Helping veterans and others with PTSD

By Steve Banko         

I usually make it a point to ignore anything anyone with the last name of Palin says. But the half-term governor of that name recently politicized a subject of great interest to me. In doing so, she abandoned what I thought were the bedrock virtues of conservatives: independence and self-reliance; you know, the whole pulling yourself up by the bootstraps stuff.

In mentioning her son’s issues with domestic abuse in the context of his military service and blaming it on the president she rendered herself divorced from serious commentary on both politics and PTSD.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was thrust into the American consciousness in the wake of the Vietnam War. It is a psychosis not limited to combat veterans however. Any traumatic experience – physical abuse, rape, natural disasters, etc – can all leave psychological scarring that can become problematic at any time in one’s lifetime. Professional counseling is often necessary to overcome the debilitating effects of PTSD. I speak from experience.

I returned from Vietnam combat as one angry SOB. Both violence in war and apathy in peace fueled that anger which was further stoked by my alcoholism. I was wallowing in guilt. I was overcome with sorrow. And I was angry that I was so damned angry. Many of my drunken rages were directed at those who I professed to love. I sinned by commission and omission, trying to punish myself but too often punishing those closest to me. I have often said in my speeches that should any audience wish to more fully understand the cost of war, they should go beyond the testimony of veterans themselves. They should talk to the wives, mothers, ex-wives, husbands and girlfriends of returning veterans. They bear an extraordinary burden for something they had little to do with. They were and are targets of opportunity merely by being there for their loved ones.

It’s been more than three decades since Ken Kruly and my wife Shirley were instrumental in helping confront the reality of my alcoholism and get treatment. But it would be another five years before I got specialized help from the VA in dealing with the residual aspects of combat. A wonderful counselor named Barbara Wolfrum led me on a journey to get from then to now with a greater understanding that my feelings were not an aberration; that I wasn’t alone; that I could get better.

I’ve had my issues with the VA over the years but the help they provided to help me to understand and deal with PTSD was essential to a path toward recovery I still travel.

So I hope and pray that the Palin lad in Alaska confronts his own demons and seeks help to calm them. I also hope that anyone who knows veterans or anyone else dealing with post trauma issues will encourage them to seek help. It’s available and it works.

A few years back, I spoke to a Vets’ Expo in Utica NY about PTSD. Should you wish to see it, I’m including a link.

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