June 27th is PTSD awareness day. While I’ve seen a lot about Doughnut Day and National Trails Day (which are both also in June), I’ve seen very little related to PTSD. Which is a shame seeing as approximately 44.7 million people in the US suffer from PTSD. My husband is one of those 44.7 million. He’s agreed to let me talk about it here. Not because he’s fond of the idea, but because he knows that it’s a struggle for me too. It’s hard. Like, really hard sometimes. So in recognition of PTSD awareness day, here is what I really wish the VA understood about my husband’s PTSD.
Your “counseling” sucks ass
No, really. The fact that you even call it “counseling” is a joke. Here is how a typical “counseling” session at the VA goes for my husband.
Husband: Schedules appointment at least 3 months in advance.
3 months later….
Husband: Arrives at appointment and is greeted by “counselor”
Counselor: Hi, how are you? I’m going to ask you a series of questions and record your answer (as they pull up the computer screen and make zero eye contact)
Counselor: Have you had feelings of depression since your last visit?
Counselor: How often do you have bad dreams?
Husband: Maybe once a week, not often
Counselor: How often do you have suicidal thoughts?
Husband: Not often
Counselor: Have you been taking your medication?
Husband: No, I don’t like pills, I’m not interested in being medicated, I’d rather address the issue
Counselor: Well, why aren’t you taking your pills?
Husband: I don’t believe I should have to take a pill every day and don’t want to become addicted, not to mention the side effects are nearly as bad as the PTSD.
Counselor: Ok, well I’ll give you a prescription for a different medication that you can try, maybe you’ll like it better.
Husband: I won’t take it, I don’t want it
Counselor: Great, let’s go get your meds.
On what planet is this considered counseling? How is this supposed to help my husband’s PTSD? It provides absolutely nothing in way of support. If anything it makes my husband, and every other veteran out there that has to endure this, feel hopeless. If you could maybe spend more than five minutes getting to know these veterans, asking what their current struggles are, and maybe suggesting something more than pills, that’d be great.
Not everyone wants a pill
As mentioned above, my husband is not comfortable taking a pill every day. There are those who really benefit from medication prescribed for PTSD, but it’s not for everyone. The side effects can be just as bad as the PTSD itself. Stop shoving pills at everyone and start trying to address the problem.
It’s not always about the “incident”
Most veterans, my husband included, are deployed multiple times. While deployed they are frequently in high stress situations, constantly on high alert. The VA seems to want to only focus on specific incidents, such as when an IED went off, or an accident or casualty. However, for my husband at least, it’s not those single incidents that had the most effect on him; it was the constant need to be on high alert, the constant fear of being injured or not making it home. The VA regularly singles out and asks my husband to describe and relive those incidents, which only makes things worse. My husband’s PTSD isn’t a result of an IED; it’s the result of living on high alert for month after month. The whole deployment was a nightmare, so stop singling out moments that as a civilian you think should have more of an impact.
Put stock in what others say
I’ve written statements for my husband, as have other family members, in an effort to get him more support from the VA. I don’t know how much stock they actually put into such letters, but it doesn’t seem like it’s a lot. I’ve personally asked for help for my husband’s PTSD, not only for him, but for myself. I may not be the one with PTSD, but I eat, breath, and sleep it every damn day just like he does. So if I (or any other spouse) tells you that there’s a problem and asks you to help their loved one, pay attention. It’s not easy asking for help. It’s even harder being denied help once you’ve asked.
Educate the Public on PTSD
If you want to help those with PTSD, help change the stigma society has about PTSD. It’s not all nightmares and flashbacks. When we go out my husband sometimes has to move the vehicle and re-park 3 times before he feels comfortable getting out. There’s been times that he’s stayed up all night because he felt the need to protect us (from what I have no idea). Help those with PTSD by educating the public on the fact that PTSD isn’t always outbursts and rage. Sometimes it’s just outright fear, and that fear can be paralyzing.
Offer grief counseling, even after their out
Thankfully there were only a handful of soldiers in my husband’s unit who paid the ultimate sacrifice. It’s something nearly every soldier struggles with. From my understanding, there’s not much offered in the way of grief counseling. But even now that my husband has been out for several years, news of his battle buddies passing reach us quite often. Whether it’s by suicide, an accident, or sickness; it hits my husband hard. Even harder than it did when he was in. Think about it. Soldiers risk their lives facing dangerous situations. For someone to make it through hell and high water only to come back and be taken by cancer, well it’s unimaginable and difficult to fathom.
If you or someone you know is suffering from PTSD and need help, contact the Veterans Crisis Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.