Archives For PTSD

PTSD Awareness Day

Tim Jackson —  June 27, 2011 — 3 Comments

Today is PTSD Awareness Day. It has been a day set aside to raise public awareness of the traumatic effect of war on the human soul. It is estimated that every day, 18 vets will commit suicide since having returned from war. That’s the heart breaking reality that many of our men and women in uniform carry inside as they return from the front lines of war. They may have left the battlefront, but they’ve brought the war home within.

Since working with two courageous vets who shared their hearts and stories with us last year as we produced our HFML videos on PTSD, I personally have become much more aware of the unique wound of PTSD that 11 to 30 percent  of our military personnel have been inflicted with since the Vietnam War.

One man’s story recently caught my attention for two reasons. He’s a vet who struggles with PTSD and there’s a dog involved . . . a Golden Retriever to be exact.

He’s former Army Capt. Luis Carlos Montalvan who was discharged from the military after being diagnosed with PTSD and a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) because of the visible and invisible wounds he suffered during two tours of duty in Iraq. In his New York Times best selling book, Until Tuesday–A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him,  Luis chronicles his struggle to get help, the courage that it took to admit that he needed help, and the unique help and healing that came from a big-hearted golden that has become his constant companion.

In an interview, Montalvan commented on the alarming suicide rate of vets, “If our country’s toughest people, our warriors, succumb to suicide at that degree of frequency, then that’s significant.” And he’s right.

To better understand the impact of PTSD on the soul of the warrior, watch our video discussion with two vets who have struggled with PTSD and who share insights about their healing journey after war.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCJWfJNC7Ac

Let’s remember to pray for all those who have and are still honorably serving and especially for the ones who are fighting the PTSD war they brought home with them.

On Saturday, July 10, 2010, President Obama announced in his weekly radio address that the VA is implementing a streamlined process for helping veterans get the much needed help for what has been identified as “the signature injuries of today’s wars”–PTSD and traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Vets will no longer be required to document a specific traumatic event as “the cause” of their battle with PTSD. This change gives weightiness to the reality that almost all vets from past and current wars have been well aware of–you don’t have to be engaged in a firefight with the enemy to endure the trauma of war. War leaves a mark.

Lt. Col. Dan Nigolian, a 26-year USAF retired chaplain, agrees. Nigolian came home after 5 deployments–3 special opps, 1 in Iraq, and his last in Afghanistan–and was shocked to be diagnosed with both PTSD and TBI. He’d never considered that being shot down in an airplane and blown up in a convoy as events that left invisible wounds where there were no obvious physical wounds. Nigolian shares about the “buddy care” training that all military personnel get prior to a deployment. He reminds vets who come home that the war isn’t over and you’re not done caring for your buddies just because you back on US soil. “You are as responsible to take care of your buddy at home during the PTSD war as you were overseas during the shooting war.”

And the same is true for family members of returning vets who see the red flags of PTSD in their loved ones. Things like sleeplessness, depression, drinking too much, angry outbursts, can’t hold a job, relationships are suffering, isolating himself or herself from the world, reckless behavior, not taking care of herself or himself . . . to name a few. They need help. And you need to help them get help.

Check out the PTSD portion of the HelpForMyLife.org website for helpful video and written resources that will get you and your loved one on the path to healing the invisible wounds of war. Our DVD, The War Within, has been a source of help and encouragement to many who have been reluctant to get help. Don’t wait, and please don’t struggle alone.

God has reassured us repeatedly throughout His Word that He will never leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). In the same manner, we are called to love one another the way God has loved us (John 13:34). Be there for your spouse, parent, brother, sister or friend who has brought the war home with them. Stand with them and see them through this healing journey with the hidden wounds of war.

If this has been helpful to you, feel free to post a comment and let us hear your story of bringing the war home and how you’re getting or giving help.

When Warriors Weep

Tim Jackson —  June 8, 2010 — 6 Comments

Strength doesn’t mean you don’t hurt. Training doesn’t mean that you won’t weep. Even for a Navy SEAL.

When I think of the toughest of the toughest, I think of a Navy SEAL. Only the strongest men survive the grueling training that hones them into the best the Navy has to offer. The attrition rate in the SEAL program is 70-80%. Nothing phases these guys. They can dish it out, they can take it, and they’re fine.

Right?

But in a TIME magazine article in November 30, 2009, Mark Waddell, a decorated Navy SEAL commander, chronicles the other side of the battlefront . . .  his internal battle back at home with PTSD. In spite of the training that as Waddell put it, “inoculates you against trauma,” it doesn’t eliminate the stress that gets packed away. He goes on to say in the article, “The first time you see someone dead, it’s a shock. By the 10th time, you’re walking over dead bodies and making sick jokes about what they had for breakfast. But all that stress accumulates.” And it comes home with even the best of professional soldiers.

What Waddell’s family began to notice was his explosive reactions to normal household stressors, increasing irritability with kids, and sometimes sleeping with a gun under his pillow. Changing the sheets on the bed became routine for his wife, Marshele, because of his night sweats and violent dreams. After one incident when Mark awoke from a nightmare with his hands wrapped around her neck and her face turning blue, Marshele developed an emergency escape plan for her and her children because of their fear of Mark’s escalating violence. It was 6 months after he had the daunting task of sorting through the remains of 8 of his comrades–men whom he’d personally trained, led, and fought beside–after the worst disaster in SEAL history, the downing of a Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan that took their lives and 8 Army aviators on a rescue mission, that Mark finally admitted to himself and Marshele that he needed help.

The request for help when a man is down is not an act of cowardice. Rather, it’s an act of courage. Steeling yourself against the trauma of war is necessary when the bullets are whizzing by your head. But after the long journey home, it’s time to unpack the residue of war–the pain, guilt, grief, and anguish.

While talking about it may be discouraged in the military, talking about it, unburdening your heart is necessary for healing of wounds to occur. Just like a deep physical wound needs to drain–and that’s yucky–talking about the invisible pain that you carry is like draining your wounded heart so that deep healing can take place.

In Matthew 9:12, Jesus reminded his followers that “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Proverbs 13:12 reminds us that “hope deferred makes the heart sick.” And for warriors coming home from the battlefront with the images of war embedded in their hearts like emotional shrapnel, they need a safe place to begin to heal from these wounds of heart, mind, and soul.

Marshele Waddell has some vital words of experience to share with wounded warriors and their families: “you need an environment where the warrior can be vulnerable.” Check out Mark and Marshele Waddell’s website, Hope For The Home Front, for more of their story of living with and working through PTSD.

The War Within: Finding Hope for PTSD is a documentary DVD that we have produced to assist you in beginning your journey through the war with PTSD. Watch it free on line at the Day of Discovery website or order your own DVD. Check out our discussions with two vets who share how PTSD has become The Mark of War that they bear and how the resources of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ has given them hope in working through and experiencing healing from their internal wounds of war.

“. . . you always think, ‘Well, it’s easier the second day [after your first experience in combat], the combat veterans are the ones that really know what they’re doing.’ That’s true. But they also know what’s going to happen . . . there’s lots of ways to get Post-Traumatic Stress. We got it in war trauma. Some people get it other ways. But our Post-Traumatic Stress was related to combat. And the next days after [being in-country] you’re afraid to get close to people, but you’ve got to get close if you’re gonna operate as a team. So then you risk again to get close to someone who then turns, by the enemy, into a pile of goo. And the pain of that is really incredible . . . and there’s no place to put that pain.

If you rage it–which in combat is effective–it’s like the kick-off, the next play when you take out a guy on the other team. You feel better for a short time, but that’s no long-term solution because the rage is inside and we brought it home. We brought the war home and if there was one thing I wanted to do . . .  I wanted to leave the war with the war. I didn’t want to bring it home. You know, I brought it home and I destroyed relationships. The very relationships I fought to secure. The very relationships I thought and prayed about, ‘if I could go home and be, you  know, a husband, if I could sit and not have someone trying to blow me away, if I had a hot meal and six hours of sleep, and a woman that loved me, I’d never want for anything.’ And I had that, and I couldn’t put down the war. It ate me alive and I used the things of war that went through my life to destroy the one relationship that I cared most about–my wife–and I destroyed her heart and broke her dreams.” (interview with Phil Downer, USMC)

Phil’s words echo the heart cry of many combat veterans no matter what the war. His war was Vietnam. But it’s the same for our current soldiers coming home from combat around the globe. And it was the same for the vets who came home from WWII and Korea.

My wife’s grandfather was drafted in WWII at the age of 36 with 3 daughters at home. He survived some of the most brutal combat of the European theater–‘The Bulge’ in the Ardennes of Belgium. He left with coal black hair and when he returned 3 years later, his hair was pure white. And more of him was changed than his hair color. He never spoke a word about what he saw and did during the war. But it was clear that what he brought home from war made it extremely uncomfortable for him to get close to anyone. When I first met him some 37 years ago, I just thought he was a strange man, kind of odd. I had no clue what he’d been through or the invisible wounds of war that he carried.

For more on PTSD and unpacking the pain of war, check out my series of conversations with Phil Downer (USMC) and Lt. Col. Dan Nigolian (USAF-Ret.). Please feel free to share your comments, your questions, or even a little of your own stories. Vets find that other vets are often the most helpful in beginning the process of unpacking the pain of war that unexpectedly came home in their duffle along with the rest of their gear.

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders Fields

Take up our quarrel with the foe;

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders Fields

I remember memorizing In Flanders Fields when I was in Mrs. Schaeffer’s 3rd grade class. Although it was composed well before my time by Lt. Col. John McCrae in the spring of 1915 during the 2nd battle of Ypres in Belgium during World War I, it’s simple verse and haunting cadence make it one of the most memorable war poems ever written. I can still quote it today.

But, I’ve never been to war. I’ve worked with people who have. I’ve watched a number of films about war–The Patriot, Braveheart, Saving Private Ryan, We Were Soldiers, Stop-Loss, Glory, The Hurt Locker, and more–in my attempt to understand better what soldiers endure, survive and come home from. But I’ve never seen war up close and personal. But a lot of people have. Some volunteered. Others were drafted. But all of them served.

I’ve been spared from the horrors of war because of the sacrifices of others. I’ve had the privilege of being in the company of vets and listened as they shared what they experienced in war. After watching Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino with one vet from Nam, he lean over and reverently share in his gravely voice,  “Greater love has no one than this, than he lay down his life for his friends. People who aren’t soldiers doing get this. That’s what soldiers do.” At that moment I felt like I’d been ushered into holy ground reserved only for soldiers.

The quote came from none other than  Jesus. His words to His disciples in John 15:13 are never more true for a soldier than on the field of battle. I understand that better now.

I’ve also listened to what soldiers have brought back home with them from war . . . PTSD.

So as I approach this Memorial Day (the last Monday of May in the United States, but I’m sure there are similar days of remembering in countries all around the world), it’s not just the holiday that heralds the beginning of the summer vacationing season, but it’s become even more meaningful this year because of the time I’ve spent in the presence of some veterans who served with honor.  But I would suggest that not only is it a day set aside to remember the sacrifices of those who died in the service of our country, but that it also be a day to remember and pray for those who did make it home and who are still sacrificing as they battle with the aftermath of the war in the form of physical wounds and the invisible wounds of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Maybe that’s where you or someone you love is today. Maybe Memorial Day provokes more stress than celebration because of the memories of war that get stirred up. Do you or a loved one need help wrestling with the stuff they brought home from war in that internal duffle that needs to be unpacked? Let us help you start on the path of healing.  Check out The War Within: Finding Hope for Post-Traumatic Stress and out discussions and insights on PTSD from HelpForMyLife.org.

In 1967-68, Phil Downer was a 19-year-old Marine lugging a M-60 machine gun through the jungles and rice patties of South Vietnam with the Second Battalion, Fifth Marines. Phil’s outfit saw some of the heaviest fighting in the Fall of 67 in Operations Swift and Essex. In one of these battles, his unit was ambushed by the enemy and within 90 seconds lost 20% of his men either dead or wounded. After 13-months in-country, Phil left the war front in Nam and came home to peace . . . or so he thought. What he didn’t expect was that he carried the war back with him . . . inside.

When I asked Phil to describe his battles with PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, this is what he shared:

“Well, one minute you’re with a buddy you’ve fought with, you’ve seen the pictures of his family, you’ve shared your C-rations, you’ve saved each other’s lives, and in a second, he’s a bloody mess and you’re writing his mom about how he died. You don’t know what to say. The screams of the moment he was hit–you live with. They wake you up at night. You have no place to put the guilt. Why not me? You have no place to put the pain, the anger, the rage, and then you come home–to people who are at least indifferent if not angry with what you’ve done and the whole thing seems to be for nothing. And when that happens to you, it’s a pool of pain that radiates in every relationship and aspect of your life.”

And what Phil experienced has been the story of so many of our service men and women who come home from war. Whether it’s Vietnam, Gulf War 1 or Iraq and Afghanistan, the struggle is still the same. There is a war within that comes home and there’s no place to put the pain, the loss, the guilt, the fear, the rage, and the isolation.

But Phil’s journey home from war didn’t stop with the struggle. He broke into a smile as he also spoke about the healing he has and continues to experience from his internal war wounds:

“I’ve experienced a lot of healing from that war. A lot of wonderful things have happened in my life that have been restored, but I don’t think I’ll ever fully be over that war or forget the trauma of what I went through and had to deal with on a daily basis.  People ask me sometimes, ‘When were you in Vietnam?’ And, sometimes, my answer is quietly, ‘last night in my dreams.’”

Maybe you’re like Phil, and your war has come home with you in too many ways that you never expected. Maybe you’re overwhelmed and not sure what to do with it all. Maybe you don’t see it, but others close to you do. They’re telling you that you’re different. And somehow you know they’re right. You’ve been changed by what you experienced in war.

You can’t go back. You can’t undo what’s been done. But you can grow through this. Yes, in spite of the pain, you can grow through this. Just getting through it–surviving the firefight like you did over there–isn’t enough. The pain is too painful and too precious to waste. So, use it. With the help of God and those who love you, you can learn to grieve, grow, and live again even through this pain. You were taught how to survive in a war zone. Now you need to learn how to thrive back at home. But remember: it’s a process that takes time and effort. Get help.

For more help with PTSD, check out The War Within, Hope for the Home Front, Point Man Ministries, and round table discussions and insights on PTSD on HelpForMyLife.org.

And for all you Vet’s who have served, let me say personally and on behalf of RBC Ministries and HelpForMyLife.org, Thank You For Your Service. We are grateful for you and your sacrifice.

When war comes home

Tim Jackson —  May 4, 2010 — 6 Comments

I’ve just spent the last several days with the HelpForMyLife editing team working through the videos we shot two weeks ago dealing with the issue of PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Wow! Talk about an intense topic.

This production has been especially tough, and yet so good. I’ve had the honor of working with two veterans and their wives who graciously invited us into their lives and shared their stories of struggle with PTSD and how it has impacted their lives.

Phil and Susy Downer hail from Chattanooga, TN. Phil is a Vietnam Vet who served a 13-month tour in Nam as a machine gunner with the Second Battalion, Fifth Marines. Phil’s unit was involved in some of the heaviest combat of the war. Some of the most horrific events of the war for him involved two major search and destroy missions, one in which his unit was ambushed by the enemy and in 90 seconds, 20% of the men in his unit were either dead or wounded.

Phil came home to a country that was less than appreciative of his and his unit’s efforts to serve faithfully. And the wounds they’d suffered and the sacrifices that they’d made, well, let’s just say that they were virtually ignored and discounted, leaving them in what Phil describes as “a pool of pain.” He met and married Susy and they began their lives together. But they soon discovered that the war didn’t stay 9,000 miles away in Southeast Asia. Unknowingly, Phil had brought the anger, fear, distrust, hyper-vigilance, guilt, shame, nightmares, flashbacks, and memories back home with him . And no matter how hard he tried to drowned out the screams, the smells, and the memories of war by all of his successes and achievements,  none of it was enough to heal the war within his soul. And it just about destroyed his marriage with Susy.

Lt. Col. Dan Nigolian  and his wife Kathy flew in from Colorado Springs, where they currently reside since Dan retired 9 months ago from a 26-year career in the Air Force as a chaplain. Dan was the senior chaplain on 5 combat deployments throughout his career. Three were special ops deployments, one was in Iraq, and his last was in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he was the senior ranking chaplain of all NATO forces.

It wasn’t until he was going through his requisite retirement interviews that it was recommended to Dan that he be evaluated for PTSD. And although he initially shrugged it off saying, “No, I’m fine,” he consented to the tests at the request of Kathy who knew something was up. Given his 5 combat deployments, during which he was shot down in an airplane and later blown up in a convoy outside of Kabul, it was no mistake that war had taken its toll on Dan. He was diagnosed with moderate to severe PTSD, moderate traumatic brain injury, and severe depression. The experiences of war had etched permanent marks on his heart, soul, body, and mind that he and Kathy are currently in the process of working through.

These are the people that I’ve had the privilege of work with on this series. They poured out their hearts because they have and are experiencing healing from the war within that came home with them. While it’s never gone, it can be redeemed. What I learned from them is that although war trauma (or any trauma for that matter) inflicts invisible wounds on the human soul that are impossible to erase, there is a Wounded Healer who sacrificed Himself so that “by His wounds, we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

These two couples echo a message of hope for the 1.8 million men and women in uniform who are coming home from war. War will change you. You can’t experience the horrors of war and not have it impact you. You need a safe place to talk about your experiences, what you felt then when you were deployed, and what you are wrestling with since you’ve come home. And, as Dan would say, “you need buddy care when you’re over there, and you need buddy care when you come home.”

So, if you or a loved one you know is struggling with symptoms of PTSD, check out our HelpForMyLife.org website later in May 2010 (within the next 2 weeks) for the release of the new series on PTSD. Our sister ministry, Day of Discovery, has also produced a 4-part documentary that will begin airing  on the Ion cable network starting May 23, 2010. Tune in as Phil Downer and Dr. Mike Wilkins return to Vietnam for the first time since the war and tell their stories of horror, hope, and healing through PTSD.