Photo Courtesy: Gannett News Service
BUFFALO, N.Y. - In the coming days, thousands of veterans will be returning home from war to face a new challenge. The end of the Iraq War, marked by the departure of our remaining troops over the weekend, means many of our brave men and women in uniform will soon be re-adjusting to life outside the combat zone.
And those of us who are friends and family members of the veterans can be there to help them.
"I don't care how big and bad you think you are, there is no way you're going to go over there and return back home completely normal, like there's not an issue that you have in the world," said Chris Krieger, an Iraq War veteran who was wounded in combat in 2004 and started an organization to help veterans find jobs when they return home from war.
Kreiger is referring to something known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Like so many of fellow service members, it's something he faced when he returned home in 2004.
"You go through basic training to learn how to be a fighter, but there is no basic training to teach you to go back to being a normal, joe-blow civilian," Kreiger said.
According to Dr. Sudha Krishnaswamy, a psychiatrist for the VA, roughly one out of every four or five returning veterans is experiencing some type of PTSD symptoms. That number could climb, she said, with the Iraq War ending and the War in Afghanistan eventually winding down.
DR. KRISHNASWAMY: It's going to be quite a big issue
REPORTER: How can a service member or a family member tell that there is an issue that needs treatment?
DR. KRISHNASWAMY: They can see that the person is not that communicative like he or she used to be. They can see the person is not sleeping well. They keep waking up in the middle of the night not knowing why they woke up.
She said other symptoms may include lack of participation in family activities, irritability, and excessive alcohol or drug use.
"The military teaches you - to ask for help, you're weak," Kreiger said. "So no one asks for help."
Kreiger believes friends and family members can help by understanding and by looking out for the symptoms. He says his fellow veterans need to know that their fellow service members are experiencing the same thing.
"You're not alone," Krieger said. "There (are) many other men and women today who are going through the very same stress and anxiety."
If you or someone you know is struggling with PTSD, the V.A. recommends talking to your primary care physician, who will point you in the right direction.
If the matter is more urgent, the V.A. has a 24-hour crisis line. The number is 1-800-273-TALK. You also can find more information on their website.