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Keith Crosby

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How More Time at Home Could Ease Post-Traumatic Stress for Vets

Posted: 02/10/2011 9:03 am

It often seems only military families know just how little time active duty service personnel really spend at home in between assignments. To say the majority of these families would like to see even more of their sons, daughters, husbands or wives would be a gross understatement. And to say they need to spend more time with their families because they miss them wouldn't tell the whole story, either.

Sure, the fine young men and women serving in today's United States military are deeply missed by their families and friends back home. But this goes without saying as much. Moreover, there is growing evidence to think there are other reasons why service personnel should spend more time at home in between assignments. Among the most important of reasons would be Post-Traumatic Stress.

Post-Traumatic Stress is defined as the psychological damage and scarring that takes place in a service personnel or veteran based on the raw and unthinkably disturbing thoughts that persist as a result of real-life experiences from the combat zone. The most frustrating part about Post-Traumatic Stress isn't the actual damage caused from having an episode, because the episodes and situations themselves are the most devastating part. Instead, the most frustrating part is realizing just how many suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress yet don't know it because they don't always understand what's wrong.

Spending more time at home with families and friends may actually curb the rate of Post-Traumatic Stress. And this would have a deep impact on the number of veterans who depart active duty and struggle to live out the rest of their lives because of daily triggers and reminders of the psychological and emotional trauma they lived through.

A bad day for a veteran with Post-Traumatic Stress means struggling to live. It means something, anything, has triggered a thought or memory of the combat zone. And before they can process the thought, their heart begins to race, they begin to sweat, and, in some cases, they begin to panic.

Most turn to alcohol and a cocktail of drugs to reduce the symptoms and depression that stems from this trauma. In other words, they put a mask over it.

But the military may actually be waking up to the new realities of Post-Traumatic Stress -- something that has plagued service personnel and veterans for well over a century, but an illness that really didn't begin to get attention until Vietnam. Some in the military now believe masking may not be the only -- or best -- way to deal with Post-Traumatic Stress.

Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the vice chief of staff of the Army, recently discussed Post-Traumatic Stress in the military and said more study is needed. But more important, he said, is that we must foster an environment where service personnel feel like it's ok to ask for help, so they get a better understanding of why certain thoughts and feelings occur:

Now, the issue there isn't that they finally seek help [after 12 years]. It's all the things that happen in between. Everything from high-risk behavior to drug abuse to prescription drug abuse, anger management issues, to divorce. I mean, those kinds of things are affected when people don't get treated for posttraumatic stress.

Service personnel need time to recover emotionally and physically from their battlefield scars. They see and do things during combat that wouldn't be permitted in most movies. Having more time to spend with family, friends and loved ones in between assignments would help them psychologically process the trauma that affects their thoughts and thought process. It is this thought process where the Post-Traumatic Stress battle field plays out. Here, violent thoughts and suicidal tendencies are provoked by triggers -- things that happen to bring about an unwanted flashback in the mind of a service personnel or veteran. Extended breaks from active duty may go a long way toward reducing these triggers, which in turn could have a lasting effect on a person for the rest of their life.

Post-Traumatic Stress among veterans can be extremely devastating because the emotional trauma has festered much longer, often leading to severe triggers and suicidal thoughts. Veterans feel like they're supposed to be tough and not ask for help, and they're often frustrated with the prescribed medication that often comes with unwanted side affects. Organizations like the Stay Strong Nation pay close attention to veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress through studies and the development of alternate treatments outside the realm of prescription medications.

"Veterans are tough and trained to not show any weakness," said Charles A. Cook, Jr., a veteran coping with Post-Traumatic Stress. "But unfortunately, Post-Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) can take down even the toughest of people."

What's worse, the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress/TBI can trick a person into thinking they're actually not tough enough. The very thought of something being wrong can provoke veterans to provide further evidence that they can handle any situation. Sadly, it is this dangerous downward spiral that sometimes leads to suicide.

"Seeking help is a good way of preventing any form of depression that leads to suicide," said Melissa Cramblett, a veteran who's learned to live with Post-Traumatic Stress. "But catching Post-Traumatic Stress/TBI earlier on during the active-duty years can go a long way towards finding a very effective way to reduce the symptoms. This is why it's so important for active duty personnel to spend more time with family and friends in between assignments."