By Holly Renner
For Jarod Myers, the war wasn’t over when he returned home from Iraq — he had his own internal war to fight.
Myers was clinically diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a direct result of his experiences in Iraq.
“For a long time, I was very numb. That’s the best word I’m able to use to describe how I felt at that point. I really didn’t talk about much,” Myers said. “I went through a really difficult time facing the idea of, ‘How am I going to get back to being me again? Where is Jarod at?’”
Post-traumatic stress disorder sometimes emerges following exposure to particularly dangerous, stressful or life-threatening situations.
Dr. Eric Meyer, a licensed psychologist at the Central Texas Veterans Health System, conducts specialized research in the Veteran Affairs VISN 17 Center of Excellence for Research on Returning War Veterans, part of the Central Texas Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Waco.
Meyer said the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder include re-experiencing traumatic events in the form of unwanted or intrusive memories or nightmares, as well as avoidance of reminders of the events.
In addition, they experience emotional numbing as well as symptoms of hyper-arousal, which includes problems with sleep, anger and irritability, or feeling alert and on-guard all the time.
In cases of post-traumatic stress some or all of these symptoms interfere with the ability to relax or feel at ease.
“Symptoms have to be significantly distressing to warrant clinical diagnosis or lead to significant inability to live a normal life,” Meyer said.
Dr. Sara Dolan, Baylor assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience, “The number of active-duty soldiers and returning veterans who develop this disorder range between 10 and 20 percent.”
Meyer added that the number of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder is smaller than most people think.
Myers, now a resident of Round Rock, joined the Army immediately following his high school graduation in 2002 and served as an infantryman in Iraq until 2005, when he was medically and honorably discharged. Myers received a Purple Heart award for his service in the military.
When he returned, Myers said he found life in the United States difficult because he felt alone in his attempt to regain a normal lifestyle.
Suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in the war, Myers said he felt hopeless.
“In the military you live and breathe by the buddy system — someone is always keeping you in line,” Myers said. “When you get out, it’s not like that at all. There is really a lack of a sense of family.”
Myers said he went through a dark period after his return home. He said he feels soldiers lose a part of themselves because of what they see in war.
“Unfortunately at that time, there was no God in my life, so all I hung on to was the negativity, so I focused on the things that drug me down and kept me down,” Myers said.
During this time, Myers said he was plagued by evil thoughts and depression, and felt sorry for himself.
“I felt guilt, shame, anger, distrust and I felt very hypersensitive about a lot of things, which led me to be suicidal,” Myers said. “That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Myers sought help in 2009, but the veterans affairs center in Waco put him on a three- to four-month waiting list for admittance to the residential treatment facility.
As a result, Myers checked into the Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program in Denver where he received treatment in a residential community for 13 weeks.
Myers said his time in Colorado was pivotal to his healing process. He said that there, he was in an environment where he felt like opening up about his experiences was a viable option.
During his treatment, Myers learned ways to cope with post-traumatic stress effectively.
“I found myself getting involved in things to help me forget it,” Myers said. “That’s not what people need. That’s not how you overcome something. You learn how to deal with it. You learn how to live with it and be stronger than the situation.”
Myers said God played a big role in the healing process for him, and because of that, he is stronger than ever.
“I have a great relationship with my wife, with my family, and we are very tight. God is at the forefront,” Myers said. “The unfortunate part of it all is soldiers who don’t realize that until it’s too late. It’s really sad when they don’t see the light in front of their face. They’ve let go of God, but God has never let go of them.”
Myers is now the regional veterans outreach coordinator and peer-group leader for veterans at the Community Mental Health Center in Round Rock. The center is formerly known as the Heart of Texas Region Mental Health Mental Retardation Center.
Myers said he finds purpose in serving other soldiers.
“I could help others who went through similar-like experiences and could deal with things keeping them from becoming a regular individual again,” Myers said.
Tom Thomas, division director of the Community Mental Health Center, said the center has taken an active role in providing support for veterans that suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder through support groups, which include a peer-to-peer program called Bring Everyone in the Zone.
It is a volunteer, veteran/peer-driven organization supported by professionals from academia and mental health services.
The program was created by former staff and veterans in the inpatient post-traumatic stress disorder program at the Waco Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Peer-group therapy is offered at the center twice a week for veterans to connect with each other, share experiences and go through the healing process together. It is free of charge, and is offered to any veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Right now we have about 20 volunteers that have been trained and are available to basically be matched up with any peers that may have needs,” Thomas said.
The center also has a program called Operation Resilient Families, which offers experiential learning designed to empower and encourage veterans and their families to address post-deployment challenges, such as reintegrating into the community and the workplace and establishing day-to-day routines in the home.
It is an eight-session, peer-led program for veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, as well as their families and close friends. Sessions are free of charge for veterans, their family and close friends.
There are a lot of stressors that come from getting re-acclimated, so this program educates all members of the family, Thomas added.
Myer said it is common for people suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder to no longer meet criteria for the disorder in the future, which could be accomplished by successful treatment or personal coping mechanisms.
“It’s important to note that resilience is the norm — that if anything, at times it’s remarkable how resilient service members are, given the amount of stress and trauma they experience,” Meyer said.