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When The War Comes Home

Discussion in 'News, Politics & Debates' started by goingonhope, Jul 8, 2007.

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  1. goingonhope

    goingonhope Member Premium Member

    When the war comes home

    Sunday, July 08, 2007

    In going from the front lines to the front room many soldiers find a new enemy - post traumatic stress. -By Mary Clarkin

    The Christopher V. who shipped out to Iraq in late 2005 isn't the Christopher V. who returned to Kansas about a year ago. He remembers his old self as "a really outgoing" person, whose hobbies included playing poker.

    "Now, it's like I really don't talk to anyone," the 37-year-old Hutchinson resident said. He played poker the other night, but "got bored" and left.

    Sleep brings nightmares, not dreams.

    As a Kansas Army National Guardsman stationed on the outskirts of Baghdad, Christopher "did patrols, guard towers, gates." In an urban guerrilla war, those are the front lines.

    "When your whole job is to stand at a front gate and ask them if they have a bomb. You're standing right beside the car that could be a car bomb, ask them for their I.D.," he said.

    When Christopher came home, the war came with him.


    Anyone who has experienced a life-threatening event is vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

    A victim of a sexual assault, a natural disaster or a serious car accident can experience PTSD. Those with combat or military exposure also can suffer from the disorder.

    Experts think PTSD occurred in about 30 percent of Vietnam veterans and as many as one out of five Iraqi war veterans, according to the National Center for PTSD's Web site.

    At first, Christopher said, he just thought he was "being stupid."

    He learned about PTSD symptoms, though, and realized they fit him.

    Signs of the disorder include anxiety, jumpiness, fitful sleep, loss of interest in old hobbies and a lack of trust.

    It unnerves Christopher to be startled by a grab, a jab or a push. Even if it's meant to be playful, that's not how it feels.

    A pushing match doesn't stay a pushing match for long, he said.

    "You don't have no in-between," he said.

    Not since Vietnam

    Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq "are the most sustained combat operations" for the U.S. military since the Vietnam War, wrote Brett Litz, associate director for education at the National Center for PTSD/Behavioral Sciences Division.

    As a result, he wrote in a study, there's reason to be more concerned about the long-term mental health toll from these wars than with the toll from earlier conflicts, such as in Somalia.

    With improvised explosive devices killing and wounding soldiers, there is, in Litz' words, "no safe place and no safe duties."

    "In Iraq, soldiers are required to maintain an unprecedented degree of vigilance and to respond cautiously to threats," Litz wrote.

    Within the last two years, Christopher V. has lost both his parents, and has fought in Iraq. He said before he was married to Janice, his parents were his life and he cared a lot about them.

    Litz praised the collaboration of the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to screen returning soldiers, but he also pointed out that "any one-shot evaluation" might prove insufficient.

    'What to answer'

    The screening process for mental health problems is not great, according to Jeremy Chwat, executive vice president for public affairs and based in Wounded Warrior Project's New York office.

    It occurs when soldiers are stateside, moving through four days of procedures before they eventually are reunited with their families, he said.

    "They know what to answer," Chwat said, to keep things moving.

    Later, at home, they realize they are "not wired" the way they were before the war, he said.

    "We strongly believe anyone is going to struggle," Chwat said, calling it unrealistic to expect a soldier to "just flip a switch" when he is back in the civilian life.

    PTSD treatment techniques can range from counseling to acupuncture to even eye movement desensitization and reprocessing.

    For one soldier, playing the drums proved therapeutic, Chwat said.

    The message, he said, is that anxiety is "absolutely normal." But the stigma attached to mental health struggles remains strong, he also observed. To avoid the stigma, Wounded Warrior Project prefers the term "combat stress" instead of PTSD.

    Two deaths

    Back home from Iraq, Christopher married his love, Janice. He was part of a Guard unit based in Wichita, but he is now out of the military and they set up a household, which includes two teenage girls, in Hutchinson. Janice recently landed a receptionist job at the Hutchinson Clinic.

    "All of a sudden, you come back and you've got this family and it's like, 'Wow,'" Christopher V. said.

    Christopher likes to spend time in his living room watching TV or playing video games. But the sadness from two family deaths is pervasive. Christopher's mother died right before his departure to Iraq. His father died in March.

    "Right now, I'm without a dad, and it's really weird for me. I just want to talk to my dad," he said.

    Christopher has been diagnosed with PTSD and depression and receives medications through the VA. He had to undergo stomach surgery and suffers from back pain. He did not hide his disabilities, he said, when he went to work earlier this year in the kitchen at Sirloin Stockade, in Hutchinson. He put in six-day workweeks, collecting about $7.50 an hour in pay, he said.

    The job ended abruptly in June. Leaving early

    Christopher V. was working Saturday, June 16, when he found himself overtaken by an anxiety attack. His medications had run out, with a new order mailed to the wrong address, he said.

    "I stood there confused, I didn't know where I was at. I told my boss, 'You don't want me here,'" he recalled.

    He said he was told to go home early and get medical help.

    Janice said she phoned the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Clinic in Wichita, and was advised to bring him in Sunday morning.

    "They kept me there," said Christopher of his June 17 treatment at the VA center.

    He missed his scheduled work shift at Sirloin Stockade that day. He did not call the restaurant, either. The restaurant fired him. A written note from his doctor didn't matter, he said. Christopher considered the firing unjust.

    John Hendricks, controller at Sirloin Stockade's corporate office in Hutchinson, declined to comment because it was a personnel matter.

    The dismissal clearly stings, but Christopher V. continues to pursue another job - that as college student.


    VA benefits "pay for my schooling and for me to go to school," said Chris.

    Last semester, he took one class in a classroom. This summer, he's taking online classes through Hutchinson Community College, studying Web technologies and bookkeeping.

    He recommends that other returning soldiers talk to disability services offices on college campuses. Staff can advise teachers of special needs.

    Federal laws require post-secondary schools to serve any person, otherwise qualified, who has a disability that directly affects learning. A disability can vary from a physical impairment to attention deficit disorder, noted Jill Crank, coordinator for disability services at HCC.

    "We work on the level playing field. Everyone has the same access," Crank said.

    One symptom of PTSD is difficulty concentrating.

    "One of my teachers, she sees me wandering off, she'll say, 'Focus,'" Christopher said.

    Crank has special insight into the Iraqi war and its impact. Her son is deployed there - again.

    "Treatment works"

    The National Center for PTSD was established nearly 20 years, because of a Congressional directive. Just this spring, mental health issues and the Iraqi war were the topic of a roundtable discussion featuring experts brought together by a Congressional committee.

    Knowledge about PTSD has increased through the years, and that has led to more medications and more treatment therapies, according to Laurie Tranter, a Washington-based public affairs specialist for the Department of Veterans Affairs. What the doctors say, Tranter said, is that "treatment works."

    "We're probably getting new people every week who are coming in to be evaluated," said Dr. Jeremy Crosby, at the VA Medical Center in Wichita.
    Some people will receive medication only, to address anxiety and/or depression. Group, individual and family therapy are available, as well as relaxation training, Crosby said.

    "The goal in therapy is to learn how to, instead of letting it ruin your life, try to figure out how to manage it and grow from it," Crosby said. A truly traumatic experience that can cause PTSD is "powerful enough to change a person's personality," he said.


    In Iraq, Christopher V. said, he realized more than ever that he wanted a family.

    Transitioning into family life, however, was difficult.
    There were arguments, Chris said.

    "There's just as much adjustment for her as for me," he said of his wife.

    "There's nothing that I wouldn't do for my husband and my kids," said Janice V.

    She recognizes, though, that "no matter how much you want to understand what they've been through, you can't."

    Over and over, Christopher V. said, he wonders, "What could I have done better?"

    "I just want people to know, it's not as easy as they make it out to be," he said.

    Source: The Hutchinson News, Kansas
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