By Laura Kaae
Killeen Daily Herald
Though a recently released study found that nearly one in five veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression, local health care officials and soldiers say amped-up military and civilian-wide efforts to help veterans and their families identify and treat PTSD early in its onset have reduced the stigma and increased the treatment available for those returning from combat.
Randy Pittenger, director of behavioral health at the Metroplex Pavilion Behavioral Health Center, said during the past few months, and most notably in recent weeks, his staff of doctors and counselors has seen an increase in the number of soldiers who have come through the clinic with symptoms of PTSD. But Pittenger said the good news, is that caught early on, PTSD is treatable.
"It certainly is treatable," Pittenger said. "Early intervention is the key to that."
Pittenger said that because each person's experience in a war zone is unique, every response to combat stress is individualized.
"It's not just cut and dry," he said. "There are variables depending on needs."
Pittenger said soldiers and families need to realize that after troops have been involved in a war, it is common to see effects of that combat stress upon returning home.
"Some things are normal," he said. "Soldiers experience horrendous events. Folks are dealing with the stress of being in a war zone. It is understandable that people would need some help."
While several approaches can be taken to treat PTSD after it has been diagnosed – including group counseling, therapy and medication – a key element in caring for those with potential PTSD issues, Pittenger said, is making families and soldiers aware of signs and symptoms to watch for when a soldier returns from war.
Pittenger said that escalating efforts by the military to effectively screen and educate troops before, during and after deployments has increased awareness and bolstered measures to treat the disorder.
"We are seeing a good response to efforts going on on post," he said. "The military is doing a better job of screening (for PTSD)."
Capt. Julio Sanchez, of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, said efforts to beef up awareness of PTSD have increased tremendously over the past few years for troops deploying overseas.
Sanchez said that troops must go through extensive training on learning what to expect from themselves or from buddies who may be experiencing PTSD.
"We are taught what to look for in ourselves and in our soldiers," he said. "We are made aware of what to look for in the first place and (given) reminders of services available from mental health to chaplain services."
At Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center, public affairs specialist Jon Connor said the Fort Hood medical center offers a vast array of resources for soldiers returning from a combat zone, and help is readily available for those who need it.
The newest resource, Connor said, is a recently completed 39-page booklet that details the expansive behavioral health services available at Fort Hood.
The booklet, available currently on the Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center's Web site, www.crdamc.amedd.army.mil, and soon to be printed in hard copy, offers resources for military personnel and their dependents.
While the new statistics from the Rand Corporation (an independent research firm) may come as a surprise to many in the civilian world, for many soldiers like Sanchez, PTSD is just another reality of war he and his buddies are aware of and are dealing with.
Sanchez, who has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, said that while he doesn't know anyone personally affected by the disorder, that "it's a known fact" PTSD does happen.
The bottom line, Sanchez said, is that the Army is stepping up its training of soldiers on the subject of mental health.
"It starts before we leave," he said. "All care is provided and encouraged."
Contact Laura Kaae at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7464