Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a condition that affects a significant percentage of the general public, but especially members of the military.
In this post, you will hear insights from a retired Marine who now supports a growth mindset for fellow veterans.
PTSD Injury and Healing
Military training is not designed to create sensitivity and empathy; it is designed to create good soldiers.
When returning to the civilian world, military personnel often have trouble transitioning from the “macho” mindset of being a great soldier. This is especially difficult when a moral injury has happened — an event which is goes against one’s personal moral beliefs.
The process of developing into a strong soldier guards them against physical and emotional pain… but that compartmentalization makes it difficult to heal from emotional and psychological damage that can occur from serving in the military. (Source: US and News Report “Veterans’ Tough Veneer May Influence PTSD Severity”)
In a multi-study analysis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), 23% of all returning veterans had effects from trauma.
But veterans are not the only ones affected. It is estimated that 1 in 5 active-duty military personnel—including those in non-combat situations—are also prone to experiencing PTSD, depression, and other mental health conditions. (Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness)
The effect of trauma impacts soldiers as well as their families, friends, and our society as a whole. One program in the Portland area is making a positive difference by providing services that focus on post-traumatic growth.
A Marine’s Perspective on PTSD
I recently had the privilege of speaking with Dan Friedrich, a retired member of the United States Marine Corps who serves the needs of veterans after they leave the military.
Dan is a Certified Veteran Specific Peer Support Specialist who works with the VA Portland Health Care System in a unique 3-phase program called Progressions, which assists veterans in recovering from trauma & moral injury and reintegrating into civilian life.
The final phase of the Progressions program is called Compassionate Warrior Training for Reintegration. This program was developed by Jaimie Lusk, PsyD and Chaplain Rebecca Morris, M.Div. of the Portland VA Chaplain Service.
For more info, see the Veteran Connection newsletter, page 4.
Recovery and Reintegration
In our info-packed discussion, Dan and I talked about how trauma affects members of the military and why it is so difficult to integrate back into “regular” society. Dan’s passion is to inform fellow soldiers that there’s no shame in getting help, and that it is possible to heal after experiencing horrible situations, drug abuse, and exploitation. His role as Peer Support Specialist allows him to be available to fellow soldiers, connect with their experiences, and direct them to helpful resources as they navigate the journey to healing.
Since I’m a civilian with several family members who have served, but no military background myself, Dan’s insights about this topic really opened my eyes. I am grateful for his detailed explanations about the problems that plague many active and retired military members.
It surprised me to hear that trauma can happen to military personnel in all roles — both those who served in combat zones and those who did not.
Trauma is defined by the American Psychological Association as:
“An emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, assault, or natural disaster. Shock and denial are typical responses immediately after the event, followed by unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and physical symptoms such as headaches or nausea.”
(Source: American Psychological Association)
Here are some of the terms that came up during my discussion with Dan:
- trauma-informed treatments
- moral injury (a violation of personal values)
- Acceptance & Commitment Therapy
(Accept your reactions, Choose a valued direction, Take action)
- Spiritually Oriented Trauma-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (SO-TF-CBT)
- hidden injuries
- Post-Traumatic Growth
- spiritual therapy and spiritual repair
- secondary trauma
- being your own parent in recovery
- trauma processing
Our conversation centered around four main topics:
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (also referred to as PTSD or Posttraumatic Stress Disorder),
- Ownership and Responsibility, and
- the power of Peer Support.
Here are some of Dan’s quotes which I gleaned from our discussion.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Dan shared his perspective on trauma:
“PTSD is a mental health condition, but it can be treated and overcome.”
“PTSD is a condition that can improve with effective treatment, which is different from individual to individual.”
“Post-traumatic growth refers to positive personality changes following traumatic life experiences.”
“Denial is a symptom of PTSD.”
“Trauma can happen to anyone in the military, even if they’re not in a war zone.”
“The markers for a higher risk of suicide are access to means, high pain tolerance, being good at hiding it, and unaddressed PTSD (including survivor’s guilt).”
“Learning to live a full, healthy life, and healing from PTSD began when I took responsibility for my symptoms and recovery.”
“Many soldiers feel tremendous frustration about the fact that a moral injury occurred, but that ‘nobody cares that it was wrong.’”
“Acceptance isn’t permission.”
“It’s so important to forgive yourself for what happened in the past, and to get beyond that experience by making a change that moves you into the future.”
The 5 stages of recovery are described really well in this article by “Yak Max”:
- Hyper-Vigilance or Emergency Response Stage
- Denial or Numbness Stage
- Nightmare, Flashback, or Disruption Stage
- Processing, Talking, Return to Feeling, and Soul Healing Stage
- Completion, Integration, and Peace Stage
“The person I used to be could not have survived the process I went through to become who I am now. Those past experiences changed me. My response now is healthier, because I’m not stuck in the past.”
“A lack of community can lead to isolation and lower resiliency.”
“People form relationships based on economics.”
“The best way to improve suicide resiliency is by getting involved in a healthy community.”
“Building on resiliency means proving to yourself that you can overcome it.”
“For soldiers returning to the civilian world, ‘reintegration’ means living within their means and having financial literacy; it means regaining health; and it means making sure they feel safe.”
“One of my life goals is to share that it’s possible to have healing, recovery, maintenance, and growth after PTSD and addiction.”
Ownership and Responsibility
“I shifted from using PTSD as an excuse for my behaviors and choices by taking ownership of my life. I made a commitment to ask for help, found gratitude for my challenges, and used self-compassion to encourage myself. Most importantly, I involve myself in a healthy community that supports my growth and journey.”
“Healing happens when you take responsibility for trauma recovery, don’t excuse your choices, and make a decision to change.”
“Not all peer support specialists are validated or credentialed. Some people enter the peer support world from an unhealthy place, because they need help themselves.”
“I would recommend selecting a Peer Support Specialist who is state certified, can provide references, and shares a life experience similar to your own.”
Resources for Veterans and Families
Dan shared a number of great resources that are available to military veterans. Check them out:
NAMI Homefront is a peer-led class that provides education and support for the spouse and family of a Veteran or active duty military member with a mental health condition or illness.
NAMI Family-To-Family is the non-military (civilian) equivalent.
US Veterans Affairs offers a wide array of resources on PTSD recovery
Spirituality, Religion, and Suicidality Among Veterans: A Qualitative Study
An article in the Journal Archives of Suicide Research by Jaimie Lusk, PsyD
Returning Veterans Project
Mission: To provide free, confidential mental and physical health services to post-9/11 war zone veterans, service members, and their families in Oregon and Southwest Washington.
Upholding Valor: Military and Mental Health-There is Help!
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) explains how military service affects mental health, and how the VA’s Homefront program can help.
Upholding Valor Podcast
This podcast and video podcast series is hosted by Hosted by Jill Atwood, Chief of Communications of the VA in Salt Lake City, Utah. It is sponsored by American United Federal Credit Union and KSL News radio.
Medicare Plans Resource for Veterans
Developed by Ron Elledge, consultant with Medicare Plans Patient Resource Center, this in-depth guide explains the differences between VA, Medicare, and TRICARE coverage, as well as how to sign up and what costs to expect.
I would love to see every employer provide a work environment that allows support and flexibility to those who have experienced trauma, both for military personnel and for civilians (since trauma affects over 70% of all people at least once in their lifetime).
If you are a business owner, consider evaluating whether your company culture is empathetic and compassionate to those who have experienced trauma.
If you’re an employee and feel comfortable approaching your boss, consider discussing some ways in which the company could allow staff to feel included and safe, while also increasing the quality of the services or products that customers receive.
Looking for help in creating accommodations for your workplace? Find out more here.