Although many people associate Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with veterans, this debilitating condition can occur in anyone who has suffered through a traumatic experience. It could be a young child who has been verbally or physically abused, a police officer or firefighter, a woman who has been sexually assaulted, a student who has witnessed a mass shooting or a veteran who has returned from combat duty. PTSD can happen to anyone. It is not a sign of weakness. A number of factors, many of which are not under that person's control, can increase the chance that someone will develop PTSD.
The statistics, just in the United States, are staggering. About 7 or 8 out of every 100 people will have PTSD at some point in their lives. About 8 million adults have PTSDduring a given year. About 10 of every 100 women develop this syndrome sometime in their lives compared with about 4 of every 100 men. These statistics do not even count the friends, family and loved ones who are impacted by someone who has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – the wife who doesn’t understand why her husband is always angry, the child who wonders why his mother never wants to leave the house or the people who mourn when a friend commits suicide.
Among veterans, the statistics of reported and diagnosed PTSD are alarming. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, about 12% of Gulf War veterans have PTSD in a given year. The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study of the late 1980’s found that about 15 out of every 100 Vietnam veterans were diagnosed with PTSD. It is estimated that about 30% of Vietnam veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime. A Smithsonian Magazine article in July 2015 stated that psychological surveys suggest some 271,000 veterans of the Vietnam War may have had full Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at that time. The number of people who have unrecognized symptoms and are not treated are probably a lot higher.
According to Dennis Brown, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who works closely with veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, there are many symptoms of this condition. Not everyone will experience all the symptoms.
“Re-experiencing or reliving the traumatic event, which can occur in a variety of ways: memories, nightmares, flashbacks; avoiding situations or things that remind them of the traumatic event, for example crowded or unfamiliar places. Others may have frequent negative thoughts, feeling sad or numb, guilt, self-blame, decreased interest in activities, isolation. Irritability or aggression, risky or destructive behavior, hypervigilance-constantly being aware of their surroundings, heightened startle reaction (for example fireworks during the holidays can be a very big trigger) and difficulty sleeping,” Brown states.
Ron Flaville, a Marine Corps and Army veteran served almost seventeen years in the military and two tours of duty in the Middle East during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He is one of the thousands of veterans who suffer from PTSD and, like many others, did not realize that he had a problem at first.
“When I was having panic attacks, I would basically push my family away. I didn’t want them to suffer because of my internal issues. It was my own coping mechanism. I had outbursts of anger; I didn’t leave my house very much. I was never physically violent, but I was quick to yell. My wife was the one who recognized it. The VA [Veterans Administration] put me on medication.”
Although medication is one method of treating PTSD, it is not the only method.
“Common treatments include Cognitive Therapy, Exposure Therapy and group therapy. People react differently to various treatments depending on a wide range of factors and what might be effective for one person, others might not have that same experience. We have seen encouraging results from the research that has been conducted at St. Leo University regarding the effectiveness of a veteran having a service dog,” Brown comments.
For Ron Flaville, K9 Partners for Patriots has been a lifeline. He already had a female German Shepherd (Sophia) and Ron’s wife noticed that when he was having moments of anxiety or anger, Sophia would come over to him and start pawing at him and getting his focus onto her.
“My wife had seen a veteran with a service dog and started doing research on getting our dog trained as a service dog. She contacted Mary Peter at Stillwater Dog Training and arranged a time for the two of us and Sophia to meet with Ms. Peter. And the rest is history.”
Since that time, Mary Peter founded K9 Partners for Patriots, an organization that matches dogs to veterans and trains both for this specialized task. Ron’s dog was a good candidate for the program and Flaville has become Chief Operating Officer of K9 Partners for Patriots.
“I have seen many positive changes in so many of our veterans who go through the nineteen-week training course. Some of the possible reasons for the positive changes - the dog gives unconditional love and acceptance; the dogs can help wake up veterans from nightmares; they help get the veteran out of the house because the veteran has to walk the dog so they are getting more physical exercise; the dog can help the veteran refocus their attention on something positive, all of which can help reduce their overall anxiety and depression,” states Brown.
In the light of so many tragedies that have happened in the past few years - from mass shootings to natural disasters and because of the pervasiveness of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Congress has declared June to be PTSD Awareness Month.
“It’s an invisible illness,” Flaville states.
“In addition to raising basic awareness about the effects of PTSD and that there are effective treatments available, I would say that acceptance is also a big part of it as well. There is often such a stigma associated with PTSD or any other mental illness. Having PTSD does not make you weak- in fact quite the opposite in my opinion. Some of the strongest and most resilient people I have met have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD is just something that can develop when someone experiences or witnesses a traumatic event. We wouldn’t say someone is weak if they came back from war with a physical injury,” Brown concludes.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month is dedicated to raising awareness about this life-long struggle and the people it affects and how each of us can help make their lives just a little easier.
If you or someone you know is struggling with PTSD, reach out. There are many resources. Mental health centers and The Veterans Crisis Hotline (1-800-273-8255) are just two.
To find out more about K9 Partners for Patriots call 352-397-5306 or go to https://k9partnersforpatriots.com/