A CHARITY is giving Post Traumatic Stress Disorder sufferers a new lease of life by pairing them up with service dogs that specialises in pairing and training companion and emotional support service dogs with military veterans, to cope with the effects of PTSD.
I remember the first time I was woken by Simon crying out: this awful, blood-curdling scream. Suddenly he was back in the war zone with a gun in his hand and a woman in front of him, covered in blood. He squeezed my hand tightly and wouldn’t let go until morning. I recall thinking, ‘By day he’s my brave ex-soldier; but by night, who is this man?’” “I knew Simon had ,” says Louisa, “because when we met he was running marathons to fund charities helping PTSD outreach.
When it came to our future together, it was the cancer that worried me most. I’d fallen for this kind, strong, compassionate man – a real inspiration in the way he lived his life for others. So it took months of sleepless nights and aggressive outbursts to realise what I’d taken on with Simon’s PTSD.” PTSD’s symptoms range from nightmares and hallucinations to anxiety and inability to control emotions, and is often accompanied by alcoholism and substance abuse.
According to American statistics, one in five veterans of the recent Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffers from PTSD. Here the Ministry of Defence (MoD) seems reluctant to accept the extent of the syndrome, with official MoD statistics citing PTSD prevalence among serving soldiers and vets at 2.9 per cent (lower than rates in the general British population). The “invisible wounds” of combat-related PTSD affect not only the soldier or veteran, but also those around him or her.
According to American and Israeli studies, veterans with PTSD are three times more likely to divorce than veteran counterparts not diagnosed with PTSD and are more likely to perpetrate physical and psychological aggression against their partners, with rates as high as 63 per cent for some forms of physical aggression in the past year.
“In almost every case of PTSD there is a ‘ripple’ effect of secondary trauma experienced by the patient’s partner,” explains Prof Gordon Turnbull of Capio Nightingale Hospital in London, a leading expert in PTSD. Louisa found that she could cope with Simon’s flashbacks.
She also came to terms with quirks such as his need to sit with his back to the wall in restaurants and bars, scanning faces as they entered, for threat, as if he were back in the theatre of war. “But the anger was different,” Louisa says. “There was an incident in January 2013 when Simon kicked me out of bed in the middle of an angry outburst. As a child, I’d watched my mother’s partner physically abuse her, so when a man shows anger to me, I shut down.” Simon remembers the incident with clarity, but remembers, too, that he could do little to stop it: “When a PTSD hit [outburst] is coming on I can feel it like a chemical,” he says.
“I stop shaving and eating, and I withdraw from my friends. The most upsetting thing is taking the anger out on Louisa.
I try to be a decent person. The last thing I want to do is upset someone I love.” Louisa felt she couldn’t talk to her friends about Simon’s angry displays. “I knew they would tell me to leave Simon, as I would them. So I left for a two-month break in the countryside. I had to work out, alone, whether I could sign up to a life with Simon in the shadow of PTSD.” Where can couples like Simon and Louisa turn for help?
In September 2013 the British Government announced it was investing in mental-health services for veterans and serving military. The MoD told me: “We are committed to giving everyone who serves in our Armed Forces all the support they need.
That is why this government has invested £7.4 million to improve mental-health services for veterans and service personnel. This includes the online mental-health wellbeing service Big White Wall and a 24-hour Combat Stress helpline .” But are help and treatment as easy to access as the MoD suggests? Dave Adams, a former vehicle commander in the British Army, and his wife Lyn, from Bedale, North Yorkshire, spoke to me of lengthy waiting lists for NHS talking therapies and treatment by Combat Stress, the MoD’s designated mental-health charity.
Lyn, 54, and Dave, 51, married in 1988. Lyn knew her husband as a quiet, gentle man. It all changed when Dave returned from a 2004 tour in Basra, Iraq, which was rocked by sectarian violence.
“Though he didn’t tell me at the time, he saw awful things on that tour,” says Lyn. Dave came back a different man.
“He hit the bottle, was snappy and moody – he wouldn’t go out,” says Lyn. One night that year, she returned from an evening out to discover that Dave had smashed up their home.
“I know now Dave had PTSD,” says Lyn. “At the time the police put it down to drink. The military didn’t diagnose him. Instead, they sent him back to Iraq and put a live weapon in his hands.” Dave’s condition reached a crisis point in August 2010, after he’d returned to civilian life.
“One night he was in the mood for an argument,” says Lyn. “I had to work the next day, so I went to sleep in the spare room. He followed me and suddenly his fist came from nowhere and smashed into my face, breaking all my front teeth.
He’d never laid a finger on me before. The next day I covered my face in make-up and went to my job at a local hospital as if nothing had happened.” Dave and Lyn Adams at home in Bedale, Yorkshire (Daniel Bouquet) Neighbours reported Dave’s assault to the police and he was arrested.
“I was advised by the police to get an injunction against him,” Lyn says, quietly. “But we had so much history, two sons and grandkiddies, and I knew the man he was underneath it all.
I knew something wasn’t right. I lost friends for standing by Dave like that: they thought I was a fool.” In prison, Dave eventually received his PTSD diagnosis, and with Lyn’s testimony his sentence was commuted to seven months. Dave recalls: “Lyn went to court and fought for me not to stay in prison, to get me a health worker,” he says. “This woman I love who I’d beaten up – and that kills me.
And now we're left, and I’m like a ticking time bomb, never knowing when there will be a trigger and I’ll be back in the theatre of war again.” Dave is yet to receive treatment for his PTSD. “We get £30 a week army pension, which we fought for,” says Lyn. “And Help for Heroes [the charity for veterans wounded in combat] put Dave on to Combat Stress.
But they keep putting off his assessments by months at a time… When we get an appointment Dave will have to travel across the country for it, which he’s not fit for.” We contacted Combat Stress to ask about the concerns of veterans, such as Dave, about waiting times and distances to treatment centres. Despite repeated calls and emails, Combat Stress declined to respond. While some victims of PTSD struggle with violent outbursts, others suffer from emotional detachment, a numbness that leads them to withdraw from family and friends – something Eileen Shepherd, 64, from Burnley, understands.
She met her husband Keith, also 64, in 1975, when she worked as a military exchange telephonist and Keith, or Shep, as Eileen calls him, was serving on a six-month tour of Northern Ireland. “I worked in the military, so understood Shep’s mindset more than the average military wife,” says Eileen. “Yet it’s been hard. Shep’s PTSD developed in the early years of our marriage.
My dad was a Japanese POW in the Second World War, so I recognised in Shep the ‘wall’ of withdrawal I’d lived with as a child.” Keith recalls feeling unable to process the memories of Northern Ireland. “I’d seen friends get shot to bits with petrol- and nail-bombs in front of me. But I couldn’t talk about any of this, especially to Eileen. When you leave the military you get your discharge certificate and you’re on your own. You feel you can't ask for help.” Eileen agrees: “It’s the way the Army trains them: to fight and be strong men.
So when they come home suffering, they won’t talk about it or ask for help.” Keith and Eileen Shepherd A few years into their marriage Eileen began to suffer with depression. “Things got worse then for both of us.
Shep couldn’t reach out to me,” she says. “He just can’t deal with emotion, so I battled it alone.” Then, 10 years ago, Keith’s PTSD worsened. “There was a period when Afghanistan was always on the news,” Eileen says. “Shep was losing his old military friends too, some to illness, some to suicide.
He started having panic attacks and breaking down in tears.” Delayed-onset PTSD is not uncommon, explains Prof Turnbull. “The condition can develop over many years, via depression, behavioural changes and alcohol abuse,” he says.
“For this reason we have a duty to veterans well beyond their discharge from the forces.” Since the Second World War British troops have seen active service in Northern Ireland, the Falklands, Bosnia, two Gulf wars and, most recently, in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
In coming years, many more veterans will present with symptoms of PTSD. Without a profound change in culture around the treatment of the condition, family lives will continue to suffer.
Yet at the fringes of PTSD treatment, there is cause for hope. A veteran of Northern Ireland and the first Gulf war, Tom Sawyer, 49, from Newhaven, had displayed PTSD symptoms since his first tour of Ireland in his early twenties, including anxiety attacks in open spaces and violent outbursts that ended two marriages.
He first reported his symptoms to his army medical officer in the early 1990s and recalls the response: “He asked me whether I was a man or a mouse.” When, two years ago, Sawyer’s violence and suicidal tendencies threatened to devastate his relationship with girlfriend Sue Hawkins, 52, Sue took action.
“Tom’s GP diagnosed PTSD,” she says. “He was put on a waiting list for talking therapy. We tried Combat Stress, but never heard back.” On the recommendation of another veteran, Sue contacted the independent charity PTSD Resolution , which funded six sessions of a new treatment known as Rewind Therapy. The technique is a promising new neurolinguistic-programming-based treatment for traumatic brain injury in which the patient is asked to recall trauma and given tools to stop reliving the experience.
“I cried through the first sessions,” says Sue, “but they helped me understand how PTSD affects Tom’s brain. They also gave me the key to calm him down if he’s getting a ‘hit’.
Now I can take him to his ‘safe place’, a quiet prairie with white buffaloes.” With Tom’s symptoms under control, Sue is angered by the fact that he has battled PTSD alone for 28 years. “Frankly, the military needs to buck its ideas up,” she says. “As I see it, they have the responsibility to these men: not small charities, not the NHS.” Tom Sawyer and his girlfriend Sue Hawkins For Louisa and Simon, life is an ongoing accommodation to Simon’s PTSD.
The couple reconciled after Louisa’s months away but live separately. “We sit at the back of restaurants, we sleep apart and I no longer take it personally if he’s having a withdrawn day,” she says. They have set up an organisation to campaign for PTSD awareness, military and non-military ().
The Shepherds have also harnessed their experience with PTSD to help other couples struggling with the condition, setting up a Burnley social club and holiday fund for veterans and families.
For the Adamses, life is still a waiting game. “I look at Dave and I can’t honestly say, after what PTSD made him do to me, that I love him,” says Lyn, sadly. “Most wives would have walked away. I’ve stood by him because it’s not his fault he’s got this disease.
But what would happen if we did that to all our soldiers?”
best dating a veteran with ptsd charity - Exercises for Older Veterans with PTSD
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Post-traumatic stress disorder is extremely common in veterans due to the stark differences between military and civilian life. Veterans with may have trouble reintegrating into and acclimating to civilian society. Whether you are a loved one of a vet or simply a good Samaritan who wants to give back, you can do your part to help the people who served your country. Let the veterans in your life know how much you appreciate their service. Focus on being an active and non-judgmental listener and find practical ways to make the lives of vets easier.
Show gratitude for their service. Saying “thank you” is one of the most immediate and meaningful things you can do to support veterans. Tell them how much you appreciate their service, write thank you notes, or send care packages.
• Contact the Department of Veterans Affairs (or similar) in your area to find out how you can speak to vets or mail packages. • You can also reach out to organizations like Disabled American Veterans, the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Desert Veterans, Vietnam Veterans of America, and the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. Many of these organizations provide direct help to veterans and can always use donations and volunteers.
Offer to listen, but don't pressure them. Reach out to the veteran in your life and ask if they’d like to talk. If they would, practice active listening. Don’t worry about trying to come up with a response— just hear them out. • If the veteran is not interested in talking, don’t try to force them. Say, “Well, if you ever need a listening ear, I’m here. Okay?” • Keep in mind that many vets do not want to discuss their military experiences with civilians. It’s a good idea to mention that you understand they may not want to talk about what they’ve been through.
Make specific suggestions to help. An open-ended “Call me if you need help” may seem useful, but veterans may hesitate to make specific requests. They may not even know what they need.
If you can identify a way to help, be specific about your offer. • Many vets won’t tell you what type of things upset or overwhelm them. Instead of asking, just offer to complete specific tasks that you think would be helpful. • For instance, you could say, “I’m going to the grocery store. What can I pick up for you?” Don’t judge them. You want to be a positive force in the lives of veterans, but you shouldn’t stigmatize them or judge their coping responses.
Dealing with PTSD can be challenging. Practice empathy and compassion towards vets. • If your vet shares their trauma story, never blame the person or tell them what they should or shouldn’t have done. Suggest constructive activities to limit unhealthy coping. If you see your vet coping in an unhealthy way (like using drugs or alcohol), try to engage them in constructive activities that compete with the negative behavior. For instance, to limit alcohol or drug use, you might create a vigorous workout regimen to do with the vet.
Anticipate and prepare for triggers. Know what stimuli or situations upset the veteran in your life, so that you can prepare to offer comfort or understanding. You might ask them to see if they are aware of their triggers, or you can simply observe them over a period of time. • For example, triggers might include loud noises or burning smells, but each veteran may have individual triggers relating to their traumatic experience.
• Crowds and public events may also be stressful for a vet with PTSD. If they say they’d like to avoid large gatherings, don’t pressure them to participate. Get help if they become volatile or dangerous. Veterans with PTSD can temporarily lose touch with reality and go back to a time when they were in danger.
If this happens they may unknowingly harm themselves or someone else. Call 911 or contact their mental health provider for immediate assistance. • Don't try to control the situation yourself, as doing so could put you in danger. Put your own safety, and the safety of others, first. Show concern if they aren't getting treatment.
Have a forthright and tactful conversation with your vet to encourage them to see a professional for PTSD. You might say, "Hey, I've noticed you startle easily and seem to avoid crowded places.
Those are both symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Have you talked to someone about it?" • If they become defensive or resistant to your suggestions, don't pressure them. Say something like, "I just wanted to tell you what I'd noticed. If you decide to get help, I'm here if you need me." Provide rides to appointments.
If you know a veteran who has trouble driving or lacks transportation, offer to take them to their doctor’s or therapy appointments at the VA. • Some communities offer shuttle service to transport a group of veterans back and forth. If you have some free time, offer to drive the shuttle. Connect them with PTSD resources. A wide collection of non-profit organizations offer services to veterans with PTSD or to people with PTSD in general.
Pass along these resources to help your vet get the support and treatment they need. Some helpful resources include: • The National Center for PTSD at . • The Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255. • If the vet would prefer not to go through the VA, connect them with veteran-run resources, like Vet Centers where counseling is provided by veterans.
• Start Your Recovery, a program designed to help those struggling with substance abuse issues. Visit the website at . • You can also look for other veteran-run recovery centers, like Dryhootch. Attend PTSD support groups for veterans. If you are the close friend or family member of a veteran, support groups might help you to better understand what your loved one is going through.
These groups may provide veterans and their families with practical coping strategies and encouragement for dealing with PTSD.
• Contact your local VA for information about support groups in your area. You might also find general PTSD support groups by reaching out to mental health clinics in your community.
Educate people about military culture. It can be helpful to teach others how military culture differs from civilian life so they have a better understanding of why it can be so difficult for veterans to adjust. For example, in military culture, teamwork is promoted and individual needs are sacrificed for the good of the team. • To learn more about military culture, go to .
Help share their stores. Get the word out about PTSD and how it affects veterans. That way, you can inspire others in your community to offer their support to veterans. • Share their stories by word-of-mouth, on social media, or write up an article to submit in your local newspaper— with the vet’s permission, of course. • If the veteran in your life feels comfortable telling their story, suggest they speak at local libraries, schools, or law enforcement agencies.
Accompany them to the speaking engagement as a show of support. Volunteer in your community. Research non-profit organizations in your area that offer assistance to veterans and find one to work with. You might also contact your local veterans home and offer to volunteer.
• Share your talents with veterans, such as teaching them to paint or draw or cutting and styling their hair. Sponsor a companion dog. Bonding with canines seems to be particularly effective at calming veterans and helping them develop trust. Look up veterans programs in your area to see if any sponsor dogs specifically as companions for vets with PTSD.
• You might also encourage the veteran in your life to volunteer their time at an animal shelter, or to consider adopting a canine companion. Make a donation to noteworthy organizations. If you'd like to show your support by making a monetary donation, consider causes that make you confident the money will actually benefit veterans. Good causes include: • Disabled American Veterans at .
• Veterans of Foreign Wars at . • Vietnam Veterans of America at . • The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans at . • AMVETS National Service Foundation at . • Operation Homefront at . • Tragedy Assistance Program For Survivors (TAPS) at .
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