PTSD/Substance Abuse Committee Update November/December 2021

BY THOMAS C. HALL, PH.D., CHAIR

The PTSD/SA Committee continues to grapple with how to help new veterans manage the symptoms of PTSD. Americans, and especially veterans, may be feeling anguish over recent events in Afghanistan, in our own country, and in their circles of family and friends. In many ways we are in a position to support our fellow brother and sister veterans.

When we returned from Vietnam, we may have felt lost or as though our service and sacrifices were for nothing. Current veterans also may feel that way.

Lashing out at what we saw as a waste of lives and bad military leadership was not unheard of, even while we were still in the military. Many expected that those in charge would be held accountable for putting career before mission. And then we came home.

Vietnam veterans were challenged to consider the ways in which our service made a difference, as well as the impact it had on others’ lives and on our own lives. We learned that what we are experiencing now is only one moment in time and that things will continue to change. Politics and public opinion aside, we learned to take pride in having served our country.

VVA members can help other veterans by working to understand them and to participate in activities that are meaningful and helpful. We can have a conversation as a veteran, as an individual, a family member, a parent, or a community member.

We can help other veterans by asking questions such as: Is there something meaningful about your work or your spirituality in which you can focus additional energy? Is there something you can do today that is important to you? Is there a way you can use your current situation to improve the lives of others? Is there something more you can do to take time for yourself? These activities will not change the past nor the things that can’t be controlled, but they can help life feel meaningful and reduce distress, despite the things we cannot change.

We must ask other veterans if their thoughts are helpful right now. Are there ways they can change their thinking to be more accurate and less distressing? For example, we can ask if they are using extreme thinking in which they see a situation as all bad or all good. If so, suggest they consider trying to think in less extreme terms. Rather than thinking “my service was useless,” consider instead, “I helped keep many people safe.”

GENERAL COPING STRATEGIES

Finally, consider sharing theses general coping strategies recommended by the VA’s National Center for PTSD:

  • Engage in positive, healthy activities that are rewarding, meaningful, or enjoyable, even if you don’t feel like it, as they can make you feel better.
  • Stay connected by spending time with people who give you a sense of security, calm, or happiness, or those who best understand what you are feeling.
  • Practice good self-care by engaging in activities such as listening to music, exercising, practicing breathing routines, spending time in nature or with animals, journaling, or reading inspirational text.
  • Stick to your routines and follow a schedule for when you sleep, eat, work, and do other day-to-day activities.
  • Limit media exposure, especially if it’s increasing your distress.
  • Use a VA mobile app to help manage reactions and practice self-care.
  • Try PTSD Coach Online, with 17 tools explained by video coaches to help you manage stress.

If the veteran you are talking to continues experiencing distress or is unable to function well, Vet Centers are easy to find and are welcoming. VA Behavioral Health and PTSD clinics are also available. You can also encourage the veteran to use the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line, 800-273-8255.

Vietnam War veterans have the experience and understanding to know the importance of helping newer veterans find experienced and caring professionals who can help them deal with common responses to current events such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, moral injury, and complicated grief.

As veterans, we understand how hard it is to break the inertia and reach out. We can now be the ones who reach out and help others. We can be part of bringing our brothers and sisters all the way home.


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