Nearly one out of five returning soldiers has experienced serious trauma that has left them scarred with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is the signature injury of current conflicts. One in five combat veterans has been exposed to IED explosions and will return with TBI. Both of these conditions are invisible and often the veteran doesn’t even know that’s what is bothering them. There’s no bleeding or visible sign of injury. These injuries aren’t particularly new but the names and treatments are. In WWI and WWII it was called shell shock or “Uncle Joe was never the same after the war”. It took nearly 8 years and several law suits after Viet Nam to acknowledge PTSD existed and even then many slighted it as a fake disability. Many WWII veterans lived with PTSD disabilities undiagnosed into their 60’s and 70’s. In July of 2010, regulations applying to PTSD claims were finally released that liberalize evidentiary standards for veterans claiming service connection for PTSD. (Click here to review new standards for PTSD claims processing from the Department of Veterans Affairs.)
Today claims processing and treatment have come a long way but diagnosis remains difficult. Most soldiers with PTSD don’t want to admit to their peers or to themselves that there is anything wrong. TBI victims often don’t remember the moment of injury or recognize their disability. It is only when they come home to friends and family that people close to them begin to see the changes. Friends and family can be the single most important factor in diagnosis of PTSD and TBI.
Symptoms of PTSD include anxiousness, sleeplessness, recurrent dreams, irritability or angry outbursts, and difficulty concentrating. Intense distress can be brought on by loud noises, traffic or even cars parked on the side of the road. TBI can present with many of the same symptoms but includes a variety of motor and or judgment functions such as slurred speech, lack of balance, or putting oneself in dangerous situations. If you recognize these symptoms in a friend or family member, try to arrange a thorough screening at the VA Medical Center.
One of the most productive resources for returning veterans and their families is the local Vet Center. There are seven Vet Centers in Arizona with one in Phoenix and one in Mesa. Vet Centers provide readjustment counseling, PTSD and TBI screening and treatment referrals, benefit counseling, employment assistance and sexual trauma counseling. (Click Vet Centers for video.) The Arizona Coalition for Military families is another excellent resource for Arizona soldiers and their families. The coalition serves as a coordination point for the many diverse services and benefits that veterans and their families are eligible to receive.
Show your appreciation and gratitude for the sacrifice these men and women have made on our behalf. Pass this article on to those who may need assistance. Send a homecoming message to the Troops at www.whitehouse.gov/salute).