What is PTSD?

Many families enrolled in our Wounded Veteran Family Care Program include veterans who live with the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  PTSD occurs as the result of exposure to traumatic events. People who go through just one horrible event (i.e., a physical attack, a devastating natural disaster, a car accident, etc.), can develop PTSD. However, warriors who have served in combat zones and have experienced multiple life threatening situations or have seen friends or enemies killed, have a higher likelihood of developing PTSD.

The following article was written by Brannan Vines, the proud wife of an OIF Veteran with TBI and PTSD and founder of FamilyOfaVet.com, an organization devoted to helping heroes and their loved ones survive and thrive after combat by providing real world education and resources about PTSD, TBI, and other post-combat issues.

There are very few of us who don’t remember the images of September 11, 2001 – the first plane crashing into the tower, followed so unbelievably by the second; people jumping desperately to their deaths to avoid the lapping, searing flames; the agonizing sound as the buildings collapsed on top of the souls still trapped inside; crowds covered in ash, with torn, bloody clothes and tear streaked faces, walking aimlessly to escape the carnage of that horrific morning; the faces and broken voices of loved ones who searched in vain for those who left innocently for work that morning and never returned. As I write this, almost ten years later, I still feel tears welling in my eyes, a lump forming in my throat, and anger rising from my gut as I recall those details.

Now, imagine having a brain filled with images, sounds, smells, and emotions from three hundred and sixty-five days like 9-11-01. Can’t imagine it? Well, the average combat veteran is faced with exactly that. But, beginning to get a partial grasp on how PTSD happens and what PTSD might feel like is just half the battle. The next step we must all take is figuring out how to step up and help our returning heroes.

As the wife of a Veteran with severe, chronic PTSD, and an advocate for Veterans and families, I’m often asked what people can do to help. It’s a great question, because there is so much we can each do to help our heroes (and their loved ones) return to happy, healthy, albeit different lives.

By reading this article, you’re taking the important first step. You’re learning more about PTSD and how it affects our Veterans. By understanding it and how it changes the core of a soldier, you will be better able to reach out and really help. Here are some great tips to help you get started:

1. Don’t invade personal space.
2. Offer respect, not sympathy.

3. Don’t ask “that question.”
4. Offer concrete options for support.
5. Be aware of the needs of family members/caregivers.
6. Give the veteran ways to be involved.

At this point, most of us have heard the statistics indicating that some 300,000 Veterans will return from Iraq or Afghanistan with PTSD (to put that into perspective, only 400,000 veterans from all the wars combined have received benefits for PTSD through the VA). If each one of those Veterans has an average of two family members who are also affected by his illness, that’s 900,000 people who are going to need help. The VA (Veterans Affairs Administration) and military are trying to expand services to meet the growing need, but are far behind demand. So, either our country is going to be left with a generation of broken heroes and families OR we are each going to have to step up and do our part.

If we truly do care about the men and women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, as so many of us say we do, we are now going to have to take personal responsibility for helping care for them. We cannot rely on government programs and funds. We must instead look to ourselves and take concrete steps to reach out and make a difference in the lives of the heroes who have given so much in defense of our lives and livelihoods.  Don’t waste time. Let’s get started!