How to Support Our Veterans

As Veteran’s Day rolls around, it is important for us as a community to not only honor our Veterans, but make sure we are doing the best we can to make them feel safe and comfortable. Former members of the military often suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a mental disorder that hinders the lives of veterans after their service. I had the pleasure of interviewing an expert on this matter, Dr. Rebecca Schwartz, who serves as a co-director of the Center For Traumatic Stress , Resilience, and Recovery, in the Northwell Healthcare system. Hopefully, we can take the insight that she has provided and apply it to our community to help those in need.

PTSD affects all veterans in varying degrees, and while some may not suffer from the illness, for others it can become quite frightening. The mental disorder entails ex soldiers  experiencing “symptoms such as re-experiencing their trauma through nightmares or flashbacks, they may have avoidance of places, experiences, or memories that remind them of their traumatic event/s” says Dr. Schwartz. This can also intervene with sleep and cause difficulty concentrating. Often, this anxiety or “reliving” of these traumatic events is caused by triggers which remind soldiers of their time in service, such as smells and sounds. “For example, around the 4th of July, many Veterans with PTSD from combat can feel triggered by fireworks because it reminds them of their combat exposure,” said Dr. Schwartz. Although some stimuli are more obvious triggers, veterans can experience anxiety from close to anything.

When inquired about the types of therapy and treatments for this issue, Dr Schwartz replied “Somewhere between 11-20% of Veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan have current PTSD. There are many evidence-based, effective treatments for PTSD such as Prolonged Exposure Therapy and Cognitive Processing Therapy. Certain medications may help as well.” She spoke about the treatment options provided by Unified Behavioral Health Center for Military Veterans and their Families directed by Dr. Mayer Bellehsen. These programs provide help for former soldiers as well as their families, as this illness affects loved ones too. Luckily, the culture of the military is beginning to shift in a manner that supports its members, and helps them through the trauma that follows service. The Veterans Administration is another organization looking to help those suffering from PTSD free of charge.

Dr. Schwartz provided useful information about how we as a community can do our part to help these victims, as she said  “It’s important that we, as a society, continue to work to reduce the stigma around seeking mental health care. It is also important to know how to talk to Veterans.There are resources to help us learn about Veteran culture including PsychArmor, which offers short trainings.” PsychArmor is a very helpful website for becoming educated about these issues, and I encourage you and your family members to check it out in an effort to keep our veterans feeling safe in our community. “An important point they highlight is never to ask Veteran if  he or she killed someone,” says Dr. Schwartz.

Although treatment for Veterans suffering from PTSD already exists, some programs such as the above-mentioned Prolonged Exposure Therapy are unhelpful for victims. They can often be too intense, as the therapy forces Veterans to recall their trauma repeatedly. Dr. Schwartz and Dr. Mayer Bellehsen are currently working hard to try and find alternative treatments for victims at Northwell Health. They are beginning a randomized clinical trial testing the effectiveness of different medication on Veterans. Additionally, Dr. Schwartz informed of us her work as a Principle Investigator for a study working to coax the symptoms of PTSD via phone app.

Although we can feel comfortable in the hands of our experts finding ways to help Veterans suffering from PTSD, it is important that we as a community do our part to support these victims. Keeping ourselves and family members educated on how to best assist those suffering is the first step to progress. Afterall, these are the people keeping our nation safe, so it is important we repay them in any way we can.