between two Air Force veterans examined PTSD and how our understanding of it has changed over the years. Social worker and Vietnam veteran Greg Meriwether explained to David Morse, veteran of the post-9/11 military, how Vietnam veterans didn’t know what they were dealing with because PTSD wasn’t even recognized as a mental illness. Many Vietnam veterans refused to go to the VA because they weren’t sure who they could trust. Meriwether and his peers called it "Post-Vietnam Syndrome." Morse followed up with a story about witnessing some individuals, only just returned from a deployment, then being forced to take part in a combat exercise. Morse explained that although they were only in an exercise, the troops were taking cover as if they were back in actual combat. He noted that he wasn’t exactly sure what PTSD was at that time, but he knew that there was something wrong with how those people responded to the exercise. Meriwether couldn’t believe that those troops had been put through that so soon after returning from combat. "There’s so many people coming in now that don’t understand how trauma works. They don’t understand what war does to folks,”  he explained. “Now we really understand that we need to educate people before they go, and when they come back, and in between.”

Military Sexual Assault Survivors Find Healing in Therapy, Education, and Service

Ashlie Dawes, Allison Loy, Will Davis

Many men and women have experienced sexual assault during their service, and many cases go unreported due to embarrassment or fear of reprisal. As with any trauma, it can be extremely difficult to cope with sexual trauma. Marine Corps veteran Ashlie Hawes and Air Force veteran Allison Loy have found friendship not only through their service, but through both having experienced Military Sexual Trauma (MST) during their time in the service. They have been able to find healing through helping others who have suffered MST. Hawes discussed how she had initially tried to put the assault behind her, but struggled with symptoms resulting from her attack. After trying to treat the symptoms, she realized that she needed to treat the underlying issue. Loy and Hawes discussed participating in Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) to help them manage their PTSD. However, they’re not content with just getting help. Both women realize the healing power of helping others. As a major in Human Resources at Wright State, Hawes looks to help others who have suffered the trauma of sexual assault and to find ways to bring the people who commit these horrible acts to justice. Hawes stated, "Maybe with training and development you get to create the programs that, maybe not so much focus on people protecting themselves from that happening, but to stop someone that is a risk to do that to someone else.”

While the focus of this has been on the hardships faced by military members, the point of this post is not to dwell on the suffering, but to point out that there is always hope and no one has to walk alone. As Jeremy Dobbins pointed out in his interview with Charlie Dyke, anger may keep you warm at night, but it will burn you up. It’s so hard to let go of it, especially when you don’t want to talk about it. Anger can be a roadblock that keeps people from discussing what they’ve been through, but if you can make the effort to try to talk about it with someone you trust, you’ll begin to let go of it and begin the healing process. From personal experience, it isn’t an easy process, but it is well worth the pain of having to dig through those memories and events.

The next blog in this series on Veterans' Voices will be looking at the interviews of World War II veterans!

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