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In military, the struggle to end PTSD stigmas lessen

Following the wake of the Fort Hood tragedy, some have wondered what could have caused an individual to react in this way that ended with several lives lost.

While many might attribute the incident to severe P.T.S.D, Director of the Idaho State University Veterans Sanctuary Todd Johnson said that is probably only part of it.

“I don’t believe this case in Fort Hood could be summed-up in the four letters of P.T.S.D,” Johnson said. “It’s a lot more multi-dimensional than that.”

Johnson himself was stationed at Fort Hood back in the 1980s, and said since the post is such an open place, he didn’t suspect this incident to be caused by a military person.

“There is just no correlation whatsoever between military service and aggressive behavior or harm to others.”

In fact, he said people who suffer from P.T.S.D often times retreat within themselves and tend to cause self-inflicted harm.

“You know, they don’t lash-out because of one particular incident. They lash out because of a series of incidents,” Johnson added, noting how P.T.S.D could not have been the solely the silver bullet in an act this atrocious.

He said there has been such a widely-acknowledged stigma against getting help for P.T.S.D, especially in the military.

“These people have been trained to adapt, overcome, and to not show weakness. I mean, you’re in life and death situations a lot of times and if you show weakness, you’re making yourself vulnerable. Vulnerability is not a military trait.”

Idaho National Guard public affairs officer Col. Timothy Marsano also acknowledges that P.T.S.D is a serious issue among our service members.

“P.T.S.D is an extremely difficult situation,” Marsano said. “Many of our soldiers and airmen have experienced it throughout the Idaho National Guard over the years. We send about 5,000 of our men and women to combat zones and as you might expect, some of them come back with P.T.S.D and we work very hard to deal with it and to de-stigmatize it.”

He said the Idaho National Guard now provides a couple full-time counselors across the state who are available 24/7 to meet with the service members who need the service.

He said the counseling services are available by phone, or if that doesn’t work, the counselors will drive to wherever the individual is located.

Marsano also mentioned he has noticed an increase in the number of men and women who have been more open about seeking help after these completely confidential services were created.

He also mentioned that not only does the National Guard teach it’s service members psychological resiliency during training, but also that it’s alright to seek out this sort of psychological counseling.

“So that way our folks know that it’s okay, that everybody’s only human and there are only certain things humans can take. And once that envelope is pushed to the max, they know that they need help. We also train our fellow soldiers to look for these signs and encourage those at risk to get the help they need.”

Johnson said there is an average of 22 U.S. veterans who end up taking their own lives every day due to P.T.S.D. He also said that one in five service members who returned from Iraq or Afghanistan have come back with P.T.S.D

There is only one VA hospital in the region, which is located in Salt Lake City, and only one VA clinic which is located in Pocatello.

Johnson said the majority of members who return home end up needing to make the trip down to Salt Lake City for proper treatment, and that just isn’t enough at the moment.

“I believe our government is doing everything it can with the best of what it has. But there is only so many hours in the day the VA can see people and there’s more people to serve than there are hours in the day,” Johnson said.

Marsano added that this negative stigma has been changing in a positive direction over the years, but both he and Johnson said they still want to see this lessen even more over time.

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