Moving beyond PTSD: help is available

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Carolyn Herrick
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs
Editor's note: This is the last of a three-part series on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

An estimated 11 to 20 percent of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, 10 percent of veterans of the Gulf War, and 30 percent of Vietnam veterans suffer from PTSD, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Those percentages represent hundreds of thousands of military service members like Master Sgt. James Haskell, a former aerial gunner now stationed at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., who was diagnosed with the disorder in October 2012.

"Different people respond to trauma different ways, so some things that may not be traumatic to one person, for someone else may be traumatic - it depends upon the person," said Maj. Phillip Howell, clinical psychologist and 49th Medical Operations Squadron mental health flight commander.

The basic indicators of PTSD, according to Howell, include a traumatic event and then either re-experiencing that event, avoiding things which remind them of the event, or hyper arousal. If they meet a certain number of criteria for those three symptoms, they are diagnosed with PTSD.

"The sooner you come in and get treated, the better the chances of you recovering," he said.

"[My] symptoms were very insidious," said Haskell, a Haverhill, Mass., native who deployed more than 20 times in support of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom during his 21-year career. "It's not like one day I was fine and the next I wasn't. I noticed things like my stress level building but not coming back down. I was unable to relax, I was becoming forgetful, I wasn't sleeping well, and I was short-tempered. I started experiencing stress-related physical symptoms like chest pains, muscle soreness, weight gain, and feeling anxious all the time."

The difference between Haskell and many other veterans who suffer is that he sought help.

First, he went to see a Military and Family Life Consultant, a certified counselor who keeps no records of patients seen and the nature of the counseling. She quickly identified some of his symptoms as being PTSD-related, and referred him to the mental health clinic. Since then, Haskell has seen a psychiatrist on a regular basis.

"One of the things I really appreciated about my treatment was the continuity of care I received," he said. "When you're talking about something so difficult, you don't want to bounce around from provider to provider and share your story multiple times."

Another resource the military provides is the chaplain service, which is 100 percent confidential. Chapel staff will see any Airman, DoD civilian, contractor, or family member.

"What you say here stays here," said Ch. (Lt. Col.) Hector Colon, 49th Wing head chaplain. "Anything you say will not be reported."

Additionally, the counseling chaplains offer is not "religion-based," contrary to popular belief.

"We offer spiritual counseling, not faith-based counseling," said Colon. "One of the pillars of Comprehensive Airman Fitness is spirituality, and we help people plug into something outside themselves - it doesn't matter if you are an atheist, we are here to help you give your issues to a higher power, whichever power you believe in. That is very powerful treatment for PTSD."