Did you know the estimated number of combat service members, veterans who suffer from signature wounds such as invisible injuries of combat trauma, traumatic brain injury (or both) is 1 in 3? These signature wounds include painful symptoms such as flashbacks, avoidance, isolation, hyper-arousal reactions including anger outbursts. Lone Survivors Foundation’s focus is to educate service members, veterans and their family members on the warning signs, symptoms, and characteristics of these injuries to better prepare our men and women when returning home.
COMBAT TRAUMATIC STRESS
Today, there are many terms to describe combat trauma, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Operational stress. These struggles are what many servicemen and women deal with after exposure to life threatening situations. Whether one witnesses, or is directly involved with the event, it can have profound psychological effects on the individual.
Combat trauma and/or PTSD leaves SM/Vets with painful symptoms such as flashbacks, avoidance, isolation, and hyper-arousal reactions including anger outbursts, tension, and hyper-vigilance. These emotional and behavioral changes can have devastating effects on someone’s interpersonal life, but also their family and work life as well. If left untreated, PTSD can spiral into other problems such as panic disorder, substance abuse, depression, and suicidal feelings.
Spouses and children can be greatly affected by these invisible injuries and their side effects. How? A spouse may become a “caregiver” and have to abandon the role as wife or husband, in order to deal with the daily crisis resulting from untreated PTSD, while a child, whose parent has PTSD, may develop anxieties and self-esteem issues.
MILD TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY (MTBI)
Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI) and post-concussive disorder are terms used to describe head injuries most experienced by service members, veterans. Injuries from mTBi, like PTSD, are not visible so the person does not look injured. The symptoms are inconsistent. Sometimes your brain is working stronger, and you are okay, or sometimes you struggle. Family members are the first to notice the changes and the first to fall victim to the negative impact that comes with lack of diagnosis and treatment.
Mild Traumatic Brain Injury in SM is typically the result of direct blunt trauma to the head or blast injuries. The resulting effects of these are displayed over the course of time. Anywhere from immediately after the injury or, they may begin to demonstrate the signs days or weeks after the injury. Some signs of mTBI are, being dazed, confused, or disoriented. A person does not have to lose consciousness to incur mTBI. Other signs include issues with memory, concentration, balance, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, speech, and mood changes. Historically, the effect of these brain injuries will be all encompassing of one’s life. As with PTSD, the individual, family, and work life all suffer as a result of the changes to the person’s capability, which is why education is a key factor. LSF provides the tools for individuals to learn how to cope with mTBI, understand it, and make changes to adapt and get stronger.
CHRONIC PAIN ISSUES
Chronic Pain is experienced by approximately half of all servicemen and women returning from deployment. Although difficult to diagnosis due to the different sites of injury which are often internal and not visible, chronic pain can be the result of amputations, burns, spinal cord damage, nerve damage, and back injuries just to name a few. Blasts can create powerful pressure waves on the body, overtime this continued exposure could damage central nervous system tissue contributing to chronic pain. Adding to this is the likely hood of frustration and stress which can exacerbate pain.
As with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI), the impact of chronic pain is devastating to an individual and the effects can infiltrate the family and work life. In desperate efforts to self-manage pain, individuals will often reach for alcohol and drugs for relief. These will only add more problems and increase the likely hood that relationships and families will break up.
Spouses and family members, working on coping with their loved one’s chronic pain can be exhausting. The added pressure of “invisible pain” that is often not diagnosed by physicians can be extremely difficult and leave people feeling hopeless. There are new options and ongoing research treatments available for a variety of pain issues.
MILITARY SEXUAL TRAUMA
Military Sexual Trauma (MST) statistics vary and are judged to be under-reported by many, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. The DoD estimates that of the 19,000 sexual assaults in the military in 2010, only 13% of those were formally reported. The military laws for criminal acts, Uniform Code of Justice, differs greatly from US civilian laws. Prosecution rates for sexual assault in the military is astonishingly low, 8%. An estimated 10% of alleged perpetrators were allowed to resign instead of facing formal charges. The DoD does not maintain a sexual offender registry as does the civilian legal system, which would alert commanders, military childcare programs, etc. of the presence of a perpetrator in a particular community.
Given these and other differences in how sexual assault is handled in the Military, victims face a greater risk of trauma with secondary traumatization. The implications for MST are powerful, victims not only feel betrayed by the people they were taught to trust, but also betrayed by the military as a whole; by their command who does not protect them, the legal system that does not prosecute and the lack of services for victims within the military. Victims may also be ostracized by their colleagues resulting in increased feelings of shame, guilt, fear, and helplessness.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the common result of any sexual assault and within the military community the level of trauma is compounded. MST survivors face a long and painful recovery and need the support of the military community as well as the civilian community to overcome their psychological injuries.
The stress on military families from overseas deployments is immense. When a service member is deployed, the separation can be lonely and difficult for both the service member and his or her spouse. As challenging as being apart can be, however, coming home often involves hard realities as well. This is especially the case when a spouse is severely injured. The pressure of coping with wartime injuries is often a cause of military divorce. The sheer number of soldiers who have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other related problems is undeniable.
PTSD also takes a toll on marriages and other relationships. For example, research has found that 38 percent of “Vietnam veteran marriages failed within six months of the veteran’s return from Southeast Asia.” Research also finds that “veterans with PTSD are more likely to report marital or relationship problems, higher levels of parenting problems, and generally poorer family adjustment than veterans without PTSD.” A 2005 Pentagon study found that the divorce rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans was up 78 percent since 2003.