(Host) As American soldiers return from Iraq, the news is full of images of joyful reunions with loved ones. But in the coming weeks, some military personnel will suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. When that happens, it’s likely they’ll turn to a Vermont center for help.
VPR’s Steve Zind reports:
(Zind) Thousands of documents on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, line the shelves in a brick building at the Veterans Administration Hospital in White River Junction. But no one comes here to read them. The information is all online at www.ncptsd.org.
The National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder doesn’t offer treatment. Instead, it’s a resource for clinicians, doctors and researchers. The center also conducts training in PTSD treatment through a collaboration with the Dartmouth Medical School.
Lately the center has been focusing on the Iraq war in anticipation of the impact the war will have on some returning soldiers.
(Matthew Friedman) “There will be people who will be very disturbed by some of the things that they witnessed and had to do. And in the euphoria of the immediate homecoming, these things may not be as apparent as later on.”
(Zind) Doctor Matthew Friedman is Director of the center. Friedman says in addition to providing a resource for health professionals, the center is increasingly being used by lay people. That became clear in the days following September 11, 2001:
(Friedman) “Within hours of the attacks, we put stuff on our web site and we had 35,000-40,000 unique users a day.”
(Zind) The fact that so many people turned to the center after September 11 reflects the fairly new understanding that PTSD is not limited to soldiers. Victims of rape and sexual abuse and victims of natural disasters or accidents can suffer from PTSD.
Friedman says PTSD symptoms can include nightmares and vivid waking memories. People suffering from PTSD often try to avoid situations that might trigger memories of the trauma. Finally, they may lose the ability to feel or express emotions, something Friedman calls ‘psychic numbing’.
But Friedman says coupled with the debilitating effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can be another, more positive side.
(Friedman) “In the process of successfully confronting these traumatic events there was personal, emotional, spiritual, psychological growth. But it may come at a great price.”
(Zind) Friedman says soldiers returning from Iraq will benefit from a greater understanding of PTSD than existed after the Gulf War. There are now drugs approved for treatment. He says new psychiatric approaches have emerged as the most effective way to deal the PTSD.
Friedman says most people returning from Iraq won’t experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. About 8% of the soldiers who returned from the first Gulf War were diagnosed.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in White River Junction.