A woman reached out to our office recently.  Her husband, a veteran now, was a medic in the Iraq War. While he’s returned home, she told us “it really is like he never came back.” He, like as many as one in five Iraq War veterans, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

For thousands, the battle does not end when the deployment does.  There are scars – both seen and unseen – that remain.  For this South Dakota family, PTSD has shown itself through fits of rage and occasionally a disconnect between the veteran and his children.  While the family knew he needed mental health support, it was admittedly difficult to recognize the slow-striking signs of PTSD right away.

Eventually, the family found Coaching into Care, a resource provided by the Veterans Administration (VA).  Through this program, they were connected with others who could understand the burdens of war and the difficult-to-discuss challenge of being a caregiver. Additionally, veterans and their caregivers can be introduced to licensed therapists and social workers who could provide professional help.

Offering this support to both veterans and caregivers in this way is critical. Over five million people serve as caregivers for veteran family members, and in doing so, they answer their own call to service.  It’s a tough job, but there is support out there.  In addition to the Coaching into Care program, the VA has set up a special Caregiver Support Line, which can be reached by calling 1-855-260-3274.  There is also help offered through the VA Family Caregiver Program.

The woman we spoke to explained that her husband’s treatment has helped him a great deal, and she continues to advocate for more mental health research for military personnel.  But she emphasized that more than anything, she wants other veterans to recognize the signs of mental illness and know it is absolutely not a weakness or a fault.  With her goals in mind, I wanted to share a few of those signs today. 

The VA identifies four types of symptoms. First, a veteran may relive a traumatic event or series of events.  This may show itself through nightmares, flashbacks, or after experiencing a sight, sound or smell that triggers them to feel the same fear or horror as when the event first occurred.

Second, an individual may avoid situations that remind them of the event, such as crowded areas or driving.  Keeping busy or ducking help might also keep them from having to think or talk about the event.

Third, you may see a change in the way a person thinks about themselves or others.  Perhaps they avoid relationships or start seeing the world as completely dangerous.

Finally, a veteran may seem to be on the lookout for danger.  This symptom may show up in the form of difficulty sleeping or concentrating, anger and irritability, or an unusual jitteriness.  If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms, I encourage you to seek help. If you don’t know where to turn, the VA has set up a crisis line.  To access it, call 1-800-273-8255 or text 838255.

Our freedom comes at a cost.  This month, as we observe both Veterans Day and Caregiver Appreciation Month, I encourage you to reach out to the families who have answered the call of duty.  They deserve our respect, support, and gratitude.

To all of those who have fought and for the caregivers who support them today, I know I can never truly understand the depth of the experiences you have endured, but I pray for you always.  May God bless and protect you.

Additional Note: If you or a family member would like support from Coaching into Care, as this family recieved, the agency can be reached toll free at 1-888-823-7458.  Their hours are Monday - Friday 7am to 7pm (CT). 

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