A new report finds New Hampshire veterans face stigma and a complicated health system when seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
The findings come from a Commission created by the state legislature to investigate barriers to care and treatment of PTSD and TBI for the state’s 115,000 veterans.
The Commission, which is composed of military and civilian leaders, surveyed 1,100 vets. Thirty percent responded they weren’t getting the help they needed because of stigma over their mental health needs.
After more than a decade of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, American troops are coming home. For many, it’s a wonderful time, to return to family and a normal life. But for veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury, the transition is a rough road. In New Hampshire, more a quarter who fought in these wars say they’ve struggled with PTSD, and a fifth with some kind of brain injury.
We spoke with Mac McClelland about the spread of the invisible disorder that somewhere between 100 and 300-thousand veterans brought back from war …trauma. “Secondary traumatic stress” does not have its own entry in the DSM, and is often called compassion fatigue, a more euphemistic title. Sufferers experience PTSD symptoms, but are often faced with even more hurtles than veterans when seeking help. The important difference people see between the victims of PTSD and secondary traumatic stress is that the latter’s trauma was not originally their own. Mac McClelland wrote an article for Mother Jones’ about the phenomenon of secondary traumatic stress and its affect on the families of returned soldiers. She’s also working on a book about PTSD.
As the last of the soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan return to their native New Hampshire, about one third will retire from the military for medical reasons. That means they’re likely to face one of their toughest battles yet as they search for meaningful employment.
The U.S. military is trying to improve treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. But many veterans say they're still under pressure to deny they have problems. Here, military personnel attend a presentation on PTSD at Fort Hamilton Army Garrison in Brooklyn, N.Y., in December 2009.
Credit Chris Hondros / Getty Images
Some mental health experts are worried that the case of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales — who is charged with killing 17 Afghan civilians — will make it harder for veterans with PTSD to ask for help.
The case of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the U.S. soldier charged with killing 17 Afghan villagers, has led the Army to review how troops are screened for post-traumatic stress disorder. The Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs say they have invested heavily in the treatment of PTSD to deal with a growing caseload.
But the stigma associated with the disorder continues to complicate efforts to treat it. It has also fueled serious misconceptions about its effects — such as the notion that PTSD causes acts of extreme violence.
Every year New Hampshire takes in hundreds of refugees from all around the world.
They have fled wars, persecution, and even torture in their home countries, and some bear scars – both inside and out. After the trauma they have endured some refugees arrive with undiagnosed mental illness, but identifying and treating these patients is no easy task.