The Forgotten Victims: significant others trying to cope with a partner’s PTSD

Almost forty years later, many veterans are still dealing with the aftermath of the Vietnam War in the form of PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder.  In fact, over a quarter of a million Vietnam Veterans have in one form or another (Handwerk, 2015). For their significant others, the caregiver burden is at times overwhelming.  It is the atrocity of war that simply won’t go away.  These caregivers are the forgotten victims.ptsd1

When living with a traumatized veteran, it is often the spouse or significant other that must pick up the yoke in managing the household.  Coping with the emotional outbursts, nightmares, negativity and lack of intimacy of their PTSD afflicted partner takes its toll.  A number of studies revealed that veteran’s PTSD symptoms negatively impact family relationships (Calhoun et al, 2002).  So much so that these negative relationships actually inversely impact and sometimes exacerbate the PTSD.

As therapists explain, therapy, in order for a PTSD affected person to improve, is two-pronged;  establishment of close relationships and the ability to spend time with those also involved in the same type of combat, for example at VFWs or squadron reunions.  When one of these two processes is broken, many times the PTSD only worsens producing compromised relationships, family violence, divorce, sexual problems, aggression, depression, and increased caregiver burden (Mikulincer et al, (1995).

Impaired relationship functioning produces a high rate of separation and divorce in these veterans. In fact, about 38% of Vietnam veteran marriages failed within six months of the veteran’s return from Southeast Asia. Rates of divorce for veterans with PTSD were two times greater than for those veterans without the disorder.  Those with PTSD were three times as likely to divorce two or three times. (Kulka et al, 1990).ptsd2

Many of the impaired relationship aspects involve communication and intimacy. The PTSD veteran simply can’t relate to everyday living. A sense of anxiety exists around intimacy which can lead to sexual dysfunction and decreased couple satisfaction and adjustment.  They simply feel they don’t know each other anymore.

The severity of the veteran’s PTSD symptoms correlated with the severity of physical and verbal aggression family outbursts. One study reported that 92% of veterans with PTSD had committed at least one act of verbal aggression against their partner.  In the same study 42% admitted to at least one act of physical violence.

Because of this data, Veterans Affairs PTSD programs and Vet Centers are now offering groups, couples, and individual programs for families of veterans with PTSD.  This is a huge relief for caregivers and partners who were shell shocked themselves at the behaviors coming from loved ones that just don’t make sense.ptsdvets-with-ptsd

Joy Lathrop, the wife of a USMC pilot who served in Vietnam described guilt and frustration in her inability to manage the outbursts.  Ten years into their marriage, which was a second for both of them, the nightmares began in her spouse.  Then followed his tears and inability to control his emotions.  Friends and family at gatherings complained about the repetitive stories of Vietnam.  Her teenage daughter was embarrassed and began to spend time away from home with friends.  Neighbors complained about his erratic behavior. There were times when she herself thought she was going crazy dealing with it all.

But Joy was determined to not become another divorce statistic. She scoured the library for books and research.  She educated herself about the disorder and how best to overcome its manifestations, which is key to caregiver survival (Johnson, 2002). She sought out couples therapy and support groups. But mostly she tried to remind herself every day that the man she married was still in there.  In her heart, she knew he was still her husband.  It was the PTSD that was to blame.  The verbal assaults and then his own guilt over it was what made him seem so distant and aloof.

Joy, like the others in the studies did what she could to maintain a sense of normalcy with household up-keep, family relationships, and general day to day life.  She found tasks for him to be involved in that capitalized on his strengths, like small projects and planning historical travel.  She was patient with his hours at the typewriter, excising his demons through verse.  She attempted these strategies with little or no expectation for their outcome.  Thus, when something worked, it felt like a success.  She also took time to care for herself to renew her own spirit and will to continue.

Her husband’s book of poems, THE DARK SIDE HEAVEN, recently published by AgeView Press, was the source for him expressing the conflicting emotions of carrying out the missions required during Vietnam.  He found writing so therapeutic that he also penned a memoir, ETERNALLY AT WAR which is due to be published in 2016. In addition, he completed an oral interview with Texas Tech University Vietnam Center and Archive which allowed him to relate his journey.TDSH ecover

Theirs was a success story.  But as the research shows, many others are not. The most important message for families living with a traumatized victim is that they are not alone.  These emotional struggles, although difficult and painful are normal (Price and Stevens, 2010).  Social media now abounds with free support groups.  Just like in the veterans, talking about it helps.  Seeking out support, education, and therapy will help improve family relationships and overall mental health.

“We owe it to the Vietnam generation, it’s an amazing sacrifice that they made,” says Dr. Charles Marmar, Director of The Steven & Alexandra Cohen Veterans Center at the NYU Langone Medical Center. “But it’s also the path ahead for the Iraq and Afghanistan generation, and we have to do better than we did for Vietnam.”

There are several excellent resources:

VA Caregiver Support:  (1-855-260-3274) provides caregiver support those caring for a loved one with PTSD.

National Center for PTSD

Coaching Into Care: A VA program that works with families who become aware that their loved one has traumatic issues post-deployment and finds resources for help. (1-888-823-7458)  CoachingIntoCare@va.gov

Twitter:   @ptsdPLUS  @VA-PTSD_Info  @Help4VetsPTSD

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/#!/PTSD-Support-And-Recovery-275580472648386/?fref=ts

Back from the front:  combat trauma, love, and the family.  Matsakis, A. (2007). Sidran Press, ISBN 188698187.

After the war zone: a practical guide for returning troops and their families. Slone, L. and Friedman, M. (2008). Da Capo Press, ISBN 1600940544.

References:

Calhoun, P., Beckham, J. & Bosworth, H. (2002). Caregiver burden and       psychological distress in partners of Veterans with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 15 (205-212).

Handwerk, B. (2015). Over a Quarter-Million Vietnam War Veterans Still Have PTSD. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/over-quarter-million-vietnam-war-veterans-still-have-ptsd-180955997/?no-ist

Kulka, R., Schlenger, W., Fairbank, J. Hough, R., Jordan, B., Marmar, C. et al. (1990). Trauma and the Vietnam War generation:  report of findings from the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study.  New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Mikulincer, M., Florian, V., & Solomon, Z. (1995). Marital intimacy, family support, and secondary traumatization: a study of wives of veterans with combat stress reaction. Anxiety, Stress, and Coping, 8 (203-213).

Price, J., and Stevens, S. Partners of veterans with PTSD:  research findings. http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/family/partners-of-vets.asp

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This Memorial Day – who are you carrying?

In honor of our troops, our veterans, and those who have paid the ultimate price, this Memorial Day post was brought back by popular demand. 

Military memoribiliaAn explosive device goes off. Instantly, your right leg is destroyed and crushed below the knee. Your left leg has gashes and is burned. Part of your left arm is blow away. You are unconscious and laying on the ground. Massive amounts of blood surround your motionless body. Your world goes black.

That was the exact experience of Iraq War Veteran, Jacob Schick, in 2004. A 3rd generation marine of the USMC, he was rescued by a brave medic and air-evac’d out by a Blackhawk helo to a MASH hospital. He heard a mish-mash of voices “Hang in there buddy. We’ve got ya. Don’t die on us.” Nine years, 46 surgeries including a traumatic amputation of your leg and 22 units of blood products later, would you be bitter? Angry? Depressed? Or self-medicating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? Many would. However, Jacob is not.

Last year, I interviewed Jacob serving as the Ambassador for Carry The Load. He also works full time at the Center for Brain Health with the University of Texas at Dallas, as part of their Warrior Training Team. I found him to be the antithesis of any victim. He was upbeat, committed, pumped and positive. As a trauma nurse myself, I can appreciate the harrowing horror of a prolonged recovery. Yet, I found none of this in the indomitable spirit of Jacob Schick.

Carry the Load Jacob Schick

Will you CarryTheLoad?

As a veteran of war, Jacob humbly attributes his survival to his military brothers. “My Sergeant used to say to all of us out there, ‘if you wake up in discomfort or pain, thank your lucky stars – you’re alive.’ It’s the military mindset. It’s what makes you survive.”

Jacob was recruited to the Carry the Load cause because of his resilient attitude by co-founders Clint Bruce and Stephen Holly, two Navy Seals. They recognized the positive vigor within Jacob that would be instrumental in their cause to instill enthusiasm and excitement within donors and volunteers. His goals of survival and giving matched those of Carry the Load.

Carry the Load was established in 2011. It was developed as a vehicle for people to come together in patriotism and show their pride and appreciation under the same banner to support those in uniform who serve – police, fire-rescue, and our military. It started with one man carrying a flag on a mission across America. It has grown into a national movement of thousands marching across our nation in patriotism and service. Funds are raised to provide support to five separate established non-profit organizations. Most non-profits spend the majority of their time fund-raising. Carry the Load takes that burden off those organizations.

Amazing stories arise from individuals participating in Carry the Load. Awe-inspiring messages of survival, hope, and patriotism. Participants share appreciation for the strength and courage of those individuals who work every day to make our world a safer place.

Jacob’s message is universal – we must celebrate heroes that sacrifice every day to bring us freedom and a life of comfort.

Help make Memorial Day, Memorial May! Join Dallas Cowboy Roger Staubach – the epitome of an American Patriot, survivor and ambassador Jacob Schick, the founders of CarryTheLoad, and thousands of other veterans, police and fire-rescue first responders. Come out and carry more than you have to. Go just a little bit further. Get away from BBQs and car stalls. Bring your family to Riverchon Park on the Katy Trail in Dallas, TX Sunday May 24th and Monday May 25th 

This Saturday our team, will proudly represent my two sons who fly for the Navy and will march with my son who is in a wheelchair.  Won’t you please help CarryTheLoad?

Are we truly thankful for those who safeguard our freedom everyday?

There won’t be many words in this post.   Just images.   Images of those who sacrifice their time and service to protect our freedom.   Our own United States Military.   This weekend, as you sit around large tables filled with families and your feast.   Stop.  Take a moment.  Say a prayer for our troops, both near and far who guard the sanctity of our nation each and every day.  

For those whom we are truly thankful.

For those whom we are truly thankful.

Operation Red Wings Angel Flight - coming home to rest in peace.

Operation Red Wings Angel Flight – coming home to rest in peace.

Can you help carry the load?

Can you help carry the load?

Giving Hope!

Giving Hope!

Standing up for the next mission.

Standing up for the next mission.

Air evacing victims from the tsunami in the Philipines.

Air evacing victims from the tsunami in the Philipines.

UN humanitarians

Providing for those who have not.

Saving a brother in Afghanistan.

Saving a brother in Afghanistan.

The Veterans Memorial Gold Star Healing and Peace Garden

This guest post by @Jrcclark1 is being re-blogged to honor our Veterans and thank them for their service.

Honor the Victims of Terrorism

Star   Like all mothers who have lost a loved one during military conflict, Cher Kondor struggled to find a means of emotional catharsis in the midst of her sorrow. Killed by an improvised explosive device (IED), her son, Army SPC Martin Kondor, became a casualty of the Iraq War on April 29, 2004 – and his death served as the inspiration behind a unique monument known as the Veterans Memorial Gold Star Healing & Peace Garden, located in York City, Pennsylvania. Constructed for the initial cost of $750,000, the garden honors the memory of Pennsylvania’s war dead, especially those lost to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Realization of the memorial came about in large degree from the efforts of Ms. Condor, who remembers hugging her son for the last time at the Philadelphia International Airport in January of 2004. Posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple…

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Make it Memorial May – CarryTheLoad

Military memoribiliaAn explosive device goes off.   Instantly, your right leg is destroyed and crushed below the knee.    Your left leg has gashes and is burned.  Part of your left arm is blow away.   You are unconscious and laying on the ground.   Massive amounts of blood surround your motionless body.  Your world goes black.

That was the exact experience of Iraq War Veteran, Jacob Schick, in 2004.  A 3rd generation marine of the USMC, he was rescued by a brave medic and air-evac’d out by a Blackhawk helo to a MASH hospital.  He heard a mish-mash of voices “Hang in there buddy.   We’ve got ya.  Don’t die on us.”    Nine years, 46 surgeries including a traumatic amputation of your leg and 22 units of blood products later, would you be bitter?    Angry?    Depressed?    Or self-medicating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?   Many would.   However, Jacob is not.

Recently, I interviewed Jacob serving as the Ambassador for Carry The Load.   He also works full time at the Center for Brain Health with the University of Texas at Dallas, as part of their Warrior Training Team.  I found him to be the antithesis of any victim.   He was upbeat, committed, pumped and positive.    As a trauma nurse myself, I can appreciate the harrowing horror of a prolonged recovery.    Yet, I found none of this in the indomitable spirit of Jacob Schick.

Carry the Load Jacob Schick

Will you CarryTheLoad?

As a veteran of war, Jacob humbly attributes his survival to his military brothers.   “My Sergeant used to say to all of us out there, ‘if you wake up in discomfort or pain, thank your lucky stars – you’re alive.’  It’s the military mindset.  It’s what makes you survive.”

Jacob was recruited to the Carry the Load cause because of his resilient attitude by co-founders Clint Bruce and Stephen Holly, two Navy Seals.   They recognized the positive vigor within Jacob that would be instrumental in their cause to instill enthusiasm and excitement within donors and volunteers.    His goals of survival and giving matched those of Carry the Load.

Carry the Load was established in 2011.  It was developed as a vehicle for people to come together in patriotism and show their pride and appreciation under the same banner to support those in uniform who serve – police, fire-rescue, and our military.   It started with one man carrying a flag on a mission across America.   It has grown into a national movement of thousands marching across our nation in patriotism and service.  Funds are raised to provide support to five separate established non-profit organizations.  Most non-profits spend the majority of their time fund-raising.   Carry the Load takes that burden off those organizations.

Amazing stories arise from individuals participating in Carry the Load.  Awe-inspiring messages of survival, hope, and patriotism.   Participants share appreciation for the strength and courage of those individuals who work every day to make our world a safer place.

Jacob’s message is universal –  we must celebrate heroes that sacrifice every day to bring us freedom and a life of comfort.

Help make Memorial Day, Memorial May!  Join Dallas Cowboy Roger Staubach – the epitome of an American Patriot, survivor and ambassador Jacob Schick, the founders of CarryTheLoad, and thousands of other veterans, police and fire-rescue first responders.   Come out and carry more than you have to.  Go just a little bit further.   Get away from BBQs and car stalls.  Bring your family to Riverchon Park on the Katy Trail.  May 26th and May 27th.

Won’t you please help CarryTheLoad?

Who Are You Carrying?

Who Are You Carrying?

Can you carry the load to help?

Can you carry the load to help?

Carry The Load Honors Our Military Service Members, Police Officers and Firefighters during “Memorial May”

Carry The Load

Press Release  – Dallas,TX, May 11, 2013— The burden of every day life can seem heavy as we go about our normal routine: readying the kids for school, heading to work, making dinner plans. We often forget those who carry the load for us every day.

From the fields of battle halfway across the world to our own neighborhoods, thousands of our fellow American men and women – our military service members, police officers and firefighters – selflessly devote their lives to keeping us safe so that we can live ours.

Carry The Load was formed to recognize and honor our fallen heroes and those who continue to serve our country, not just over the course of a three day holiday weekend, but throughout the year. Through events like the National Relay, Dallas Memorial March and affiliate events and rallies in Austin (TX), Tampa (FL) and Ruston (VA), Carry The Load wants to turn Memorial Day into “Memorial May.”

Beginning on April 30th, the Carry The Load National Relay will travel from New York to Dallas, with a number of events in cities along the way. It will culminate in the Dallas Memorial March over Memorial Day weekend. This 20-hour and 13-minute march will honor and remember all who have given, and continue to give, their time and their lives to keep us safe.

All are invited to join Carry The Load in this mission, by being a part of the National Relay, meeting the Relay participants in one of the event cities, marching in the Dallas Memorial March, or volunteering their time to help make these events a success. Donations can be made at carrytheload.org, where anyone can also sign up to participate or volunteer.

Carry The Load is grateful and honored to partner with our sponsors: Budweiser, jcpenney, and Gold’s Gym. Their generous support means that more funds can be directed to this year’s beneficiaries.

Thanks to our sponsors, participants, volunteers and donors, this year’s Memorial May beneficiaries will receive even more much-need financial support. In 2013, Carry The Load is proud to support Assist The Officer, Heroes On The Water, Friends of Dallas Fire-Rescue, Tip Of The Spear Foundation and Sons of the Flag Burn Foundation.

About Carry The Load

Carry The Load exists to restore meaning to Memorial Day by honoring the sacrifices made by members of the military, law enforcement officers, firefighters and their families, especially those who have died or were wounded while carrying the load for their fellow Americans.
We provide an opportunity to share their experiences with thousands of other Americans and to raise awareness and resources for established, well-respected foundations that benefit these communities.

 Carry The Load is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Through events like our national relay, regional marches and rallies, we hope to build awareness and raise funds to remember and help those who have given so much to keep our country safe.

 The co-founders of Carry The Load, Clint Bruce and Stephen Holley, are available for interviews about the organization, its founding, its mission and the 2013 events.

Contact: Brian Gile