"He returned to Fort Riley, Kan., from his first deployment, only to be redeployed to Iraq 10 months later."
"Midway through the second deployment, I knew something was really wrong, the first sergeant, who asked to remain anonymous, recalled. I knew I had to get help or I would have killed myself. It was hard, but I went to see a counselor while I was in Iraq."
"Yet, when he returned home, things didnt get better. There was a lot of drinking and gambling. He and his wife separated."
"I was always irritable, he said. Basically, I wasnt happy if I wasnt drinking. I would spend my weekends by myself, watching TV and drinking. I would just shut everything out. I had dreams that seemed real and I was always running away from something. It seemed like they lasted for hours."http://www.al.com/redstone/index.ssf?/base/news/1193822656267010.xml&coll=1
Admitting combat trauma no longer taboo in Army
Health center works to combat symptoms of deployment stress
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
By KARI HAWKINS
It was during his second deployment in Iraq when the first sergeant realized he had a problem that went way beyond depression.
A military career Soldier, he had coped with deployments to Haiti, Bosnia and Albania. During his first tour in Iraq, the first sergeant began to depend on alcohol to escape the troubles of war. He went to a doctor who diagnosed depression and put him on medication.
He returned to Fort Riley, Kan., from his first deployment, only to be redeployed to Iraq 10 months later.
Midway through the second deployment, I knew something was really wrong, the first sergeant, who asked to remain anonymous, recalled. I knew I had to get help or I would have killed myself. It was hard, but I went to see a counselor while I was in Iraq.
Yet, when he returned home, things didnt get better. There was a lot of drinking and gambling. He and his wife separated.
I was always irritable, he said. Basically, I wasnt happy if I wasnt drinking. I would spend my weekends by myself, watching TV and drinking. I would just shut everything out. I had dreams that seemed real and I was always running away from something. It seemed like they lasted for hours.
The first sergeant isnt sure what caused his problems. He thinks it was probably a combination of things related to his combat service.
The two deployments to Iraq probably triggered it, he said. We lost a lot of Soldiers in our unit 26 during both deployments. Wed get mortared all the time, daily. A couple of my friends were killed. The first sergeant who I drank coffee with every morning and who had a daughter the same age as mine was killed. Physically, I was never endangered. But, the threat was always there. You never knew where it was coming from, or who was going to be hurt or killed next.
Eventually, his military duty brought the first sergeant to Redstone Arsenal and Fox Army Health Center, where Behavioral Medicine counselors took a good look at the first sergeants medical condition.
When I got here (in late summer 2006), I was overmedicated, he said. The medicine made me too laid back. During the first six months I was here, they (Fox counselors) changed my medication and then I got off all of it.
The first sergeant suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition that develops after experiencing life threatening situations involving intense fear, hopelessness or horror. During those first months at Redstone, the first sergeant had a panic attack that was so severe he was hospitalized. Now, with the help of occasional medicines to help control panic attacks and to help him sleep and counseling every two weeks, the first sergeant feels he can manage his PTSD symptoms.
Today, the first sergeant often shares his story with other Soldiers, encouraging them to get help if they need it.
Every class of students that comes through, I tell them about what happened to me, said the first sergeant, who is assigned to the 59th Ordnance Brigade. Thirty to 40 percent of Soldiers in the Army have PTSD. If they get help, there is a 90 percent success rate. Even so, there are 10 to 15 percent of Soldiers out there who arent telling anyone they are having problems.
It is assumed by the Army that every Soldier who is deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan or any other combat situation returns with post combat stress, said Col. Mark Smith, commander of Fox Army Health Center and an Iraqi war veteran.
Its a reaction that happens to every healthy normal human being who is exposed to the horrors of war and the stress of being separated from family. The thing is for about 30 percent of those Soldiers, combat stress becomes some varying degree of PTSD, he said.
The vast majority of Soldiers come back healthy, stronger, better mothers and fathers, better spouses, better leaders, because they have had an internal realignment of the values of life. There is, though, a small percentage who struggle to internally reconcile their experiences.
Even those Soldiers diagnosed with PTSD are usually able to function in most critical aspects of life, Smith said. But, they are unable to heal and resolve the trauma of combat without medical attention, and individual or group counseling.
PTSD has recently come to the forefront of medical concerns associated with Soldiers returning from combat because of the sheer numbers of Soldiers who have served in the Global War on Terrorism.
There has been an exposure of well over 1 million men and women to combat, Smith said. We have had recent mandated training of leaders throughout the Army to make them aware of PTSD and the importance of its treatment.
There are Soldiers who feel weak if they come forward for help. There are Soldiers who perceive their careers will be hurt if they get help. Theyve manufactured stories about what could happen to their career because they are in denial. They use those stories to keep themselves from getting the help they need. We are working very hard to bust that culture.
The first sergeant knows how difficult it is for a Soldier to go to their commander with a problem like PTSD. But, he agreed there are absolutely no repercussions for those who do.
The stigma is not there anymore, he said. The chain of command is encouraging Soldiers to get help.
In fact, getting help for PTSD is actually a career builder, Smith said, because healthy adults make healthy leaders.
When Soldiers return from a deployment in a combat zone they are required to undergo two post-deployment health assessments one upon their return and another 90 days after their return. For active duty Soldiers from Redstone Arsenal, these assessments are administered through the Warrior Medicine Clinic at Fox. For National Guard and Reservists, the assessments are administered through the Community-Based Health Care Organization on Redstone Arsenal.
At first, problems may be associated with post combat stress. But, if those problems persist or worsen over time, then they may be the beginning stages of PTSD, Smith said.
In addition, family, friends, co-workers and commanding officers of Soldiers returning from deployment are made aware of symptoms of PTSD. Those symptoms include isolation, depression, lethargy, anxiety, paranoia, irritability, thoughts of suicide, uncontrolled anger, insomnia, nightmares, alcohol abuse, personality changes, irresponsibility, and appearance of domestic issues and disturbances.
This should be a common factor within leadership, Smith said regarding leadership awareness of PTSD. At Fox, it is my job to with vigilance look hard at any Soldiers who have been deployed, and to look hard at them for weeks and months after the deployment in a caring and concerned fashion.
Soldiers, too, can refer themselves for care if they feel they may have symptoms of PTSD.
If you have anything remotely connected to it, go see someone, the first sergeant said. Past history has told us that this is not going away, its not getting better, if you dont get the help you need. Because of PTSD, I lost a lot. Ive lost my wife and daughter. This affects families more than anyone knows.
And, PTSD can affect all Soldiers, regardless of rank.
There was a time when we didnt see first sergeants, colonels and majors coming in for services, said Karen Scott, a licensed professional counselor who has worked in Behavioral Medicine at Fox since 1989.
Now, were seeing higher enlisted ranks. Theyre coming back from combat with issues. We are identifying them in part because of the militarys initiative to have all Soldiers screened, in part because spouses and other family members and friends are recognizing symptoms and telling the Soldiers they need help, and in part because the Soldier is injured and is getting medical treatment for other problems besides PTSD.
Treatment makes a big difference in how a Soldier copes with PTSD and whether the Soldier can be cured from its lasting effects.
The test to determine if youre cured is how you live your life, how you live your relationships, how you live your job, Smith said. A Soldier is cured if they are living a balanced life and they arent abusing anymore, they arent abusing other people, alcohol or themselves.
Treatment can also make a big difference in a Soldiers quality of life.
This is for the well-being of the Soldier and the well-being of their family, and for the future of their career, Scott said of counseling. We want to help them get back on track with their lives. And, we do that by educating them, and giving them the tools to manage and recover from PTSD symptoms.
In some cases, Soldiers who think they have PTSD discover they just need a few counseling sessions to help them acclimate back to a normal life after a deployment.
Its a big change of pace to go from combat back to a garrison unit, Scott said. You have to put the brakes on and get back to a slower, more steady pace. Its very hard to come back home and worry about cars breaking down, PTA meetings and work evaluations.
This is not the first time U.S. servicemembers have struggled with the symptoms of PTSD or another condition known as Mild Trauma Brain Injury, which occurs when the head is hit or violently shaken due from a blast or explosion. There are Vietnam and Gulf War veterans who to this day struggle with PTSD and MTBI, some of whom are homeless.
Ive seen PTSD in Soldiers for 20 some years, said Dr. David Ferguson, a psychologist at Fox Army Health Center. We are seeing similarities between the Soldiers were seeing today and those we saw 20 years ago. The big change has been the Armys acceptance and education about PTSD. Our goal is to help Soldiers learn to live with the psychological images of war. With treatment, the intensity of the emotional injury decreases.
Smith and the staff at Fox are driven to help Soldiers with PTSD or MTBI because they know that without help these Soldiers will continue to suffer from combat-related psychological problems, much the way other veterans of past wars have done.
Their symptoms were never diagnosed, never treated, Smith said of older veterans suffering from PTSD. Many have died alone, miserable and in pain. Were not going to let that happen to the Soldiers who are now returning from combat.