For Vets Suffering PTSD, Help is Just a Phone Call Away
Advocacy Debunking the stigma attached to post-traumatic stress disorder or depression is the first step to preventing unnecessary loss of life—especially for the 1 in 5 veterans returned from Iraq or Afghanistan with these diagnoses.
The majority of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan don’t experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression. But for those who do, the impact on their lives is debilitating.
What to watch for
After a trauma or life-threatening event, it is common to have reactions such as upsetting memories, increased jumpiness or trouble sleeping. But, according to The National Center for PTSD, if the reactions do not go away or get worse it could be PTSD. Recognizing the signs can be tricky and there is no one size fits all injury.
Those experiencing PTSD may struggle with money, have difficulties at work, challenges in marriages and feel isolated from the world. Sadly some veterans even contemplate suicide. A study conducted by the Veterans Administration in 2013 found there are, on average, 22 veterans (not just Iraq and Afghanistan) committing suicide every day.
“'The first thing is that PTSD does not mean you are crazy or mentally ill.'”
Who’s here to help?
The experiences and statistics are sobering facts to Kim Ahearn Young, a licensed clinical social worker and the Rapid Response Referral Director for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), who is on the frontline providing help.
Founded in 2004, IAVA is a non-profit organization with a mission to connect, unite and empower post-9/11 veterans. IAVA has linked more than 1.2 million veterans to resources and community groups. In 2012, IAVA created a team of Veteran Transition Managers who have assisted more than 6,300 veterans and family members in getting back on track, through free and confidential support and connections to resources and benefits.
What help looks like
Ahearn Young and her team address crisis management calls daily ranging from help applying for disability to referrals for mental health services. First and foremost, she strives to debunk the myths surrounding PTSD, while offering a menu of support.
“The first thing is that PTSD does not mean you are crazy or mentally ill,” says Ahearn Young, who adds the condition is actually a physical disorder affecting the brain. Once someone has reached out, the first course of action for IAVA is to determine if they are receiving counseling and the caliber of the care.
“We ask if they have support and friends to lean on. Unfortunately,” she says, “many are isolated.” That’s when IAVA can assist “plugging” veterans into local support groups. “Many times they just want to connect with someone who understands what they are going through.”
“Avoidance is the number one issue we deal with. But once they reach out we don’t want them beating themselves up for not calling sooner.”
Sometimes someone falling behind with bills or losing a job triggers the call. Young seeks to remove the guilt of not accepting PTSD: “Avoidance is the number one issue we deal with. But once they reach out we don’t want them beating themselves up for not calling sooner.”
Helping the whole family
While most calls are from the victim, families are impacted, too. Spouses can be perplexed and confused about how to help. To that end, the IAVA recommends family, couples and spouse therapy, too. It is important to note that symptoms can be delayed in appearing and loved ones should educate themselves about PTSD to recognize the signs.
For those who have PTSD, there are many examples of how they've sought care and developed a way to overcome or manage their symptoms. Outside of her office, Young has a poster with an anecdote from a veteran in crisis. He got a referral to a medical center and told Young it “saved my life.”
And so Young encourages those suffering from PTSD to know there is help—and that recovery is a journey. “Get involved,” she asserts. “Don’t ever give up.”