Vets urged to consider counseling
BY DALTON NARINE
Knight Ridder Newspapers
(KRT) – Government agencies are trying to bring in out of the cold veterans all across the country who need counseling for issues that include post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dr. Daniella David, director of the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Program at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs VA Medical Center in Miami, has a key part in the effort. This is no small task. The readjustment and mental health issues of today’s veteran are unique, says David, whose targets are veterans in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, Fla. And in many cases they are compounded by the perception that a stigma will attach to seeking help.
The peculiarities of the new veteran are a product of the all-volunteer military. Adapting to the draft-free times, this force blends young whippersnappers, gung-ho but knowing little about life, with an increasing number of women and mature National Guard and Reserve troops. (The average age of a Vietnam vet was 19, compared with 24 for today’s vet.)
These weekend warriors – some in their 30s, 40s and 50s – leave behind the comforts of family and jobs and enter a regimented milieu. They are forced to regain something close to youthful vigor to survive on the battlefield. And when they get back home, they find difficulty coping.
“Most of the older veterans are coming home to spouses and children whom they haven’t seen in a year or more,” David says. “They have to readjust to getting out of soldier mode to being home. And that’s stressful, even for combat-support troops, because they are constantly in harm’s way, too.”
Unlike his counterparts from past wars, the Iraq veteran faces physical and psychological traumas that spring from an urban battleground that combines international politics and guerrilla warfare.
Some 2.4 percent of the 9,700-plus wounded during combat in the 20-month Iraq war are amputees. Chuck Scoville, amputee program manager at Walter Reed, told a congressional committee that the number is twice the rate of both world wars. In addition, 350 psychiatric casualties have been admitted to Walter Reed; 20 percent have PTSD. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, one in six Iraq war veterans suffers from a stress-related disorder.
In the Vietnam War, a 10-year venture, one-third of the 2.4 million troops were diagnosed with PTSD, but the disorder was recognized seven years after U.S. troops withdrew in 1973. So proportionately, and factoring in the time frame and troop strength, the Iraq war may be producing more amputees and psychiatric cases.
Early psychiatric intervention, David emphasizes, can prevent long-term consequences. Her flag is being carried by the VA’s Outreach Program, the Vet Center and the Defense Department clinic at the VA in Miami-Dade, all of which offer free services with degrees of confidentiality. So far, the Outreach Program has contacted 2,000 veterans in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, 500 of whom have come aboard. Some of the others may have signed up with the Vet Center, which has reached 2,015 veterans and signed up 515.
WHAT IS PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric illness that can occur following life-threatening events such as combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents or personal assaults such as rape. Combat troops who suffer from PTSD often relive some of their experiences through nightmares and flashbacks. They have difficulty sleeping and feel detached or estranged from friends and family. Such symptoms can significantly impair the person’s life. Counseling, which could include group therapy, helps the patient cope.
ATHLETIC STARS ADD SOME CHEER
Figuring sports figures would lift the spirits of war amputees, a Cincinnati man has established a program that arranges meetings between amputees and their favorites players.
The program, Impact Player Partners, is Dick Lynch’s way “to give something back to wounded vets.”
Lynch enlisted the support of Christian Okoye, a former Kansas City Chiefs running back, and Dick Lajoie, chief financial officer of Belcan Corp., an engineering company in Cincinnati.
“We ask amputees … who they want to meet,” Lynch says. “Then we put the veterans at ease.”
That’s how Army Sgt. Brian Wilhelm felt in June when he met his hero, former Chicago Bears Super Bowl quarterback Jim McMahon. Marine Cpl. James Eddie Wright was introduced to Dolphins linebacker Junior Seau. Other sports legends who’ve chatted with amputees include golf’s Arnold Palmer and NASCAR hotshots Jeff Gordon and Jimmy Johnson.
Amputees can reach Lynch at 513-205-0693 or www.impactplayer.org