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Recognizing PTSD

Recognizing PTSD, by Jill Drummond

Are you wondering if you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of PTSD?  I’m glad you’re wondering.  Because the first step toward getting needed help is awareness.  So let’s start by looking at several categories of symptoms that make up this complex disorder we call PTSD.

Re-experiencing Symptoms

The most dramatic symptoms of PTSD, and the ones we seem to hear most about, are the “re-experiencing symptoms.”  PTSD affects people who have experienced or witnessed a terrifying event, often involving violence. The memory of such a traumatic event might return at any time.  Here are some examples of re-experiencing symptoms:

    • unpleasant intrusive memories
    • “flashbacks,” where a person feels as if they are actually going through the event again.  They might feel the same emotions (fear, horror) and body sensations (racing heart, rapid breathing, sweating) that they experienced at the time the event took place.  This is what we call a “fight-or-flight” response.
    • Nightmares, which can also feel very real.

Re-experiencing symptoms can be triggered by things that tap into the old memory.  These triggers can include sounds, sights, smells, or almost anything that is similar to some aspect of the original event.  Examples of common triggers are cars backfiring, helicopters flying overhead, unwanted sexual advances (for a rape victim), news reports, images in the media, the smell of burning fuel, etc.

Avoidance Symptoms

Another group of symptoms includes avoidance behaviors.  There is a natural human tendency to try to avoid situations that remind us of a horrifying event or that bring on distressing feelings and re-experiencing symptoms.  A person may begin to avoid situations or people that remind them of the event, and may avoid talking or thinking about it.  Some common avoidance behaviors include:

  • avoiding crowds
  • isolating from other people
  • avoiding places and events that remind them of the trauma
  • keeping overly busy and distracted to prevent thinking about the event
  • drinking or using drugs to avoid unpleasant feelings (“self-medicating”).

Anything done to excess may become an avoidance behavior, if its purpose is to push away unpleasant memories and feelings or to avoid certain situations.

Hyperarousal Symptoms

Hyperarousal means that a person’s nervous system is aroused to an unnecessarily high level, even when there are no real threats present.  A person with PTSD might:

  • feel always on the alert, on the lookout for danger.
  • have trouble falling or staying asleep.
  • be easily startled by loud noises or sudden movements.
  • have trouble concentrating or staying focused.
  • feel more comfortable sitting with their back against a wall in a public place.
  • feel anxious, jittery, irritable and easily angered.  Anger can flare into rage.
  • react to small stressors with an exaggerated response.

Subtler Symptoms

Here are the symptoms I want you to pay particular attention to.  I think of this last category as the “subtler symptoms.”   They are less obvious than re-experiencing, avoidance, or hyperarousal symptoms.   The reason they’re important is that sometimes, during treatment, they take a back seat to the more dramatic symptoms.  They’re not as easy to spot, and a vet (or trauma survivor) may not be talking about them.  And if they aren’t treated, they can become painfully unpleasant chronic effects of PTSD, long after the more dramatic symptoms have subsided.

So let’s take a look at some of the subtler symptoms of PTSD.  Many people with PTSD experience negative changes in their emotions and beliefs, which can leave them feeling devoid of the normal pleasure they once felt in being alive.  They may:

  • think the world is completely dangerous and that no one can be trusted.
  • experience a continuous sense of dread.
  • have a hard time relating to and getting along with their spouse, family and friends, especially with those who have never been exposed to the same trauma.
  • feel disconnected and emotionally cut off from others, and may begin to withdraw from close relationships.
  • lose interest in things they used to enjoy, or feel generally numb.
  • have trouble feeling positive feelings at all.
  • have trouble imagining a future for themselves.
  • feel guilt at surviving when others didn’t, which may rob them of the enjoyment of being alive.

All of the above symptoms can bring on feelings of depression and hopelessness.  If there is sleep deprivation because of the fear of nightmares, or if there is substance abuse, the symptoms of depression often worsen.  In some cases, a PTSD sufferer may feel the only way out of their suffering is to end their life.

Many of the symptoms I’ve just described stem from the same underlying mechanism, the changes in the brain and nervous system caused by the traumatic events that led to PTSD.  The VA and other trauma experts now consider PTSD to be an actual physical injury to the brain and nervous system, not just a psychological or emotional issue. This discovery has led to recent improvements in treatment methods. For more on this subject, read our article PTSD – An Injury To The Nervous System.

In order to be diagnosed with PTSD, a person must have a certain number of symptoms within these categories.  If you think that you, or your loved one, is experiencing PTSD, a mental health counselor (or a Vet Center readjustment counsellor) can make the diagnosis and get you hooked up with the help you need.  Even if you don’t meet the full criteria for PTSD, any of the above symptoms can be very troublesome.  Click here to learn how counseling at a Vet Center can be a great support. The counseling they offer can help you understand PTSD and how it affects people.  It can alleviate or reduce many distressing symptoms, and teach you tools for managing your own emotions and reactions.  Couples counseling can be very helpful in bringing spouses closer as a “team” in dealing with PTSD and addressing the spouse’s “secondary PTSD.”

If you think that you, or someone you know, is suffering from PTSD, the best gift you can give yourself or your loved one is the gift of counseling.   It may turn out to be one of the best decisions you’ve ever made.


There’s a wonderful website – Make The Connection – launched by the VA to help veterans and their families find support.  It’s full of brief videos by veterans who have experienced PTSD.  Here’s their invitation to you:

“Hear honest and candid descriptions from Veterans of what life was like for them with PTSD.  A variety of Veterans – men and women, younger and older – share their emotions, actions and symptoms, how they learned they had PTSD, and what they did to get on a path to recovery.”

Please let us know what you think about their website and whether you found this article helpful.

“I’m OK, I’m OK.”

“I’m OK, I’m OK.” by David D

Ever see a football player get hit hard and knocked to the ground? I’m sure you have at least once. He will get up and will be saying “I’m OK, I’m OK. I’m good to go.” That is what PTSD is like. You get wacked psychologically and you think everything is OK after the initial shock wears off. The damage is done and you have suffered a psychological wound, just as real as a physical one. It is there, but you don’t recognize it. The two also go together. If you are wounded by a bullet, explosion or other trauma you are also wounded psychologically. You can see the external wounds but not as readily the internal wound. The external wound is treated with the best that medical science has to offer. The internal wounds are not treated, in most cases, because they are invisible. Symptoms may manifest themselves a short time later or may stay hidden and gnaw at you for years. The effects of PTSD can be lifelong. The fact that they may never disappear might sound depressing and hopeless. But like all wounds, you can cope and deal with the situation and lead a normal life.

I had two Air Force tours, one flying C7A small transport aircraft, the second flying B-52s bombing Hanoi, North Vietnam, where I was shot down and taken prisoner. I noticed after my time in Vietnam that I was different, but was not quite sure how or why. I had a more negative view of the world and its people. I functioned well for many years and as I grew older I became more irritable, mistrusting and impatient. I had periods of depression, not necessarily debilitating but affecting the quality of my life. It caused my wife to walk on eggs because of my outbursts. She has suffered along with me because of my behavior. PTSD becomes a family matter because it affects the entire family. The impact of PTSD was first noticed by my wife and later by myself.

I was brought up in a loving family. My father was a tank commander in the British 8th Army during the desert campaign in North Africa. He was wounded and temporarily blinded. He also fought in Italy and Greece. He was my idea of a hero. He showed no outward signs of injury except some scars from wounds. I’m sure he suffered from PTSD but he didn’t show it to his children. I, therefore, believed you needed to suck it up and get on with your life. Big mistake with PTSD. I did just that but PTSD wouldn’t leave me alone. It kept haunting my life and affecting its quality.

I began to face up to the situation about five years ago, after several blowups with my wife. I began to realize I was the problem and I needed to do something about it. I went to the VA and for a few months received treatment, which eliminated the nightmares.  I incorrectly thought everything was fixed, which it wasn’t. I continued to be irritable, mistrusting and affected by periods of depression. After several heart-to-hearts with my wife, I realized I needed more help. In March of 2015 I found the Lakewood Vet Center, which had people who were very knowledgeable and sensitive to PTSD. This was the first time I got the big picture of what was causing the problem and what to do about it. This was eye-opening.

After admitting to myself that I had a problem, which is a very big step in getting your life back, I admitted it openly to my wife and close friends. All were understanding and allowed me to be comfortable with my recovery process, and it is a process. I then became open with my Vet friends who have their own PTSD problems. This openness gave me a lot of hope and allowed me to be honest with myself.

This process of treatment and understanding PTSD gave me a roadmap to getting my life back under control. It required great patience and understanding from my long suffering wife. I credit her with my life’s improvement. While I’m still struggling with my problems and I’m far from reaching my goal of a normal life, I have a direction and a goal. It is difficult to reach any goal until you know where you are. When you go on a trip and want to reach a destination, you can’t get there until you know your starting point.

I now know where I am, and I am on my way to my goal of being the best person I can be.




WWII Veteran, Recent Recipient Of Valor Quilt Charles Schwarz Dies At 93

FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP, NJ — A World War II veteran who was just recently honored for his service has died, according to his obituary.

Charles Schwarz, who lived in Manalapan for more than 50 years, died Monday at Wedgwood Gardens Care Center in Freehold Township. He was 93, according to his obituary on the Freeman Funeral Home website.

Schwarz, who was an Army Air Corps tail gunner, had just recently been honored for his service with a Quilt of Valor by the Quilts of Valor Foundation, Rebecca’s Reel Quilters and the South Shore Quilters at a brief ceremony attended by numerous residents at Wedgwood, the rehabilitation and long-term care center on Route 9.

“This is the best neighborhood there is,” Schwarz told Muriel J. Smith, who provided a report and photos from the event, which was attended by dozens of residents.

Prior to the birth of the US Air Force, the Army Air Corps ruled the skies during the second World War and the tail gunner position was one of the most vital positions in the aircraft. The tail gunner protected the rear of an aircraft, usually in a kneeling position on a bicycle-type seat in the second tightest compartment underneath the plane. The tail area was drafty and frostbite was a constant issue.

As the only rear-facing crewmember, he was responsible for passing along information about things behind the aircraft, such as enemy fighters or the condition of the flying formation, to the rest of the crew. Schwarz enlisted in the Air Corps shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack and served throughout the war in that position.

The quilt presentation was made possible through Lori Papirnik of Freehold, who had been friends with Schwarz for a number of years. Papirnik said she first met the former soldier when he lived in Manalapan and she was an employee at the Public Works Department, where he frequently came to voice his opinion on a number of municipal services, Smith wrote.

U.S. Agrees to Pay Billions to Marines Affected by Toxic Water

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has agreed to provide disability benefits totaling more than $2 billion to veterans who had been exposed to contaminated drinking water while assigned to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

The decision was quietly made public Thursday with a notice in the Federal Register, the government’s official journal.

Beginning in March, the cash payouts from the Department of Veterans Affairs may supplement VA health care already being provided to eligible veterans stationed at the Marine base for at least 30 days cumulative between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987. Veterans will have to submit evidence of their diagnosis and service information.

Related: Donald Trump Picks David Shulkin, Current Obama Appointee, to Lead Veterans Affairs

Outgoing VA Secretary Bob McDonald determined that there was “sufficient scientific and medical evidence” to establish a connection between exposure to the contaminated water and eight medical conditions for purposes of awarding disability compensation.

The estimated taxpayer cost is $2.2 billion over a five-year period. The VA estimates that as many as 900,000 service members were potentially exposed to the tainted water.

“This is good news,” said retired Marine Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, whose daughter Janey was born in 1976 while he was stationed at Lejeune. Janey died from leukemia at age 9. Ensminger now heads a veterans group, The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten, which advocates for those seeking disability compensation.

“This has been a hard, long slog,” said Ensminger, who says the government must go further in covering additional diseases. “This is not the end of the issue.”

The new rule covers active duty, Reserve and National Guard members who developed one of eight diseases: adult leukemia, aplastic anemia, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Parkinson’s disease.

Related: One-Third of Calls to VA Suicide Hotline Don’t Get Answered: Ex-Director

Documents uncovered by veterans groups over the years suggest Marine leaders were slow to respond when tests first found evidence of contaminated ground water at Camp Lejeune in the early 1980s. Some drinking water wells were closed in 1984 and 1985, after further testing confirmed contamination from leaking fuel tanks and an off-base dry cleaner. The Marine Corps has said the contamination was unintentional, occurring when federal law didn’t limit toxins in drinking water.

Spurred by Ensminger’s case, Congress in 2012 passed a bill signed into law by President Barack Obama extending free VA medical care to affected veterans and their families. But veterans were not automatically provided disability aid or survivor benefits. The issue has prompted lawsuits by veterans organizations, which note that military personnel in Camp Lejeune housing “drank, cooked and bathed” in contaminated water for years.

“Expanded coverage is making progress, but we also need to know whether the government may be purposefully leaving people out,” said Rick Weidman, executive director of Vietnam Veterans of America.

Affected veterans who were stationed at Camp Lejeune may now submit applications for benefits, once the rule is officially published Friday. Roughly 1,400 disability claims related to Lejeune are already pending, and will be reviewed immediately, according to the VA.

VVA Applauds Introduction of New Blue Water Vietnam Veterans Act

(Washington, DC) –“For over a decade, Vietnam Veterans of America has sought legislation to restore presumptive Agent Orange exposure status to members of the Armed Forces who served in the territorial waters of Vietnam,” said John Rowan, VVA National President. “We applaud Congressman David Valadao (CA-21) and the original cosponsors of H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, and we will work with them to pass this much-needed bill.

“We could not agree more with Congressman Dennis Ross (FL-15), that ‘there is absolutely no reason those veterans who served in the waters off the coast of Vietnam and currently suffer fromdiseases related to Agent Orange exposure should not qualify for current VA care,’ ” Rowan said.

“Presumption of service connection exists for Vietnam veterans who served in country, on land and inland waterways. Enactment of H.R. 299 will bring a modicum of justice to several thousand Navy personnel who have been denied service connection by the VA since 2002. They no longer will have to prove direct exposure to Agent Orange, and they will receive expedited consideration for VA benefits if they are afflicted with any of the health conditions associated with exposure to this defoliant,” Rowan said.

“VVA fully endorses the sentiments expressed by Congressman Tim Walz (MN-1): ‘When Congress allowed the Agent Orange Act of 1991 to expire, the need for this legislation becameabsolutely critical. Our nation must exhaust every effort to identify, prevent, and heal the injuries, illnesses, and wounds our military service personnel received during their service.’ “

The Jeff Miller and Richard Blumenthal Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2016

On December 10, 2016, the Senate passed H.R. 6416, the Jeff Miller and Richard Blumenthal Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2016.

H.R. 6416 now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law. Highlights of the measure include provisions to:


  • Establish automatic entitlement to survivor benefit payments in certain cases;
  • Streamline the Board of Veterans Appeals video hearing process;
  • Enhance the Veterans Benefit Administration’s contract medical examination process;
  • Temporarily increase the number of judges presiding at Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims;
  • Require continuous review of the Transition Goals Plans and Success (GPS) program, its workshops, training methodology, delivery of services, collection and analysis of course critiques and VSO involvement;
  • Establish a three-year transition period for Service Disabled Veteran Owned Businesses following the non-service-connected death of the service-disabled veteran owner, rated less than 100 percent;
  • Express a sense of Congress that October 5 be recognized annually as American Veteran Disabled for Life Day;

Health Care

  • Authorize advanced appropriations for VA’s Medical Community Care account;
  • Improve access to standard immunizations for veterans;
  • Provide priority services to Medal of Honor recipients within VA’s health care system;
  • Establish procedures for mental health treatment for veterans who performed classified missions while on active duty;
  • Provide examination and treatment by VA for emergency medical conditions and women in labor;
  • Authorize several major VHA medical facility projects;
  • Authorize research for descendant health conditions potentially related to veterans exposed to toxic substances during their service in the Armed Forces;


  • Expand the definition of “homeless veteran” to authorize access to VA services and benefits to this group of veterans;
  • Increase per diem payment rates for transitional housing assistance that later become permanent housing for homeless veterans;
  • Establish a program to improve retention of housing by formerly homeless veterans and veterans at risk of becoming homeless;
  • Establish a National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans and
  • Require VA to assess comprehensive service programs for homeless veterans.

For detailed information about H.R. 6416, please click here.



The “Statewide Veterans Diversion Program,” legislation sponsored by South Jersey’s Sen. Jeff Van Drew to help veterans and active military who are nonviolent offenders to get treatment rather than prison time, was approved by the Senate Military and Veterans Affairs Committee by a 4-0 vote at a hearing in Trenton on June 9. The bill now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration.

“Military servicemen and women, as well as veterans, often end up in the criminal justice system as a result of invisible wounds they suffer related to their service,” said Sen Van Drew, who represents Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic Counties in the Legislature. “Given all they have done for our country, it is our responsibility to provide these individuals with the assistance and treatment they need to get on their feet and live as productive members of society.”

Under the bill, S-307, those eligible for the “Veterans Diversion Program” would be veterans or active military service members with a prior  diagnosis of service-related mental illness or for whom a law enforcement officer or prosecutor has a significant belief has a mental illness based on behaviors exhibited during the commission of the offense, while in custody, or based on information provided by family members or associates during the investigation. Active duty members include members of the National Guard and Reserve components who have served on active military duty in any combat theater or area of hostility.

Among those who testified at the hearing on the legislation were Joe Griffies, host of “The Welcome Home Show,” a program for and about veterans on WIBG Radio; Jack Fanous, Director of The G.I. Go Veterans Transition Center of Newark and The G.I. Go Fund; attorneys Thomas Roughneen and William Dennis Brown, Jr., a Navy SEAL and Iraq veteran; and Robert McNulty, Sr., chairman of the Government Affairs Committee of the New Jersey State Council of the Vietnam Veterans of America.

In a passionate speech about why veterans courts are needed in New Jersey, Griffies cited the case of a veteran who was arrested for driving down the center of a highway instead of the appropriate lane. Griffies said that was the way veterans drove in Iraq and Afghanistan to avoid the IEDs (bombs) that were planted in the driving lanes in those countries to kill American servicemen and women.

He concluded by noting that New Jersey is one of only 12 states throughout the country that does not have veterans courts — “and we have to do better.”

McNulty said that programs have been developed in recent years “to avoid unnecessary incarceration of veterans who have deployed to war and subsequently developed mental health problems. The programs aim to assist veterans who become involved in the justice system to get treatment for mental health problems that may exist– especially for veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.”

In his testimony, Thomas Roughneen noted that, unlike a majority of parolees, “the re-arrest rates of veterans are at unprecedented lows. They are patriots, not criminals. In Buffalo, New York — home to one of the first and most widely studied Veterans Courts — not one single defendant has been re-arrested after going through the treatment program. Veterans Criminal Diversion Programs save money, families and lives.

“If our justice and mental health systems are collaborating, we can provide more positive outcomes not only for those with mental health illnesses, but for our taxpayers as well. Instead of a jail sentence or New Jersey taxpayers paying for drug and alcohol treatment, the VA pays. That is a cost savings and immediately adds treatment capacity.”

Vet Centers Are There For You

Vet Centers Are There For You, by Jill Drummond

Where can you turn when you’re struggling to readjust to life after a combat deployment? Who can you go to when you or a loved one are experiencing the distressing and often delayed impact of past combat experiences?  A Vet Center is a great place to start.

Many veterans and their families are struggling with the effects of wartime military service on their lives, careers and relationships.  And these effects can surface years, even decades after a combat deployment.

Military culture often encourages people to “suck it up and get on with it,” to ignore or deny distressing emotions.  In the heat of battle, of course it’s necessary to push feelings and normal human reactions aside, in order to survive and get the job done.   But while “Suck it up” is a good strategy for becoming an effective fighting machine, it’s a lousy strategy for becoming a healthy, fully-alive human being.

As a result of this way of thinking, it’s often hard for vets to admit to themselves, let alone to anyone else, that they could use help readjusting to life after combat.  Or that they are feeling just plain bad (anxious, irritable, depressed or numb.)

Many combat veterans experience a whole host of unpleasant symptoms once they return home.  The reason is that we are human.  Our human bodies are set up to function in certain ways, in order to ensure our survival.  When we experience or witness something life-threatening or terrifying, our bodies react to protect us.  This is the fight-or-flight response.  We react by fighting, fleeing or freezing.  Our bodies are supposed to work that way in order to survive a horrific event.

But if our bodies are just doing what they’re supposed to do, why do we suffer later?  As a result of accumulating research evidence, the Veterans Administration considers Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to be an actual physical injury to the nervous system, not just an emotional or psychological issue.  The reason is very simple.  In many cases, this fight-or-flight response, especially if it is intense, prolonged or continuous, leads to actual physical changes in the brain and nervous system.  (To learn more, read PTSD – An Injury To The Nervous System.)

The result is PTSD, a complex group of symptoms with the same underlying cause.  There is a noticeable difference between a “normal” brain and the brain of someone with PTSD.  The PTSD brain has a much higher base rate of arousal.  That means that when a vet (or any trauma survivor) with PTSD is “relaxed” and resting, their level of anxiety is already quite elevated.  It never gets back down to the same resting level it enjoyed prior to being exposed to the trauma.

Most early information on PTSD and trauma came from studies of male veterans of the Vietnam War.  Combat PTSD has been studied for years, but it may surprise you to know that it’s not only combat veterans who experience these aftereffects of trauma.  The traumatic event could also be a natural disaster, serious accident, violent crime such as rape or assault, childhood physical or sexual abuse, or even merely witnessing a horrifying event happening to someone else, especially a loved one.  And if you live with a spouse or parent who has PTSD, you may experience what is called “secondary PTSD.”

According to the Nebraska Department of Veterans Affairs, “About 30 percent of the men and women who have spent time in war zones experience PTSD. An additional 20 to 25 percent have had “partial PTSD” at some point in their lives. More than half of all male Vietnam veterans and almost half of all female Vietnam veterans have experienced “clinically serious stress reaction symptoms.”  It’s estimated that among people who are victims of a severe traumatic experience 60 to 80 percent will develop PTSD.

We now know that there are many people walking around with such an injury to their nervous system.  They may have flashbacks or nightmares, feel anxious, disconnected, depressed or generally terrible, and not know what’s happening to them.  (For a more complete list of symptoms of PTSD, read Recognizing PTSD.) They may not even be able to articulate how they feel. The good news is that the Veterans Administration has been studying the symptoms, causes and treatment of PTSD for decades and offers a variety of services to vets suffering from this painful but treatable disorder.

Within the VA there are large VA Medical Centers, smaller Outpatient Clinics, and the Vet Centers, which have been around since 1979.  They’re run “by vets, for vets.”  They are not run by the VA, although the VA funds them.  At a Vet Center, you can walk in at any time and find a warm welcome.  You don’t need to register with the VA to come to a Vet Center.  They’ll get you started and figure out what you need.  And you’ll meet other vets with experiences similar to your own.  Our local Vet Center in Lakewood, NJ provides readjustment counseling, veterans groups, psychoeducational seminars about PTSD, family groups, alcohol and drug assessment, suicide prevention assistance,  and specialized programs designed to help vets and their families.  They also have a food bank for vets who need this kind of assistance.

Take the first step by calling your local Vet Center now to find out how they can help you.  As my friend Sid, a therapist, tells his clients, “It takes courage and self-respect to ask for help.”  You’ve already demonstrated your courage in serving your country.  You can show the same courage in serving yourself and your family by calling a Vet Center now.  Remember, you are not alone.

To learn more about PTSD, its symptoms and treatment, see our article Recognizing PTSD.

PTSD – An Injury To The Nervous System

PTSD – An Injury To The Nervous System, written by Jill Drummond

It took a while for us to realize what was wrong.  My husband had been having increasing symptoms over the previous two years (impatience, irritability, drinking to numb feelings, depressed mood, sense of disconnection, inability to feel carefree and alive).  He no longer experienced flashbacks, nightmares or intrusive thoughts, which are the most dramatic and well-known symptoms.  But if you ask me, the subtler personality changes that happen with long-time PTSD can be just as troubling.

These changes had happened so slowly and gradually that I’d gotten used to them.  All I knew was that I was unhappy.  So I got some good therapy for myself.  After a while, it was as if I had taken off the blinders I’d been wearing for so long, and I could see what we’d been dealing with.   So I started reading books about combat experience, PTSD, and trauma.  What a huge relief to read about exactly what we’d been experiencing!  And I say “we” because PTSD affects both the person who experienced the traumatic event and the people close to them.  When I finally understood enough to speak intelligently and calmly about it,  I spoke to my husband.  We went through a checklist, and he agreed he needed treatment.  Once we got through to the right person, at our local Vet Center, that dear man set up an appointment to see us together the very next morning.

Here’s what we’re learning:

The VA (Veterans Administration) and most of our mental health field no longer consider PTSD to be a “mental illness.”  It’s often described as a normal response to an overwhelming or ongoing trauma, such as violent assault, combat, etc.  It’s just how human beings react.  Over half of men and women who have experienced combat or violence develop PTSD or “partial PTSD” (they have some of its symptoms.)  So here’s what the VA (and many trauma specialists) say:

PTSD is not a “mental illness.”  But it can cause symptoms of mental illness if not treated.  PTSD is an actual physical injury to the body (specifically the nervous system and brain).  It’s an invisible injury, because it can’t be seen on the outside of the body like a missing limb.  It is in the same category as TBI (traumatic brain injury).  The damage to a brain suffering from PTSD can actually be seen on scans of the brain.

The brains of “normal” people (without PTSD) have a certain baseline level of arousal/alertness.  When they are relaxed, activation is low, and when something upsetting happens, it spikes up and then settles down again.  But it doesn’t usually go into the “red zone” of the fight-or-flight reaction.  The trouble is that when you have PTSD, the original trauma or the continuous nature of the traumatic events resets the baseline level of arousal.  The brain has been changed.  So even when it is supposedly relaxed, the brain of someone with PTSD is at a much higher level of arousal (readiness to react) than before.  When something upsetting occurs, even ordinary everyday stressors, the PTSD brain spikes up, just like a normal brain.  But guess what happens.  It’s already quite highly aroused and ready to react.  And that ordinary, somewhat-upsetting event just pushed it into the red zone.  Fight or flight!  It doesn’t take much, if the brain is already at a heightened level of arousal.

During our first session with our calm and compassionate Vet Center therapist, we learned a lot about PTSD.  It all began to make sense.  My husband and I now understood what was happening and why.  There’s still a lot to work on, unraveling triggers and avoidance behaviors and looking at assumptions about the world, etc.  But we now understand PTSD in a way that doesn’t add shame to it.  And we are learning specific tools to manage and reduce symptoms.

Another thing we’ve learned is that since social support is such an important component of recovery, therapy that includes a spouse or family member is likely to be more helpful than therapy without the spouse’s involvement.  The VA doesn’t reach out specifically to spouses and families.  But the Vet Centers (partly funded by the VA but not run by the VA) do reach out to spouses.  Our therapist treats us as a team, working together on the process of recovering from PTSD and from the effects it has on family members.  That’s another thing we learned.  PTSD can have a very negative impact on families and relationships.  This is often referred to as “secondary PTSD.”

Our local Vet Center (Lakewood, NJ) is now developing a full outpatient PTSD program, which includes psycho-educational seminars for PTSD sufferers and their family members, veterans support groups, time-limited skills training groups for vets, family support groups, couples counseling and individual therapy sessions.  Comprehensive treatment will involve many different elements,  as veterans begin to heal the harm that has been done by combat trauma.  Getting together with other vets and family members who are recovering from PTSD is itself a wonderful support.  In addition to these traditional therapy approaches, our Vet Center also offers equine therapy (therapeutic experiences with horses), art therapy, music therapy and Tai Chi.

My husband and I saw a big change in both of us after just a few months of treatment. He is less stressed and has more patience. He’s enjoying life more. And when he does get triggered, he can usually recognize what’s going on and recover more quickly. He uses the tools we’re learning and is finding them to be really helpful. And I’m starting to relax and worry less about him. I’m not “walking on eggs” the way I used to, and my life feels much better.

It’s such a relief that we’re no longer alone with PTSD. Now we have many allies at the Vet Center.

You Could Hear A Pin Drop

Once upon a time when our politicians did not tend to apologize for our country’s prior actions, here?s a refresher on how some of our former patriots handled negative comments about our great country.

JFK’S Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, was in France in the early 60’s when DeGaulle decided to pull out of NATO.

DeGaulle said he wanted all US military out of France as soon as possible.

Rusk responded,

“Does that include those who are buried here?”

DeGaulle did not respond.

You could have heard a pin drop.


When in England , at a fairly large conference, Colin Powell was asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury if our plans for Iraq were just an example of ’empire building’ by George Bush.

He answered by saying,

‘Over the years, the United States has sent many of its fine young men and women into great peril to fight for freedom beyond our borders. The only amount of land we have ever asked for in return is enough to bury those that did not return.’

You could have heard a pin drop.


There was a conference in France where a number of international engineers were taking part, including French and American.

During a break, one of the French engineers came back into the room saying, ‘Have you heard the latest dumb stunt Bush has done? He has sent an aircraft carrier to Indonesia to help the tsunami victims. What does he intend to do, bomb them”

A Boeing engineer stood up and replied quietly:

‘Our carriers have three hospitals on board that can treat several hundred people; they are nuclear powered and can supply emergency electrical power to shore facilities; they have three cafeterias with the capacity to feed 3,000 people three meals a day, they can produce several thousand gallons of fresh water from sea water
each day, and they carry half a dozen helicopters for use in transporting victims and injured to and from their flight deck. We have eleven such ships;how many does France have?”

You could have heard a pin drop.


A U.S. Navy Admiral was attending a naval conference that included Admirals from the U.S. , English, Canadian, Australian and French Navies

At a cocktail reception, he found himself standing with a large group of officers that included personnel from most of those countries. Everyone was chatting away in English as they sipped their drinks, but a French admiral suddenly complained that, whereas
Europeans learn many languages, Americans learn only English. He then asked, “Why is it that we always have to speak English in these conferences rather than speaking French?”

Without hesitating, the American Admiral replied, “Maybe it’s because the Brit’s, Canadians, Aussie’s and Americans arranged it so you wouldn’t have to speak

You could have heard a pin drop.



Robert Whiting, an elderly gentleman of 83, arrived in Paris by plane.

At French Customs, he took a few minutes to locate his passport in his carry on.

?You have been to France before, monsieur?” the customs officer asked sarcastically.

Mr. Whiting admitted that he had been to France previously.

“Then you should know enough to have your passport ready.”

The American said, “The last time I was here, I didn’t have to show it.”

“Impossible.. Americans always have to show their passports on arrival in France !?

The American senior gave the Frenchman a long hard look.

Then, he quietly explained, ?’Well, when I came ashore at Omaha Beach on D-Day in 1944 to help liberate this country, I couldn’t find a single Frenchman to show a passport to.”

You could have heard a pin drop.