AP-TYLER, Texas — The stigma for a military man or woman to admit _ much less publicly display _ any kind of disorderly conduct because of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often reduces the chance of them getting help. That was the assessment of Waymon Stewart, executive director of Tyler’s Andrew Center. "There is help, understanding and assistance for veterans to deal with negative after effects of military service," said Stewart. "But first they have to be willing to talk about it and that can be a difficult thing to do." Admissions of stressful side effects for active military personnel, for instance, can be a "career breaker," said Stewart.
Stewart also goes on to say…
"Talking about sudden, strong emotional feelings _ outbursts of anger, depression, withdrawal, continual family conflicts and alienation from society or support groups _ can be perceived as threatening to their work," he said. "And it’s not just within the military. Business and professional people are often concerned that admissions of post-traumatic stress will hinder promotions and advancement in their business."
A former serviceman with 31 years in the reserves and active duty in Iraq with the Army, Stewart said the armed services have come a long way in helping its own. But not enough.
"What researchers are finding out about PTSD is that the full effects of it don’t appear until years later, until someone reaches about 57 years old. That about the age many Vietnam veterans are reaching now," Stewart said. "As resistance goes down with age, the memories of what they saw in action reappear."
The military doesn’t have the resources to provide full services to all veterans, he said. It could use some assistance to reach out to at least some of these veterans.
That help has come to Texas for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The Triad Fund of the Dallas Foundation provides counseling and support resources to organizations assisting soldiers and their families in those wars. Funds awarded to the Andrews Center for veterans go to group or individual counseling, said Stewart.
The center facilitated its first daylong Military Culture Conference last month. Topics included stress management, resources for military personnel and their families, post-traumatic stress disorder, grief and loss, domestic violence in the military and "married to the Army."
A veteran of the Afghanistan war spoke with the Tyler Morning Telegraph recently about his experience. Capt. Justin Lee, a helicopter pilot with B Company 7-158th Aviation Regiment, recalled young men in his unit who found it difficult to deal with deployment.
"There was one fellow, our door gunner, who was only 19," said Lee. "Evidently, every time we went out he told himself, ‘This is the day I’m going to die.’ He was convinced he would die. He did that for a year and developed a drinking problem."
When he didn’t die, Lee said, the gunner faced another problem _ reintroduction into society.
"After a year of telling himself, ‘This is the day I’m going to die,’ he had to come back and get used to ‘normal’ living. That can be tough. When you get back from fighting a war, you’re dumbfounded that you were overseas, having an intimate experience with life and death, recalling the terrible and horrible things you experienced and nobody you see now understands what you went through."
Even when civilians try to understand, communication can be difficult, he said.
"It can be frustrating," Lee said. "It’s why a lot of veterans tend to stick around each other, because they share the same perspective. I’m in regular contact with the guys I went over with and that helps because they share the same perspective. Trying to explain what it’s like being in a war is like trying to relate a spiritual experience to someone who doesn’t believe in God."
Lee was frank about some of the things he saw, but hasn’t yet experienced any repercussions he is aware of.
"I was aware going in what war would look like," he said. "I had no illusions of what we were doing. Still, it was hard to see men from a mission I’d dropped them off on, come back in pieces in bags."
Lee always had a support base "back home" when he was in Afghanistan.
"Because of the church I grew up in (New Harmony Baptist), which has a lot of veterans of many wars in it, I’ve never been afraid to ask for help if I needed it. I still feel that way."
Stewart said local churches are excellent support groups.
"A caring, compassionate and listening ear can do wonders for those returning from war. War can make people feel distanced from others and separate themselves. A church can help them get over that. And for those who want to talk with other veterans, we can help them."
Overseeing the safety of convoy operations in Iraq, Stewart acknowledged that the relatively new war concept of "no front lines" added stress to an already tense situation.
"Anywhere can become the front line in a moment in these situations like this," he said, "so you live with that idea. Then, after the first few months when adrenaline is constantly pumping, it’s easy to slack off and become complacent. That’s when it gets dangerous because that’s when mistakes are made and people can lose their lives. You have to be alert the entire time you’re there."
Group "talk" is available for Vietnam, Korean and World War II veterans at the Veterans Administration offices in Tyler, he said.
"It’s a good place to get started," Stewart said. "I’d advise any veteran to get reconnected. Get into a group to talk before conduct becomes a problem. I visit groups of veterans myself and it helps to talk. The first step is to get back in touch."