For many of our veterans, memories of their wartime experiences can still be upsetting long after they served in combat. Many older veterans find they have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) symptoms even 50 or more years after their wartime experience.
The vast majority of veterans from all conflicts have returned to their normal lives and carried on with family and careers, yet time has a way of creeping up on all of us. When veterans retire from work and end up with more time on their hands and less distractions, the symptoms may feel worse as there is more time to think and revisit memories. Getting older takes us down a peg or two in our physical abilities and we are not as strong as we used to be, contributing to making us feel more vulnerable. Add in ageing-related chronic pain interfering with sleep, leaving you even more mentally exhausted and unable to control the symptoms.
Sometimes the symptoms occur soon after the event, other times it takes years. These symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, the feeling of uncontrolled reliving the events, avoiding situations and persons that remind you of the event, being easily startled, hypervigilance, loss of interest in activities, difficulty in establishing and maintaining relationships, conflicts with authority figures, and substance abuse.
Veterans need to realize help is available. The science in the study of PTSD has cleared away the stigma that PTSD carried, no thanks to films and TV. PTSD isn’t new, it has always been a part of war. Consider that in World War II, an infantryman in the South Pacific saw an average 40 days of combat in four years; in Vietnam an infantryman averaged 240 days in one year.
The VA has established programs to help veterans in need, from the 24-hour crisis line (800-273-8255) through the Vet Centers (850-942-8810) to the Health Care Clinic (800-541-8387). Veterans need to realize they are not alone; this isn’t a problem you have to face without help. Many of your brothers and sisters at arms have been on this path before you. Things can get better. Make the call.
Charles B. Elliott is the veteran’s service officer for Franklin County. He can be reached in the office at 653-8096, by cellphone at 653-7051, or by email to Veteranservice@franklincountyflorida.com