- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 25, 2008

Dear Ms. Vicki,

I need your help identifying whether my husband has post-traumatic stress disorder. I’ve been hearing about it from other people and from meetings we are having on base.

My husband returned from his fourth deployment about a year ago. I don’t care what he says, he has changed tremendously.

For starters, he barely speaks to us and doesn’t interact with any of his family and friends. For instance, his mother recently had a 50th birthday bash, which had been planned in advance. My husband did not attend and wouldn’t say why. His mother was very hurt.

We don’t share a bedroom anymore because he does not sleep well at night and I’m afraid he may hurt me in his sleep. He constantly has nightmares and wakes up crying. When I ask what’s wrong, he can’t give me an answer. He still goes to work every day, but it’s as if he can barely make it. He looks depressed all the time.

I have tried to talk to his company commander, but he could not provide any help or insight. In fact, he just blew me off. Where do I go from here, and what’s supposed to happen to me and my husband? It’s a shame so many people like my husband have given their best only to receive nothing but hassles in return. If you can give me any advice, I would greatly appreciate it. - Trying to Stand by My Man

Dear Stand,

Thank you so much for writing and for sharing your story. Your husband’s symptoms definitely are those of combat stress and could be symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, I try to refrain from using PTSD as a catchall or primary diagnosis for those symptoms. Professionally and clinically, I think much should be done before a PTSD diagnosis is given.

I think your primary care physician or general practitioner should take part in this diagnosis, though some people question this.

Let me give you an example. I was working recently with a married couple. The wife said her husband was having nightmares, could not sleep at night and would wake up in a cold sweat. He also was unable to achieve an erection, which meant they were no longer sexually active. She attributed this solely to PTSD.

I recommended that her husband schedule a visit with a general practitioner and have a physical exam to rule out any other medical conditions. He did so, and after tests were completed, it was determined that he had high blood pressure and diabetes. Both of these conditions can effect a man’s ability to have an erection and contribute to other problems, too.

This is why I say service members, both male and female, should always start with their general medical practitioner. Then they can get referrals to other specialty doctors, including professionals who are trained to treat combat stress and PTSD.

PTSD is a condition that is dissimilar from traumatic stress - which has less intensity and duration - and combat-related stress reaction, which is transitory.

I want you to know you are not alone. There are a tremendous number of resources out there. I won’t name them all. However, I will encourage you to start reading about combat stress and PTSD. I also would encourage you to consider speaking to a professional therapist or counselor to provide you with support and be a sounding board. One option for you to receive counseling is Military OneSource; please call 800/342-9647, and you will be connected with a provider in your community.

Hopefully, your husband will consider treatment also. I know that when he meets with his doctor, the process for him will begin. Eventually, I hope you and your husband will join each other and consider having sessions together with a therapist. A good Web site to visit is the National Center for PTSD at www.ncptsd.va.gov.

I want to encourage you and your husband not to be afraid to get help; in fact, it’s paramount that you do so. I know many service members suffer in silence because of the stigma associated with seeking services. Many clinicians like me are working diligently to help erase this embarrassment. Many service members also think seeking help will adversely affect their careers and promotions, etc. One thing I know for sure is this: Failing to get help will definitely affect careers negatively. Please know that I am here for you. Feel free to keep in touch. I wish you well.

Reader responses to previous letters:

Regarding a pregnant woman who has married her military boyfriend but wants to let her clueless parents arrange a lavish wedding for her:

Ms. Vicki, I was appalled to read the letter from the woman who is being deceptive with her parents. I have three daughters, and one is engaged to be married in the spring to guess who? An Air Force officer. I immediately called her and asked her to get the newspaper because I was wondering if it was her. She laughed and assured me she would never be so disloyal. The young woman who wrote to you needs to do exactly as you said - she should confess to her parents immediately. Her parents are spending their hard-earned money to provide this wedding for her. In no way is this fair to them. With the bad economy, I know her parents could be using this money to pay off a mortgage, save for their retirement and for other things, too. She needs to consider them for once in her life. Right now, she is being selfish and only thinking about herself.

-Selfless Acts of Kindness

Regarding a second wife whose in-laws refuse to accept her or her children, even at holiday time:

I like the advice you gave the “Blended Family” writer in The Washington Times. If you don’t mind, please let me give that wife and mother more advice in a way that you didn’t. “How can you even consider putting your children in such an environment, where your children are treated so badly and disrespected? Obviously, your husband does not love you or your children. If he did, he would step up and defend your honor and demand that his family treat you and your children better. Lady, your children need you to protect them, and you don’t seem to be able to provide that because you are writing a total stranger for advice. Do the right thing and kick this man to the curb. It’s better to be by yourself with your children than to be with this jerk who couldn’t care less about you.”

- Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

Vicki Johnson is a licensed clinical social worker, military spouse and mother of three. Her Dear Ms. Vicki column runs in The Washington Times Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at [email protected]

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