27 Things You Should Know About PTSD

Infantry veteran Timm Lovitt shared how he handles his PTSD in the VA About Face project.

Infantry veteran Timm Lovitt shared how he handles his PTSD in the VA About Face project.

A top concern of virtually every deployed military member is the misconception held by many civilians that all combat veterans have PTSD. It’s an incorrect assumption. But it’s a pervasive misconception among employers, educators and even some friends and family.

So, the Department of Veterans Affairs is attempting to bust that and other myths about post-traumatic stress disorder. An awareness campaign includes assigning today, June 27th, as PTSD Awareness Day.

For Veterans

One way to raise awareness is to listen to the veterans who are living with PTSD such as Timm Lovitt, part of the VA’s About Face project: Nobody knows Vets like other Vets. Here the Veterans offer personal advice about PTSD, based on what they’ve been through.

“One of my big triggers is driving,” Lovitt said. “I got angry and I rolled my window down. And just as I was about to you know start yelling things out, I realized, Timm, this is exactly what you don’t want to be doing right now.” Continue reading

7 Steps to Raise PTSD Awareness and Help Someone

Credit: PTSD.VA.gov

Credit: PTSD.VA.gov

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have raised the profile of post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD.  But just hearing about it is one thing – understanding it takes more effort.

Yet, it’s important because many people who have only “heard” about PTSD tend to paint all with the same broad brush when individualized understanding is needed. So, the Department of Veterans Affairs is working to raise awareness and understanding.

The VA has launched its campaign: Take a Step – Raise PTSD Awarness:

Why do your actions matter for others? If you have PTSD, treatment can help you get better and live a full life. If you are a provider, you can help someone take the step into treatment. And anyone in the community can make a difference by understanding more about PTSD.

Here are seven steps suggested by the VA:

PTSD: Do Men and Women React Differently?

Courtesy VA.gov

Courtesy VA.gov

A study of 18 men and 13 women who had been diagnosed with PTSD showed researchers that the genders react differently to fear.

A staff psychologist at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco conducted the study that was published in the October 2012 issue of the Journal of Psychiatric Research.

Women vs. Men

The study showed women responded more strongly to visual cues than men when they saw a particular image that they knew was going to be followed by an electric shock.

Researchers say it suggests that women can be  conditioned more robustly than men.
PTSD Gender Rates

Mental health experts say women in the general population are twice as likely than men to develop post traumatic stress disorder. Yet, the rate of PTSD was the same among men and women recently seeking treatment at the VA.

As with most research, it created more questions than answers. Researchers don’t know what drives the gender differences in fear conditioning and if there are biological differences  in the fear responses of men and women.

You can read more about the PTSD Gender study HERE.

among recent returnees seeking care at VA, PTSD rates among men and women are the same. Statistics such as these suggest the need to better understand the role of gender in PTSD, particularly as it may impact our Veterans seeking care.” – See more at: http://www.va.gov/health/NewsFeatures/2013/April/PTSD-Study-Men-Versus-Women.asp#sthash.7qpEcaVJ.dpuf
among recent returnees seeking care at VA, PTSD rates among men and women are the same. Statistics such as these suggest the need to better understand the role of gender in PTSD, particularly as it may impact our Veterans seeking care.” – See more at: http://www.va.gov/health/NewsFeatures/2013/April/PTSD-Study-Men-Versus-Women.asp#sthash.7qpEcaVJ.dpuf

A Veteran’s Writing Earns a Journalism Award

Sgt. Thomas James Brennan from the First Battallion Eighth Marines Alpha (Photo courtesy of the Dart Center)

Sgt. Thomas James Brennan from the First Battallion Eighth Marines Alpha (Photo courtesy of the Dart Center)

It’s awards’ season and stories from a Marine recovering from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) suffered while in Afghanistan and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have earned an Honorable Mention Dart Award from the Dart Center for Journalism.

Congratulations to writer Thomas James Brennan and James Dao, editor, for their work on the New York Times At War Blog:

Driving home, I am greeted by the sun as it sets across the farmland. I park my truck and then open the door to my house. Unbuttoning my uniform and slowly taking it off, the facade I wore all day fades away and relief washes over me. “Daddy, Daddy, you’re home!” my daughter yells. Most parents feel a sensation of happiness when greeted by their children. At this moment I am sad, empty. I give her a hug, but she feels far away. I lie on the couch, feeling lost.

There are 1.7 million Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, and at least a third of them suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or P.T.S.D., according to the National Center for P.T.S.D.

I am one of them.

The award noted that Brennan offers a uniquely personal and clear-eyed account of military culture and life as a veteran.

Tips for Managing PTSD and Enjoying the Holidays

Photo courtesy of the VA.

Photo courtesy of the VA.

The heightened stress that comes with the holidays can be a challenge for combat veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and their families. Dr. James Bender, a clinical psychologist with the Defense Centers of Excellence, compiled some suggestions.

Bright lights, loud noises and large crowds that come with the holidays can make holiday events troubling to someone with PTSD.

Crowds and Crowded Spaces

Christmas shopping can be difficult to manage for service members who patrolled while deployed. They may be overly alert and anxious in large crowds scanning for danger. Extreme anxiety around crowds is a symptom that can improve with treatment, but it takes time.


There’s nothing wrong with moderate drinking, but people with PTSD are at-risk for alcohol abuse and dependence. But alcohol interacts with a common class of PTSD medication called SSRIs, which can lead to impaired coordination, reaction time and judgment.

Social Withdrawal

Avoidance is a prominent symptom of PTSD. Social withdrawal symptoms can be managed with relaxation techniques to reduce anxiety and by taking a 5-10 minute “time out” during a party — a walk around the block or step outside for a breath of fresh air.

From a post by Dr. James Bender, DCoE clinical psychologist on December 13, 2012

Marine’s Death Spurs Homeless OEF/OIF Veterans Housing

Marine Brendan MacDonald Fyfe served three tours in Iraq. His battle with PTSD and death due to a drug overdose spurred his parents to raise money to build homeless housing just for OIF/OEF veterans.

Almost 25 percent of homeless people are military veterans. Transitioning from the battlefield to a civilian job or school can be challenging — especially if the veteran has unresolved problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Bruce Fyfe, chairman of the board at Clearwater’s Homeless Emergency Project, understands the plight of homeless veterans at several levels. Fyfe and his wife Wanda helped raise more than $1.6 million to build a 32-unit complex specifically for homeless veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

“This is pretty much what they look like, full bedroom, living area, full kitchen with a stove, microwave,” Fyfe said as he showed off the individual unit that will allow them to accept both male and female veterans. “We used the same criteria we always use, would this be a place that I would stay in. If it isn’t, I don’t want to build it and that’s been the philosophy of HEP since we started.”

The brand new complex for OIF/OEF veterans cost $3.7 million to build and includes a Veterans Club House with common areas for computer work, television viewing and a workout room with up-to-date exercise equipment. Continue reading

A Tribute: NYT Faces of the Dead – “I See Them Every Day”

Photo courtesy of Paving the Road Back blog.

Rod Deaton is a psychiatrist who cares for veterans in Indianapolis.  He also writes the blog, Paving the Road Back: Serving those who have served in combat.

I follow his blog to gain insight, to find solutions, to share stories.

This time it’s one of his veterans who taught Deaton and me a lesson. It all started with the New York Times tribute to those killed in Afghanistan and Iraq with the photographic reminder, Faces of the Dead.

I encourage you to read Deaton’s full blog entry, but I’ll start you off with a portion:


I knew that I would end up having to write about this experience.  But before I could even get enough breathing room to consider doing that, within hours of my having viewed that screen, I was sitting before my patient.

He is not doing well.

He is not suicidal.  He is not giving up.  But he is tired.  He wants to move forward in his life.  He wants at least some of it, the pain, the memories, please, God, to stop.

I debate whether to say anything to him.  He is distressed already, after all.  Yet I also wanted him to know that I had not forgotten, neither him nor the name of his best friend.

“Have you seen the pictures in The Times?” I asked.

He hadn’t.

“Would you like to?”

He looked at me, an odd mixture of blankly and knowingly.  That was such a dangerous move for a therapist.  I’d taken the risk that he’d say “yes” for my sake, not his.  I might have misstepped.

“Yes,” he finally said.

I believed he meant it.  I was tempted to check that out.  I kept my mouth shut, though.  What’s done was done.  He didn’t owe me any more assurance than that.

Continue reading

PTSD: A New Mobile App for Prolonged Exposure Therapy

There’s a new PE coach for veterans currently working with Prolonged Exposure therapy for PTSD. The mobile app works for both iPhone and Android.

An article by the National Center for Telehealth and Technology Public Affairs explains the benefits:

The patient installs “PE Coach” on their smartphone and can record the therapy session for playback between sessions. The app also provides an explanation of exposure therapy, assignments, explanations of PTSD and its symptoms, and a convenient way to write notes about typically avoided locations, situations and events for later discussions with their therapist.

The Defense Department and VA released a similar mobile app last year; “PTSD Coach” which offers self-assessments and support for individuals with PTSD.

PTSD, an Army Veteran and Accelerated Resolution Therapy

Alex Cook did tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

By Alex Cook

Accelerated Resolution Therapy: it involves moving your eyes back and forth (which stimulates both sides of your brain) while envisioning a traumatic memory, and resolving that memory so that it no longer bothers you.

I was pretty nervous about the idea of a psychiatrist tinkering around with my memories; even the ones that trouble me make who I am, and I wasn’t going to give any of them up.  I also worried that I wouldn’t be a good candidate for the study: I imagined it would work best on someone who is troubled by a specific instant that they can’t get over, and I worried that my wartime experiences wouldn’t make the grade.

I still called, though, and was given an appointment the following Monday.

They had to find out if I was right for the study by asking me questions about my experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I expressed my concern that I don’t have flashbacks to a specific moment where I feared for my life.

I was just a camera guy, a broadcaster in an infantry brigade’s public affairs office, who rarely saw combat.  I saw plenty of what comes after, though.  The camera guy went to every memorial ceremony every time someone died, which was often.

Alex Cook in Afghanistan.

I’d fly or convoy out to the small chapels or hangars or gravel pits where the men who fought alongside the dead gathered to mourn their fallen brothers.  I listened to officers’ speeches about heroism, and the guys who’d just seen their buddy die in horrific circumstances struggle to honor their memory through uncontrollable sobs.  I rarely had time to edit a ceremony and burn copies for the unit and the dead soldiers’ family before I was called to another one.

I guess I did about 70 between my two deployments.  Sometimes they’d honor two or three guys that died in the same incident.  It was a mundane part of my life for a year, then another year.  I have lots of feelings about it.

They said I was a good candidate for the ART study.  I filled out a packet, assigning number scores to my emotions and describing some of my difficulties.  They gave me $50 for it and scheduled my first session a few days later.

The first thing you do in ART therapy is assess what is physically going on with your body and try to relax it while following the therapist’s hand back and forth with your eyes.  You do it as much as you need to, willing yourself to stop sweating, loosen your jaw, unclench your fists, or whatever your physical response to your memories might be.

I described a specific memorial ceremony, which I wrote about for this blog last year, and found it extremely difficult to relax my throat and jaw. I realized that they are perpetually clenched.  I have lots of feelings about the dead soldiers, but the strongest was apparently anger.  This surprised me a little bit.

I envisioned the memory several times, willing my body to get over it in between reliving it in my head.  The therapist sent me back in several times, with instructions to change things to make myself feel better.  I imagined the dead soldier as he was when I met him, catching me when my knees buckled the moment I realized that I was at his memorial ceremony.  I imagined him telling me that it was OK, that he’d died for what he believed in, even if it wasn’t what I believed.

It wasn’t my job to decide if his death had meaning.  I imagined him telling me that the last thing he would have wanted his death to cause was more pain in the life of one of his fellow soldiers.  I tried not to cry in front of the therapist, and I loosened my jaw.

I still remember what happened, but I’ve changed how I feel about it.

I picture this soldier, once a symbol of a good man suffering a meaningless death, as sort of a kindly big brother figure.  I smile sadly when I think about him, instead of grinding my teeth at the injustice.  Since the ART session, I’ve been able to talk to people more openly about how my experiences make me feel, instead of just bottling them up.  I’ll never forget what happened, but now I can live with it.

Which is what ART is all about.  I recommend trying it. Information is available HERE or by calling (813) 974-9310

Check it out.  Call them.  Give it a shot.

E-mail me if you want to.  operationfindingfreedom@gmail.com

PTSD: 3 Myths That Hurt People and Delay Getting Help

U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Sean Stevenson takes a knee while on a security patrol in Sangin, Afghanistan, June 6, 2011. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Nathan McCord.

Not being able to distinguish between fact and fiction, writes Jayne Davis with the Defense Centers of Excellence, can be the difference between living with hope and living with despair for someone diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.

So, Davis set out to bust a few of those harmful myths:

Myth 1: Only Weak People Get PTSD

Being uninformed contributes to numerous misconceptions about the disorder, such as having PTSD means you’re not mentally tough. That plays particularly well in the military culture where standards of toughness are high and implemented with rigor.

Stress reactions to combat situations such as having nightmares and reliving a traumatic event, aren’t necessarily indicators of PTSD, but if they persist beyond a short-term period, it could result in a diagnosis. Some service members may be reluctant to acknowledge these symptoms for fear of being considered weak in character or unreliable, two further myths which keep them from seeking treatment and benefiting from support.

Myth 2: Treatment Doesn’t Work

That treatment doesn’t work is one of the more damaging myths about PTSD. Treatment does work. Decades of research have produced many successful treatment therapies, such as cognitive processing therapy and prolonged exposure, and identified early intervention as key to positive treatment outcomes.

One option to understanding and managing symptoms associated with PTSD is to download PTSD Coach, a mobile app loaded support resources.

Myth 3: Getting Care Will Hurt My Career

Many service members remain under the impression that receiving treatment will diminish or curtail their military career — another unfounded myth writes Davis.

Not seeking help once you become aware of problematic behavioral changes in yourself can be far more damaging should behaviors associated with PTSD like angry outbursts or attention deficits compromise your mission readiness or your unit’s trust in you. Courageous service members share their experiences and recovery stories in Real Warriors Campaign video profiles, further challenging the myth that treatment doesn’t work.

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