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COLUMN from GINNY GRIMSLEY: This Installment / U.S. Must Rally Support for Vets with PTSD

Every day our troops stand strong in their pledge to protect the nation, sometimes making the ultimate sacrifice. Yet what are we, the American people, doing to protect and support them?

I allude to that question in my novel, “The Complexity of a Soldier,” because I want to bring attention to this very serious issue. It affects not only the individual soldiers, but their friends, family and all who surround them when they return home. Often they are no longer the same person they were before their deployment as they struggle with the mental and psychological affects of integrating into society post-combat.

“PTSD is now a pressing national health crisis,” says Charlene Rubush, an advocate for soldiers suffering post-traumatic stress disorder.

Successfully integrating a soldier back into civilian life requires providing him or her with trauma evaluation services such as thorough psychiatric assessments and examination of post-traumatic stress symptoms, which include anxiety, nightmares, change in eating pattern or sleeping pattern, fear of leaving the house, inability to carry out job responsibilities, fear of public places, and startling at loud noises, to name just a few.

However, statistics show that mental health screenings of returning troops has little to no effect on their actually receiving services. Less than 10 percent of service members who receive mental health treatment were referred through the screening process, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Many troops say that when they do seek help offered by the military, they are often rejected five, six, and even up to 10 times due to lack of funding. The Massachusetts Commission (on veterans) found that they “were not receiving adequate treatment and readjustment assistance.”

Here are a few startling statistics:

• Lifetime occurrence of PTSD in combat veterans is 10 to 30 percent.

• In the past year alone, the number of diagnosed cases in the military has increased by 50 percent over the previous year.

• Studies show that one in every five troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan has PTSD.

• It is estimated that there are currently 300,000 American veterans of the Iraq war struggling with PTSD.

• Troops that served two, three and even four tours of duty were dramatically more at risk due to increased stress levels.

The Psychiatric Times reports a “gathering storm,” estimating that 70 percent of soldiers will not seek help from federal agencies because of the stigma associated with PTSD. Unfortunately, the public sector is not prepared for the coming demand of troops who will seek mental heath services.

As a nation, it is our duty to provide the necessary support and resources that our troops need and deserve as they reintegrate into the society they so fiercely protect. The first thing we must do is acknowledge the issue and its widespread effects in our culture. Second, we must educate ourselves and the troops in order to lessen the associated stigma.

There are many resources available. Here are just a few:

• Vet centers- http://www2.va.gov/directory/guide/vetcenter_flsh.asp

• The Understanding PTSD booklet- http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/understanding_ptsd/booklet.pdf

• National Center for PTSD- http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/index.asp

• VA’s PTSD program locater- http://www2.va.gov/directory/guide/ptsd_flsh.asp

About Michelle Bellon 

Michelle Bellon earned her associate degree in nursing, and lives with her husband and four children in Olympia, Wash. She is the author of four novels, including The Complexity of a Soldier (www.MichelleBellon.com).