Healthcare · Veteran Suicide

For Many Veterans, The War Does Not Stay Overseas

By Bob Abbott

 

With the recent signing of the Veterans Choice Improvement Act, and the debate in Congress and the media of Veteran Affairs Healthcare program effectiveness, there is a greater awareness of veteran issues than ever before.  But for veterans, the trauma from war is a daily occurrence that rarely makes the news.

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Photo by Bob Abbott

Adam McLeod was driving home from work when he saw a dead deer on the side of the road.  In Virginia, roadkill is commonplace.  But for Adam, the sight was anything but normal, and caused him to panic.

“I pulled to a stop and just stared at it.  I knew it was a bomb, an IED.  It wasn’t, but I knew it was, and there was no way I could drive by it,” McLeod said.

Adam served in the Air Force as a military police dog handler for over 12 years.  During his service, he deployed to Iraq twice.  His second trip to Iraq was worse and exposed him to numerous IED blasts.

 

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Photo by Adam McLeod

Upon his return to the US, Adam quickly realized that something was wrong.  He didn’t react to situations in the same way, he was a lot more serious, and he didn’t sleep well.  Adam came home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

 

According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, a 2008 Rand study indicates that 13.8% of post-9/11 veterans have PTSD symptoms.  PTSD is a complex disorder that is still not fully understood.

 

Dr. Marianne Goodman is a clinical psychologist that has almost 20 years of experience working with veterans that have PTSD or other trauma.  She currently treats veterans with both PTSD and suicidal inclinations at the Bronx, NY, VA Medical Center.

 

“We don’t fully understand the biology or pathology [of PTSD] and so we’re just treating the symptoms at this point,” Dr. Goodman said.  “You just need a variety of medications.”

 

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Photo by Bob Abbott

Adam is frustrated at the number of medications he takes for PTSD.  But he also knows that not taking his medications is not an option.

 

“My wife can tell when I’m off my meds,” Adam said.  “I’m rather unbearable.”

 

While those medications treat the symptoms, Dr. Goodman feels that future breakthroughs in pharmaceuticals may help veterans at a deeper level.

 

“There is promising research on new drugs that help with memory consolidation,” Dr. Goodman said.  During memory consolidation, fragments of memories are classified into long-term storage by the brain.  In PTSD, this consolidation process does not function properly.

 

Until new medications are available, veterans like Adam must find other ways to cope.  He is now the co-host for a web show that educates civilians about issues veterans face. “Anything to help my family and friends understand us better,” Adam said.

 

Adam interviews veterans who also struggle with mental health issues, and through this, he finds comfort.

 

“I may not be able to fix their problems, and they can’t fix mine.  But by talking about it together, it helps me not lose hope,” Adam said.

 

It is through these conversations that Adam can talk about his own experiences and share them with an online audience.  He says that he is closer to his family after being a part of the show, and looks forward to the show’s continued success.

 

The author, Bob Abbott, is also a co-host for the web show Coming Home Well.

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