As we observe Veterans Day in November, we honor those who have served in the United States Armed Forces. There are millions of veterans in the U.S. — some who were in combat, some who were stationed overseas to protect American interests and some who remained stateside but ready to deploy if needed — and we owe each of these men and women a debt of gratitude.
While many veterans complete their service with no injuries, we know many who experience combat can receive substantial injuries (and we never forget those who make the ultimate sacrifice). But as recent wars have taught us, not all injuries are physical. Some of the most serious injuries American veterans endure are psychological.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is one of the more common psychological injuries veterans experience. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates of the percentage of veterans affected by PTSD vary — from approximately 10 to 30% — depending on the conflicts in which they were involved (Iraq, the Gulf War, Vietnam).
Such estimates suggest there are perhaps hundreds of thousands of veterans who have been affected by PTSD (and hundreds of thousands more people affected if you include their spouses, children, parents, friends and loved ones).
But like all mental health disorders, PTSD can be treated and individuals affected by it can recover. Recently in Recovery Works!, a Highland Rivers newsletter about individuals living in recovery, we featured the story of Hilton, a Vietnam veteran who is living in recovery with PTSD.
Hilton immigrated to the U.S. from Trinidad in 1966 when he was 18, and was drafted to serve in Vietnam a year later. He served as a medic in an infantry unit and was in Saigon during the Tet Offensive. But it was not until decades later that Hilton realized the anger, sleep disturbances and the “wall” he built around himself were the result of PTSD.
“You can’t be in combat, especially as a medic in an infantry unit, and not see more than your share,” Hilton says. “The things I saw — I don’t tell anyone about it. But it never goes away.”
When he returned to the U.S., “I put up a wall in my life and it became a critical part of who I am.”
But in 2006, he says, “I began having nightmares and that’s when I realized it was becoming a problem, 40 years later.”
He reached out to Highland Rivers and began seeing a therapist who he says helped him see his experience in a new way.
“It didn’t help me tear down the wall, but made me realize it was there. It helped me begin to unlock some doors, to process what had happened and how I reacted.”
Of his experience and life and recovery, Hilton is optimistic.
“I can talk about some of it now, with my wife and people I trust,” he says. “I am still in recovery, I’m always in recovery. I’ve learned you’ve got to deal with it and live your life.”
Highland Rivers is very proud to serve individuals like Hilton, and hundreds of other veterans who are working toward recovery. Recovery is a journey, and it is our honor to walk alongside of those who have served our nation (and really, every individual we serve).
As we observe Veterans Day, I want to be sure our communities know that Highland Rivers offers a variety of services for veterans and their families, including outpatient counseling (including peer groups for PTSD, prolonged exposure, trauma), couples therapy, housing assistance, supported employment and more.
Our agency also works with the veterans courts in Cherokee, Fannin, Gilmer and Pickens counties, and is always looking to expand services and partnerships that serve veterans.
Highland Rivers salutes America’s veterans and always stands ready to assist those who may need a compassionate helping hand. We appreciate and honor your service to our nation.
Melanie Dallas is a licensed professional counselor and CEO of Highland Rivers Health, which provides treatment and recovery services for mental health, addiction and intellectual developmental disabilities in a 12-county region of northwest Georgia that includes Whitfield and Murray counties.