Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Day is this Saturday, June 27th. While anyone can be affected by PTSD, an article appearing in the June issue of Vanity Fair states that the U.S. military currently has one of the highest rates of PTSD in its history.
Looking back through history, it is reported that 31% of Vietnam veterans have suffered from PTSD following their return from war. Following Operation Desert Storm in 1990, 11% of veterans reported experiencing PTSD. More recently, there have been over 2 million Americans who have returned from both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars that began in the early 2000s. Of those veterans, 1 in 5 has been diagnosed with PTSD. According to CBS News, one point that might help explain such high rates of PTSD is that combat exposure in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars was high. What makes these numbers stand out is the fact that only 10% of American forces actually see combat.
News Generation recently spoke with Ernest Spycher, an Iraq War veteran who now works with Serving Together in Silver Spring, Maryland. “I came back to Virginia to seek medical treatment following my tour,” says Spycher. “I was physically and mentally injured, and I didn’t know how to deal with my injuries.” Spycher remembers coming back as being harder than his original deployment to Iraq. “I felt completely alone, I went from being away from my family, to then being away from my combat brothers and sisters who were still there.” He explains starting to feel guilty. “My team was still there, in the combat zone, but I was back on American soil”. “I did experience PTSD”, he says. “I had nightmares, I was hyper-vigilant, and had feelings of anger and rage.” Spycher received treatment for his PTSD through a veteran’s center.
Spycher says it was getting involved with fellow veterans and learning that he wasn’t alone in what he was going through that helped him the most. He credits his support system of family and friends for helping him get through his PTSD. “I learned that it was okay to ask for help, and that people weren’t going to think any less for me for doing so.”
Despite the focus on PTSD statistics surrounding veterans returning home from recent wars, it is important to note that PTSD can still affect veterans years after they have returned home. A 2003 review shows that some Vietnam veterans reported struggling with chronic PTSD symptoms 20-25 years after the war. “PTSD isn’t something new,” says Spycher. “It’s been around as long as there’s been war.” Spycher recalls talking to veterans from World War II. “Many of these veterans are in their 80s, and they still report having strong memories and flashbacks surrounding their time at war.”
Jessica Fuchs, Project Director for Serving Together and the wife of a Service Member, says one of the biggest challenges she faces when working with veterans is the stigma surrounding asking for help. “Veterans assume that they can and should be able to do everything themselves, whether that’s figuring out a question about their G.I. Bill, or seeking help for PTSD,” she explains. Spycher echoes her point. “We really need to move away from the idea that a veteran shouldn’t ask for help.” The one piece of advice that Spycher would give to all veterans is to not be afraid to ask for help. “The strongest people are the ones that are able to ask for the help they need.”
PTSD Awareness Day may be this Saturday, but it is important to continue to work toward removing the stigma surrounding PTSD treatment and other mental illnesses. #MentalHealthMatters, and we need to spread the message that it’s strong to reach out and get the help you need.