Veterans Still Need Far Better Treatment
Those who need help must get it promptly, fairly, and accurately
Not all veterans in this country suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). But virtually all veterans need our help in the form of freedom from dangerous stereotyping.
They also need far better services and treatment than they’ve been receiving — which is partly why Donald Trump pledged on Tuesday to “take care of our veterans like they have never been taken care of before.”
“The prognosis for recovery [from PTSD] is high when people are able to engage in treatment,” said one expert.
Psychologists fear that labels such as PTSD — so routinely and often unfairly applied to any veteran who has a brush with the law — will discourage those in real need from reaching out for help. That, in turn, could deepen the stigma surrounding PTSD and other psychological disorders.
“There is an assumption that the term ‘PTSD’ is equivalent to ‘crazy combat vet,’ as well as a misconception that all veterans suffer from PTSD,” mental health counselor Duane K. L. France told LifeZette. France is a retired Army veteran with combat experience, and director of veterans services at Family Care Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Ben Rutt, Ph.D., of Silver Springs, Maryland, a psychologist who works with veterans with PTSD, agrees there’s a misunderstanding.
“The majority of people with PTSD do not commit acts of violence,” he said. “I am not aware of any research showing that people with PTSD are more likely to commit acts of violence, such as what Gavin Long did in Baton Rouge. Additional psychiatric diagnoses are more related to violent behavior than whether someone is diagnosed with PTSD.”
The National Center for PTSD of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says various studies indicate that 4 to 17 percent of veterans have PTSD. The numbers are higher if a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is involved. Over 260,000 veterans have been diagnosed with TBI.
- Intrusive memories
- Recurring nightmares
- Intense distress, irritability
- Physical reactions when reminded of trauma
- Emotional detachment
- Moodiness or anger
- Prone to addiction
- Suicidal thoughts
Comparatively, 7 to 8 percent of the entire population will suffer from PTSD at some point in time. The condition commonly occurs after assault, accidents, and sexual trauma, as well as among those continually exposed to trauma itself, such as police officers, firefighters, and first responders.
Fifty percent of veterans with PTSD do not seek treatment and, more concerning, only half of that 50 percent of people get “minimally adequate” treatment, according to an independent RAND Corporation study.
“Those who are diagnosed with PTSD are often viewed as dangerous and unstable,” said Jennifer Wolkin, PhD, a New York City neuropsychologist. She told LifeZette that the media slant toward “dangerous and unstable” is damaging.
“While the incident in Baton Rouge clearly does not help curtail the stigma,” she said, “it sheds light on a deeper and more insidious problem our society faces. Post-trauma treatment is often unavailable, denied, or administered poorly.”
While veterans may seek treatment, their wait can be long and arduous. Also, they have less choice than private payers about whom to see for treatment, and they may have a hard time finding a therapist or counselor with whom they’re comfortable revealing personal experiences.
As part of Trump’s new plan for reforming the VA, he is calling for private medical options for vets. Our veterans would be able to receive care from any doctor or medical facility that accepts Medicare. It’s a move that would help reduce wait times for those seeking care. The plan would also expand technology and mental health services.
Four types of symptoms must be present to warrant a diagnosis of PTSD: recurrent, unwanted, and distressing memories, dreams, or flashbacks of trauma; negative changes in thoughts and feelings due to the traumatic event; avoidance of the event and anything that reminds someone of the triggering event; and hyperarousal or being on guard when there is no threat of danger, irritability and anger, and difficultly sleeping.
Many people suffer with symptoms just below this threshold of diagnosis. Avoiding feelings about the event and any person or place that might trigger memories is the most common way of coping, but it cannot work long-term if there's going to be true healing.
Psychologist Rutt emphasized that healing occurs when one faces the resulting emotions with professional help. "The prognosis for recovery is high when people are able to engage in treatment. However, this involves no longer avoiding dealing with the trauma, which many people find difficult to do."
"People with PTSD have experienced an injury due to a traumatic event — an injury that can be healed in time with treatment," said Ben Rutt, Ph.D.
Other helpful treatments are Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, as well as Mindfulness-based Mind Fitness Training. The film "Free the Mind" shows the unique results from meditation, yoga, and mindfulness, which was discovered during research at the Center for Health Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
A veteran's personal network of friends and family is most important in treatment and recovery, said France.
"Family members, community members, peers, and colleagues who recognize a negative change in a veteran's behavior can help [him or her] seek treatment, but also continue encouragement throughout the course of the treatment," France noted.
With so much misunderstanding about PTSD, it's important to clearly define the condition and demystify it, so that anyone suffering from it can receive help.
"It's important we change attitudes toward mental illness in general and PTSD in particular in our society," Rutt said. "People with PTSD are not crazy. They've experienced an injury due to a traumatic event, an injury that can be healed in time with treatment. We don't look down on people with cancer who have chemotherapy appointments. We shouldn't look down on people with PTSD for seeking treatment."
Pat Barone, MCC is a professional credentialed coach and author of the Own Every Bite! bodycentric re-education program for mindful and intuitive eating, who helps clients heal food addictions.