Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Rising Number of Veterans Seek Help Decades After War

Nightmares of a friend dying beside him in a bunker years ago now waken Donald Vitkus. “There is stuff that you carry from the war,” the 71-year-old Vietnam veteran said.
Mr. Vitkus spends his days in and out of therapy at a residential rehabilitation center filled with mostly older veterans, working on his memory while trying to gain control over disturbing recollections and the emotions they surface.
Donald Vitkus sleeps with eye coverings, ear plugs and a 
sweatshirt zipped over his head. “It makes me feel safe,” 
he said. Ben Lowy for The WSJ
He is one of hundreds of thousands of aging Vietnam veterans who late in life are now seeking help for post-traumatic stress disorder—a mix of flashbacks, depression and sleeplessness springing from a war that ended four decades ago.
More than 530,000 veterans received treatment for PTSD from VA hospitals and clinics through March of this year, nearly double the total through 2006, according to the Veterans Administration. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans make up a large portion of the increase but account for slightly more than a quarter of PTSD patients; the rest served in earlier wars, mainly Vietnam.
Many of those Vietnam veterans threw themselves into family and work after the war, keeping busy to avoid thinking about what happened. Now, in their 60s and 70s, they have retired, their children grown, living without the distraction of workaday life. Some no longer have confidants—spouses, friends or siblings.
Edgardo Padin-Rivera, chief of Psychology Services at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center, said many returning Vietnam veterans didn’t seek treatment at the time because they were ashamed or felt they didn’t need it. Now, they make up the bulk of his patients, he said: “War memories are forever.”
Vietnam veteran Herman Williams, of Cleveland, returned 
home after the war to work and raise a family. For years, he 
avoided movie theaters, the grocery store or other crowded 
places. “I had PTSD, but I didn’t know it,” he said. 
Dustin Franz for The WSJ
Their experience suggests a long and costly journey ahead for men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. “There is no doubt that we will see the re-occurring of these problems among younger veterans,” Dr. Padin-Rivera said. “They will be coming to us in 30, 40 years, having never been treated before and having never integrated what happened into their lives.”
The aging process itself can trigger PTSD or surface latent symptoms, doctors say, as veterans face serious health issues that force limits on driving, working and walking. Subsequent feelings of vulnerability and powerlessness can mimic feelings similar to those experienced by soldiers overwhelmed by war.
With age, too, comes introspection. “A lot of unfinished business clamors in our heads from the war,” said Dave McPeak, a 66-year-old Marine Corps Vietnam veteran and psychologist, who has worked predominantly with Vietnam veterans at the Vet Center in Pittsburgh, which is part of the Veterans Administration.
Read the rest of the story HERE.

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