Naper event delves into issues our troops face after the come home
By Hank Beckman For The Sun November 7, 2012 10:04AM
Lt. Cmdr. Pamela Herbig Wall speaks at a recent event in Naperville on issues facing the troops when they get home. | Hank Beckman~For The Sun
Updated: December 12, 2012 6:17AM
The problems for many soldiers last for a long time after they leave the battlefield.
That was the theme of a recent forum at the Compass Church’s 95th Street campus in Naperville which dealt with such topics as post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
Deb Rickert, founder of the Operation Support Our Troops group, joined Navy Lt. Commander Pamela Herbig Wall and Vietnam veteran and Marine Capt. Frank McGraw in an effort to raise awareness of the issues affecting so many vets transitioning back into civilian life.
Wall spoke of the “fight or flight” mechanism so many vets experience when returning from theaters of war. She compared the vet’s wartime experiences to a person who runs across a bear in the woods. That encounter triggers a hyper-emotional response that sets adrenaline racing.
“You’re constantly looking for the bear,” she said of the vet’s mindset once they get home.
Wall said symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder and other adjustment disorders are varied and include flashbacks and intrusive memories, problems sleeping, alcohol abuse and problems re-establishing relationships with loved ones.
She said that the simplest thing could trigger anxiety. The smell of sand was a trigger for some returning from the Middle East, the experts said. For some Vietnam vets, rain might prompt unwanted memories.
Another problem is the immediacy of transitioning back into civilian life. World War II vets often had a journey on a ship home to somewhat decompress before re-entering civilian life. But those returning from Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan are often jetted back into the civilian world in less than 24 hours.
Part of the trouble, Wall said, is that sometimes veterans don’t want to admit they have a problem. Although 11 to 14 percent of returning vets have symptoms of post traumatic stress, given the warrior mentality so prevalent in the armed forces, few are eager to seek help.
“Nothing in our culture says that going to a therapist is OK,” Wall said.
McGraw, a chaplain with Marketplace Chaplains USA, tackles the problem of post traumatic stress from a spiritual perspective.
He said that the welcome home for Vietnam vets was completely different from what can be expected for today’s returning warriors.
“We kind of hung together when we got back,” he said of the experiences of Vietnam-era vets. “We came back to a whole different society than the one we left. We became the enemy.”
Traumatic brain injuries are the result of any number of concussive events, and while most are moderate, some are severe and cause lasting damage and higher rates of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, dementia and Lou Gehrig’s disease, the experts at the forum said.
Wall noted the medical progress being made to help the growing number of vets returning with brain injuries. Where the Vietnam era saw only seven out of 10 vets surviving traumatic brain injuries, nine out of 10 vets suffering from the condition returning from Iraq and Afghanistan survive their wounds.
“It’s our medical care that allows nine out of 10 people to survive,” she said.
The program in Naperville was designed not only to raise awareness of serious medical situations for veterans, but also to let the community know the issues returning veterans have to deal with after coming home.
Rickert said that everyone needs to understand what people in the armed forces need while they are in the service and out.
To aid those overseas, she began Operation Support Our Troops after her son went off to West Point in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The organization to date has shipped more than 1 million pounds of care packages to military personnel overseas.
She pointed out that there were still 70,000 troops posted in combat zones around the world and stressed that integration back into civilian life is much easier if the veterans know that they are supported when they are still deployed.