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Stress Relief Helping Veterans Cope With PTSD

Discussion in 'News, Politics & Debates' started by anthony, Jan 18, 2007.

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  1. anthony

    anthony Silently Watching Founder

    As a psychiatrist, Dr. Judith Broder hears many stories similar to this one: A soldier, having just returned from Iraq, is at a restaurant, celebrating his homecoming with his family. Unexpectedly, a balloon pops. The soldier dives underneath the table, sobbing inconsolably. Eventually, he is put at ease, but it is clear that while he is back in a relatively safe environment, the war is still with him.

    This is not an unusual scenario for veterans, says Broder. It’s normal for soldiers just returning from the field to experience some lag time between detaching themselves from the horrors of battle and readjusting to civilian life.

    But “If this was now six months later and a year later and he had the same reaction,” she says, “that would be diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder.”

    In March 2005, Broder, who will speak at a forum organized by the Global Exchange Ventura County Supporters in Thousand Oaks on Jan. 24, founded the Los Angeles-based Soldiers Project to treat servicemen and women with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

    In addition to a heightened state of readiness, those afflicted with PTSD exhibit signs of paranoia, sleeplessness, guilt and agoraphobia, Broder says. (About 35 percent of soldiers coming back from Iraq contacted mental health services, not only for PTSD, but for a variety of problems, Broder says.) Soldiers with PTSD will often become addicts, not just to substances but, in many cases, to video games. The activity keeps them isolated from the outside world, away from people who they feel cannot comprehend what they have been through. This is especially common in reservists and national guards, she says, because there is no military community set up to absorb them. “Interestingly, they often sign up to go back to Iraq, because that’s where they can be with their buddies,” Broder adds.

    The condition has been around as long as war has. It was called “war neurosis” in World War I, but it wasn’t until after Vietnam that the symptoms were clustered together in order to diagnose the problem. With the recent conflicts in the Middle East, however, Broder says the number of soldiers suffering from PTSD appears to be climbing higher than ever before, “primarily because soldiers don’t know when they’re going to be sent back again. That’s an added stressor that didn’t exist in Vietnam. Once they step outside the wire, which is their tent, they feel as if they’re in the center of a bullseye. They’re completely in a danger zone and there’s no safe line. In World War II, if you were behind the front, you were safe. There’s no front here.”

    Broder created the Soldiers Project after seeing the play The Sand Storm: Stories from the Front, based on the real tales of actual Operation Iraqi Freedom vets. It made her realize just how many soldiers have become “walking ghosts,” unable to reconnect with the world they once knew, and that, with her specialized training, she may be able to help them.

    While Veterans Affairs uses several techniques in treating the disorder, including new experimental drugs, Broder has found it critical to first foster a sense of empathy and understanding in the patient. “It’s become clear to us over time that the most important aspect of treatment is to establish a connection with the soldier, helping him feel like he is in a safe environment with someone who is not going to be horrified by what he’s talking about, that we’ll be with him for as long as it takes. If it takes month and months, or even years, we’ve a commitment to be with that person for as long as it takes. There’s something incredibly reassuring about that.”

    Connecting with soldiers who need help, however, has not been easy. Many are reluctant to seek treatment, either because they do not recognize the problem or have been taught to simply “suck it up” and fight through it alone. Others, Broder says, are worried the Army will hold it against them if they want to stay in the service. “If they want to go up in rank, they think it will be taken as a sign of weakness,” she says.

    Broder says most of the time it is the family of the soldiers, not the soldiers themselves, who come to the organization seeking assistance. She hopes speaking engagements such as the one in Thousand Oaks will spread awareness about the disorder.

    “It’s important because a lot of people don’t understand that this is one of the problems of the returning vets of this particular war,” says Joanie McClellan, spokesperson for Global Exchange in Ventura, which has been putting on monthly programs since the initial invasion of Iraq. “Mostly, it’s a heads up on things that are happening in the relief of soldiers who are ailing psychologically with the war.”

    Source: Ventura County Reporter
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