PTSD Programs for Families

by Levi Newman on December 13, 2010

“I thank my father for showing me hell on Earth,” said Juju Sands whose father returned home from the Vietnam war a changed man. “It catapulted me to strive to be better. It’s given me a positive view of life.”

Sands, who was born after her father’s service, describes him as nothing short of a monster.

Sands’ testimonial is similar to those shared by many families who have or are living with a veteran suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Although hardly heard of by Vietnam veterans and previous war veterans, PTSD is now becoming a prevalent topic concerning veterans returning home from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Increasing PTSD awareness has prompted the creation of the Veterans Affairs Department support network which offers classes to family members so that they may better understand the transitioning of their service member into civilian life.

“Veterans are part of a system, meaning the family, and they need to be educated not only to help them, but to increase treatment benefits of the veterans,” stated staff psychologist of Jerry L. Pettis Memorial Veterans Medical Center, Nancy Farrell.

For many veterans war can cause both physical and psychological wounds. In combat, military members are conditioned to stay in “fight-or-flight” mode which can cause alterations in brain function causing destructive behaviors. For many, these behaviors subside over time, but for veterans suffering from PTSD, they get worse with can put families in turmoil.

Prior to the Iraq war, many veterans didn’t receive proper treatment due to misdiagnosis and were left to cope with anger, substance abuse, and detachment alone. Sands’ father died homeless in Los Angeles after years of drug addiction.

“Historically between 5 and 10 percent of returning veterans suffer from PTSD,” said Dr. Nasser Ahmadi, a research scientist of the Greater Los Angeles Veterans Administration Medical Center. “But in the current conflict, that number has been closer to 20 percent.”

To combat the detrimental effects of PTSD, the VA now offers courses to the family members of veterans. At the Loma Linda VA, Farrell teaches a series of four classes designed to help family members better cope with their veteran suffering from PTSD. The courses are restricted to those 18 years and older, and offer educational insight into PTSD, the medications prescribed to help cope, and family issues that may arise.

Many families, including the Padillas, have been grateful for the PTSD courses. Jill Padilla said when her husband returned from service in Iraq there was “anger, depression, isolation, not wanting to be with family.” However, after attending the classes, Padilla stated that she “knew how to better deal with the situation” and gained “a better understanding of what is going on.”

“There are no services for children now,” said Farrell. “We are working on that.”

“The VA needs to help children now. Not 10 years from now,” said Sands. “I’m worried we are going to have a new group of kids who will be damaged by PTSD. It will affect a whole generation if something is not done soon.”

Sands self-published a book titled “War Dad: A Daughter’s Graphic and Miraculous Story of How She Survived the Damages of War on Her Father, A Vietnam Vet” to help children whose veteran parent is suffering from PTSD. She also believes school counselors need to be properly trained in PTSD to help children cope will issues that may arise from having a veteran parent.

Photo thanks to Elitist_czar under creative common license on Flickr.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Janet Jennings December 13, 2010 at 11:33 pm

How about the VA focus on treating the veterans first? The VA still hasn’t done that!!!!! This program is a load of crap! Skip the families and treat the vets.

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Tonya Byrd December 14, 2010 at 2:55 pm

As the spouse of a veteran who has suffered from this disorder for the past 20 years I am glad that they have started a program for the families. It is hard enough to understand their behavior when they have PTSD, to be able to understand the disorder will help the family which in turn can help the veteran.

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