For 15 years, I have had the honor to serve the veterans of Linn County. I take this role seriously. As Director of Linn County Veteran Affairs, it is my duty to assist veterans with a number of services, including addressing profiling, discrimination, stereotypes and misconceptions of veterans diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). June is National PTSD Awareness Month and is a good opportunity to broaden the understanding of PTSD, which affects veterans and non-veterans alike. PTSD is not only combat related. PTSD symptoms can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event such as physical or sexual abuse, a car accident, a natural disaster, or a near death experience such as drowning, electrocution, etc. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, about 7 or 8 out of every 100 people (7-8 percent of the population) will have PTSD at some point in their lives (based on the U.S. population).
Symptoms of PTSD usually begin within three months after a traumatic event, but can emerge years afterward. For example, many Vietnam veterans begin to see symptoms of PTSD after they retire, when work and the responsibilities of employment no longer run interference and the symptoms of PTSD begin to emerge.
The symptoms of PTSD fall into the following categories:
• Intrusive memories, which can include flashbacks of reliving the moment of trauma, bad dreams and upsetting thoughts.
• Avoidance, which can include staying away from certain places or objects that are reminders of the traumatic event. A person may also feel numb, guilty, worried or depressed or have trouble remembering the traumatic event.
• Dissociation, which can include out-of-body experiences or feeling that the world is “not real”. A person may be startled very easily, feeling tense, trouble sleeping or outbursts of anger.
• Hypervigilance. This is a state in which the person with PTSD is continually alert and unable to relax, as though constantly on the lookout for signs of danger and dangerous situations. Often the hyper-vigilant state is accompanied by anxiety and insomnia.
In understanding PTSD, it’s important to know these five points:
• PTSD can affect anyone
• Not everyone who experiences trauma will develop PTSD
• Flashbacks are more than memories – you actually relive the event in your mind
• You can be your own worst enemy
• Simple signs of affection may help
PTSD can affect different people in different ways. However, here are five things that you should avoid saying to someone diagnosed with PTSD:
• But you were never in combat
• Just let it go already
• You need to move forward
• It could have been worse
• You never mentioned that before
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A qualified mental health provider can help determine if you or a loved one has PTSD. Having a PTSD diagnosis does not mean a person is homicidal, suicidal, or both, nor does it mean that they are crazy. There are effective treatments for PTSD. Anyone with PTSD should seek out support and therapy so they can learn to cope with PTSD and find enjoyment out of life again. With proper understanding, therapy and medication, people with PTSD are thriving people and live very normal lives. Treatment helps you reclaim your life.
For more information about PTSD, visit ptsd.va.gov.
• Don Tyne has served as the Linn County Director of Veteran Affairs since 2002. He has served 34 years in the military and is a nationally certified Veteran Service Officer.