PTSD Substance Abuse Committee
The purpose of the VVA PTSD/Substance Abuse Committee is to support and advocate actively for the health care--diagnoses, clinical practices, clinical research, treatments, specialized programs, and related educational efforts--necessary to meet the needs of veterans with PTSD, substance addictions, and other debilitating psychological reactions to trauma resulting from military service. This advocacy and support also includes health care for family members of such veterans.” from Policy & Procedures Statement adopted by VVA BOD in April 2004. Because PTSD was one of the key organizing issues around which VVA was founded, the history of VVA and its PTSD/SA Committee are intimately linked together. At its beginning in the early 1980’s the Committee focused primarily on advocacy for Vet Center PTSD programs and other special in-patient VA PTSD programs, but the focus was soon broadened by the Committee’s earliest spokespersons (including Jack Smith, Steve Bentley and Harold Bryant) to include advocacy for various substance abuse recovery programs as the need and demand for these programs grew. In 2004 the Committee’s principle focus still remains on advocacy for PTSD and substance abuse issues for veterans and their families, but has again been expanded to now include all military service-connected mental health issues such as those associated with military sexual trauma, for example. A list of the current Committee members can be found on this page.
BY THOMAS C. HALL, Ph.D., CHAIR
A long time ago I sat in a lecture where a speaker listed some very insightful ideas. He proposed that feeling listened to, being taken seriously, and feeling genuinely needed make up the three-legged stool upon which we make sense out of our time on the planet. Though I believe humans are infinitely more complex than just these three experiences, taking a look at them might shed light on how veterans of all ages can fall into substance abuse.
In the military when mission-critical information needed to be delivered, we were listened to. However, most civilians do not really want to hear what returning veterans have to say regarding the day-to-day events in Iraq or Afghanistan. Not to mention the shunning Vietnam veterans experienced upon returning home. Very quickly we learned to gauge our audiences and to be quiet, letting out only enough not to be rejected or to be seen as completely different from our peers. Did everyone experience this? Probably not, but many did.
In a battalion, in a company, and especially in a platoon, everything around us told us we were being taken seriously—the environment and our buddies, in particular. Our concerns were their concerns; our values were their values. We shared a common understanding of what made sense and what “don’t mean nothin’,” further anchoring our shared understanding of what was important.
Then the clarity of the war zone gave way to the vagueness of civilian life. In civilian life when we could not get people to take our concerns seriously, sometimes we lashed out, lost our temper or lost a job or relationship, or just reached for a cold one while wondering why people did not take something as seriously as we knew they should.
Our years of experience in the military had fit us into a team. We listened to orders and responded. We gave orders and other people responded. In the context of the military, we had a sense of being needed and of being genuinely part of a team. Missions imparted a sense of being genuinely needed to complete a task. (Granted, some missions did not make sense.)
And then we came home to culture shock. We all have our own stories to insert. Feeling genuinely needed was something to try and find again. A hole to try and fill. Sometimes effectively and sometimes self-destructively.
The thing about a three-legged stool is that if you kick one of the legs out, there is a disproportionate impact on the stool’s ability to stay upright. Consider how easy it is to cause imbalance or collapse by reaching for a replacement.
Reaching for a substance to change the way we feel, in moderation or as prescribed, can do a pretty darn good job of giving us a momentary sense of relief. Alcohol is a socially acceptable means for blowing off steam and relaxing. Managing a psychological issue (such as depression) or a physical issue through prescribed medications is also acceptable.
But here’s the rub: As we age, the opportunities for feeling listened to, being taken seriously, and feeling genuinely needed may seem to diminish and disappear, especially in retirement. All too often veterans begin to believe that one more drink or one more pill will help. It is easy, and at first it works. Then substance abuse makes worse the very things we are trying to escape.
Here’s an idea: Interview your friends, fellow veterans, and anyone you care about. Ask them:
This can help you learn or re-learn how to give the very things you are craving. We have to turn ourselves back on to the world and not merely medicate our way through it. We need to forgive our own failures and past attempts and try again and again until we get it.
The old saying that we have to learn to crawl before we can walk and walk before we can run couldn’t be more fitting. Change is difficult in the best of times. Fear of rejection, fear of failure, and fear, frustration, and disappointment at being misunderstood keep too many veterans from reaching out. Warrior work feels risky. You need to let others know that you are really listening to them, demonstrate in word and deed that you take them seriously, and let those you care about feel genuinely needed.
Certainly such an exercise does not take the place of solid clinical work with someone who knows your issues and concerns. However, it is something to consider.
For Qualifying Veterans With Exposure to Blast Events &/or Loss of Consciousness
A study of EEG biofeedback, a non-invasive, medication-free therapy, for symptoms associated with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and/or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Participants need not discuss trauma-related events.
Participation provided at no cost.
[ download details ]
SAMHSA ADS Center Training Teleconference
Mental Health for Military Families:
The nightmares of war don’t always end when our loved ones return home. . . . Sometimes the deadliest wounds are the ones you cannot see, and we cannot afford to let the unseen wounds go untreated.
U.S. President Barack Obama (2009)
What systems-level and policy changes need to be implemented to increase U.S. service members’ and their families’ access to the mental health services, supports, and treatment they need? What resilience-building, self-care, or preventive measures, on an individual or systems level, should be considered and implemented prior to deployment to reduce the frequency and/or severity of mental health problems during and after combat? What solutions might increase the likelihood of successful community reintegration upon a service member’s return home?
Examining the Progress of suicide prevention Outreach to Efforts at the Va
The subject of suicide is extremely difficult to talk about and is a topic that most of us would prefer to avoid. Although statistics on suicide deaths are not as accurate as we would like because so many are not reported, as veterans of the Vietnam War and those who care for them, many of us have known someone who has committed suicide and others who have attempted it. But as uncomfortable as this subject may be to discuss, VVA believes it to be a very real public health concern that needs solutions now.
Suicide is most often the result of unrecognized and untreated mental health injuries. Depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) are three of the most common mental health injuries and conditions that can lead to suicide. The three conditions in particular are medical conditions that can be life-threatening.
V.A. Is Easing Rules to Cover Stress Disorder
The government is preparing to issue new rules that will make it substantially easier for veterans who have been found to have post-traumatic stress disorder to receive disability benefits, a change that could affect hundreds of thousands of veterans from the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam.
Veterans Sought for PTSD Research Study
A psychology graduate student at Purdue University is looking for Vietnam, Persian Gulf and OIF/OEF veterans to participate in a doctoral study, which will examine veterans’ help-seeking attitudes related to PTSD and suicide that will be used to develop model interventions for decreasing stigma. If you are interested in participating, please contact Azi Ghaffari at email@example.com
The VVA Veteran March/april 2010
The PTSD/Substance Abuse Committee, as required by the VVA National Board of Directors, provides this yearly report on its mandated Resolutions to the membership.
Vietnam Veterans of America shall continue to press Congress to take whatever measures are necessary to ensure accountability for the organizational capacity and funding for the diagnoses and evidence-based treatments of the neuropsychiatric wounds of war, particularly for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse, and traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Vietnam Veterans of America shall continue efforts to extend the authority of the Vet Centers to treat all veterans and their families and to increase the number of staff at each existing Vet Center.
Vietnam Veterans of America shall continue its congressional efforts to ensure that the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs develop, fund, and implement evidence-based, integrated psychosocial mental-health and substance-abuse recovery treatment programs through the Vet Centers for all veterans and their families, active-duty troops and their families, as well as for those Reservists and members of the National Guard released from active duty.
Your comments and suggestions are always welcome.
The PTSD/Substance Abuse Committee: Thomas C. Hall, Ph.D, Chair; Fr. Phil Salois, Vice Chair; Sandy Miller, Secretary. Members: Peter Bessigano, Frances Cartier, Tom Devlin, Warren Digel, Marsha Four, Dee Hagge, Henry Illelio, Dave Johnson, Joseph Morgan, Wayne Reynolds, Francis Rowan, Ed Ryan, Ph.D., James Shott, and Dan Stenvold. Special Advisor: Sharon Hobbs. Staff Liaison: Tom Berger, Ph.D.
What's NewCOMMITTEE REPORT:
THOMAS C. HALL, CHAIR
Suicide rates in the active military and among veterans are on the rise. Military Sexual Trauma (MST) continues at epidemic proportions, and under-diagnosed traumatic brain injury (TBI) ensures a future of pain for veterans and their families. Homelessness and incarceration await too many of our returning troops.
The Department of Defense assures us that new research initiatives will be funded to find out how to address the rising suicide rates in the military. Studies continue to investigate the causes and treatment of MST, TBI, PTSD, and all the substances used to self-medicate the many symptoms that come with each.
New England Journal
Psychological Association - Journal
of Consulting and Clinical Psychology
Veterans' Emerging Mental Health Crisis
Coming Home - Readjusting to Civilian Life After War Two months ago, Caleb Catron lived worlds apart from the quiet rural town of Onalaska where he grew up. The 22-year-old was immersed in the bustle of Baghdad, Iraq’s capital, where he was stationed as a U.S. Army military police officer for a year. (more)
Emotional Toll Can Weigh Heavily on a Soldier's Mind "Hateful." That's the word Lois Edwards uses to describe her husband's behavior when he returned home from Iraq. (more)
In The News
VVA Legislative Testimony
PTSD Does Not Mean You're Crazy! Get the brochure in PDF format.
Study Results The results of a study entitled "Spirituality and PTSD in Vietnam Combat Veterans" can be found by clicking on the name of the study.
Special Report “Never Shall One Generation of Veterans Abandon Another…” Steve Robinson, Executive Director of the National Gulf War Resource Center*, has just released an excellent report on mental health and the military in Iraq. The report includes a great deal of information that has not received very much press coverage to date. Go to the report - Hidden Toll of the Iraq War: Mental Health and the Military