By Brian Yauger
Sounds, even smells, can cause veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to have flashbacks of terrible memories.
The Federal Office of Veterans Affairs estimates around 15 percent of veterans are diagnosed with PTSD, and upwards of 30 percent have experienced symptoms. Youngstown State University reports it has 318 students who have served in the armed forces.
Herman Breuer, a service officer and director at the Trumbull County Veteran Services office, said PTSD is a feeling of fright and horror, which he has experienced firsthand.
“For me it happens sometimes with visual things, sometimes it’ll be something that I smell. It’s something that I’ve been able to observe as I’ve gotten older and have dealt with it,” Breuer said. “You know when something is coming on and you know the things that will set you off.”
According to the Federal Office of Veterans Affairs, the effects of PTSD are similar to those of anxiety and depression. If left unchecked, it can lead to feelings of hopelessness, drug or alcohol abuse, relationship problems and physical issues like chronic pain, all of which can lead to suicide.
The Federal Office of Veterans Affairs website states there are two main types of treatment for PTSD: counseling or medication. The Federal VA states that while these may not eliminate symptoms, they can alleviate them so the person can go through their daily life.
Lindsey Pepper, a psychologist at the Cleveland VA office, said there is not one solution to handling PTSD
“As a student, a person needs to know their limits, and the best thing they can do is be open with professors that they have some personal struggles,” Pepper said. “They should not disclose unless they choose to, and see if they can get the professor on-board with helping with things like assignments, or the student needing to leave the room at times if overwhelmed.”
She said a student should learn grounding strategies, which can help bring them back into the moment.
“Those are things that can be done without formal treatment, though treatment to learn to manage the PTSD is always best,” Pepper said.
According to the Federal VA, PTSD is not limited to veterans. Experiencing traumatic events like a natural disaster, car accident or sexual assault can result in a PTSD diagnosis. The VA also states that four percent of non-serving men, and 10 percent of non-serving women will experience symptoms of PTSD at some point of their lives.
“They have to be ready and honest with themselves,” Breuer said. “What I would say, having talked to thousands of veterans from every war back to World War II who suffer from these conditions, is that they are not alone.”
Breuer said people often come to his office to talk, and by the time they leave they are more open about their experiences.
“They go home and they tell their spouse things that they have never told their spouse,” he said. “I’ve had spouses and children tell me ‘he was at war 40 years ago and he never made mention of this, and now he’s talking about things we didn’t know about.’”
He said it’s a matter of the veterans being honest with themselves. He said this is not only beneficial for them, but also for their families and friends.
“Those are the people who see it and understand that they have those issues,” Breuer said.
Derick Young, a criminal justice instructor at YSU and a former marine, said he also believes that honesty and openness are the key to getting help.
“You can’t ignore it. Even though it sucks, and you want to ignore it, you can’t, because that’s when bad things happen,” Young said.
If there is a problem, he said there are trained professionals who can help.
“I’ve unfortunately come across too many of my friends that said that they were okay, and they’re not here anymore,” Young said. “You might have to suck up your pride a little bit, because pride and complacency can kill.”
PTSD victims can contact a local VA for more information on counseling or other services, such as the VA on YSU’s campus.