SU community veterans get aid to cope with PTSD

One day, a national suicide prevention hotline made for veterans received an emergency call from Oakland, Calif. A veteran said he was about to jump in front of a train.

Employees at the hotline, formed by Jen Kemp, national suicide prevention coordinator, immediately found the train and managed to stop it just in time. They talked to the veteran again, who said he was very grateful they did so much to help him. He was then able to begin his treatment.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Kemp said. “Making that contact and that reach out.”

Kemp said the suicide rate among veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder is an issue. Veteran suicide rates have increased from 10 percent to 18 percent in the last decade as more veterans return from active duty. About 1,100 veterans attempt suicide every month.

PTSD is a mental illness many veterans develop due to trauma while serving in the military. But there is a lack of awareness and understanding of PTSD in America as hundreds of afflicted veterans return home and receive their dues on Veterans Day.

Jessica Hamblen, the deputy director for education at the National Center for PTSD, recalled another example of the mental illness.

One late night, a veteran couldn’t sleep and went outside for some air. He stopped when he noticed something suspicious — a car was slowly driving down the street, occasionally stopping as it got closer to his house.

The veteran picked up a nearby rock in fear, feeling tense and alert, and slowly began walking toward the street. He raised the rock, but the car drove away before he could do anything else. As he moved after it, he stepped on something: a newspaper. The paperboy drove down the street as the veteran looked on.

Hamblen explained that while traumatic stress in veterans typically only lasts two weeks, PTSD continues for a longer period of time without getting better.

Typical symptoms of PTSD include anxiety, inappropriate flashbacks, feeling unsafe, avoiding being around others and reliving painful experiences and nightmares.

“They think about it when they don’t want to,” Hamblen said. “You’re at school, you’re trying to focus on something else and you think about Iraq.”

The Counseling Center at Syracuse University offers free services for PTSD. Susan Pasco, associate director of the Counseling Center, said these include individual or group counseling, consultations for students who may know someone with PTSD or emergency crisis support.

The Counseling Center also offers complete confidentiality with all appointments. This is important with cases of PTSD, as the negative stigma makes veterans hesitant to seek treatment if people could find out about it.

“They can feel comfortable coming to the Counseling Center, knowing they’ve got some private, confidential counseling,” Pasco said.

But the number of students using these services is relatively low, and the biggest issue is getting people to know they’re available anytime they need. This requires increasing awareness of the illness itself so veterans know they can seek treatment.

“The more the community is aware, they’re going to feel more accepted as members of our community,” Pasco said.

James Schmeling, the managing director and co-founder of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families on University Avenue, said the major issue surrounding veterans with PTSD today is its negative connotation.

When veterans return home, the false belief is that PTSD is connected with being violent or unstable, which makes veterans reluctant to admit their illness or seek treatment.

“Folks are going to think that there’s something wrong with them, or that they’re in danger just because of the myths in the media and the general perception,” Schmeling said.

Treatment is also important, as many veterans bring back skills from service that can contribute to society.

Getting treatment means using these skills for work, which also decreases unemployment and disability benefits, helping the whole country.

“Veterans bring back a wealth of experience and exposure to different cultures,” Schmeling said. “But the stigma of PTSD sometimes, I think, is a barrier to their full participation.”


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