Area Veterans Coping with PTSD

Daily Press

June 9, 2007 – GLADSTONE, Michigan — Robert Stade, 59, Gladstone, says he is working hard to get his life together. After decades of living with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the Vietnam veteran has sought help for his symptoms and encourages other people do the same.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that may cause PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents or military combat. Veterans, like Stade, have struggled with the disorder for years — previously regarded as “soldier’s heart,” “shell shock” and “battle fatigue.”

“We’ve had PTSD around for a long time, especially in war veterans,” said Pamela Balentine, Ph.D. of Gray Matters counseling in Escanaba. Balentine has counseled several veterans with the disorder. Symptoms, she said, are both physical and psychological and include severe panic attacks, anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks (recurrent and vivid recollection of a traumatic experience, sometimes with hallucinations) and avoidance of particular people, places, smells, sounds or objects that trigger flashbacks. “The spectrum (of PTSD) is wide, from minor annoyance to completely debilitating,” she said.

“PTSD screwed up my whole damn life,” said Stade. At 19, he served as a M-60 machine gunner in the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). “It was pretty gruesome,” he said. “You see all this stuff and it makes you lose a part of yourself. It took a part of my soul that I’ll never get back.”

Following a 12 month tour in Vietnam, Stade returned home, angry and emotional. He fell into a deep depression and suffered from low self-esteem. At night, he was plagued by nightmares; during the day, certain sounds and smells would cause horrific flashbacks.

Stade’s symptoms made it difficult to for him to find work, manage stress and mend relationships — his marriage ended after just six months and he’s still attempting to re-connect with his only child, a son.

“(People) didn’t know as much about PTSD when I came home (from Vietnam). Other guys and I were left to basically fend for ourselves,” he said.

Today, thanks to group therapy and antidepressant medication, Stade has a new lease on life — one he hopes other veterans struggling with PTSD can achieve also.

Treatment for the disorder varies from person to person, added Balentine. “I cannot stress enough that one size does not fit all,” she said. Individuals suffering from PTSD may receive help via group therapy and medication like Stade, or cognitive behavioral therapy, desensitizing to certain triggers and developing better coping skills. Regardless of the type of treatment, “the American Psychological Association recommends people (get help) as soon as possible.”

Some individuals may be hesitant or embarrassed to seek treatment for PTSD. “They may believe only the weak get help but that could not be farther from the truth,” said Balentine.

“People need to be aware of what vets are going through,” agreed Stade. “We need to help them in any way we can. (PTSD) is not something to be ashamed of. It’s not their fault.”

Julie Knauf, (906) 786-2021, ext. 152

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