PTSD affects veterans physically, socially

By Rebecca Fiedler
Staff Writer

Many veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, known as PTSD, aren’t receiving the treatment they need, said panelists yesterday at the Mental Health Symposium downtown.

The symposium was hosted at the Heart of Texas Region Mental Health Mental Retardation Center on South 12th Street, and featured talks about the complications suffered by veterans with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.

Speakers informed the audience about the struggles military veterans face upon their return from service, noting that many veterans are impaired because they never seek treatment for mental and physical wounds.

“One study has found that 83 percent of people who have PTSD also have at least one or more mental health disorder,” said Dr. Mike Hauser, a counselor at the Killeen Heights Vet Center.

People suffering from PTSD may have difficulty maintaining relationships or going to work on a regular basis, Hauser said. However, he said he feels the perception of PTSD sufferers as being less-than-capable members of society or inherently dangerous is a very skewed belief.

“A lot of veterans, within in the first two weeks after the recent Fort Hood attack, came in and were really upset with the media, because the media portrayed them as crazy, unstable, problematic and that everybody’s ready to go off if you give them the right excuse,” Hauser said. “That’s not true. I think the media has done PTSD survivors a great disservice.”

Many veterans avoid mental trauma treatment, Hauser said. Many think they can solve their own problems and reintegrate into society on their own. Others avoid treatment because of pride. Some, he said, avoid treatment because they feel guilty, feeling they may be taking too much advantage of resources offered.

Lt. Col. David Tharp, an Air Force veteran, previous adviser to the U.S. Army mental health team and medical advisor to Kandahar Air Field, spoke on the personal struggles of veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

“You are trained over and over again to respond to different things,” Tharp said. “When you come home, you don’t train back down.”

Tharp said veterans can struggle with adjusting to the context of the home they return to after having been overseas. Those in the military are trained repeatedly to be vigilant of danger and attack, and it can be difficult to undo that training, he said.

“I don’t believe time heals,” Tharp said. “Time gives you the opportunity to do things that will help you heal.”

Tharp shared multiple online resources for veterans’ health, recovery and benefits. These included programs providing post-deployment assistance, and a program called the Sesame Street Workshop. The workshop is designed to help children of military families process and understand deployment and military service.

“I love that our country is supportive of our military,” he said. “There are a lot of resources and things you can get involved with.”

Waco graduate student Sarah Martindale, a psychology doctoral candidate at Baylor, also spoke at the panel, explaining what traumatic brain injuries are and how they affect people today.

Traumatic brain injuries can include things like concussions, Martindale said, and can be received by people like athletes and those in military service.

Martindale said deployed individuals can receive traumatic brain injuries from blast injuries, improvised explosive device injuries, and motor vehicle accidents. Only a small percentage of people who suffer traumatic brain injuries are hospitalized, and 52,000 people die a year from them, she said.

“TBI and PTSD are very frequently diagnosed together,” Martindale said.

There tends to be an increase in emotional reactivity when someone with PTSD has a traumatic brain injury, and there is a large overlap in cognitive symptoms between PTSD and traumatic brain injuries, Martindale said.

Speakers encouraged the public to be aware and mindful of veterans and those struggling with PTSD and injuries.

“The more we know about veterans, the better we will serve them,” Tharp said. “I firmly believe that.”