Monday, May 11, 2009

Course focuses on PTSD effects on families

Course focuses on PTSD effects on families

By Terry J. Goodman
Deputy Public Affairs Officer

Photo by Terry J. Goodman
Psychologist Bettina Kanitz (center) discusses the impact of post traumatic stress disorder on their families with Army spouses during a recent week-long program sponsored by the Defense Health Clinical Center at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The program is designed to give spouses useful tools to help their husbands adjust to being at home.

The life of a military spouse is as intricately woven as that of a hand-sewn quilt. Each rich, colorful square tells a story about the creator�s life � good and bad.
For five women who recently completed a week-long military spouse course at the Defense Health Clinical Center (DHCC) at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, many of the recent patches in their life-quilts tell a lonely and sometimes sad tale as their husbands continue to rebuild their lives after being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

However, after a week of professional guidance, and sharing their stories with other women without fear or rejection, the group was ready for an afternoon (April 24) of sightseeing and reflection before returning to their families. Three will return to Fort Bragg, N.C., one to the U.S. Military Academy in New York, and another will travel the 40-mile drive up I-95 to Baltimore.

Carrie Louque, wife of a Fort Bragg Soldier, feels better equipped to continue to help her husband reconnect with their family and deal with the challenges PTSD can bring.

�This week was very beneficial,� said Louque, who was only married for 15 months before her husband�s deployment. Learning the scientific reasons behind PTSD and the symptoms give me such a better understanding of what my husband is going through.�

Previously referred to as �shell shock� or �battle fatigue,� PTSD follows a terrifying physical or emotional event, and causes the individual to have persistent, frightening thoughts and memories or flashbacks. Soldiers with PTSD may have any of three kinds of symptoms for weeks or months after the event: re-experiencing the event over and over; avoiding people, places or feelings that remind them of the event; and feeling keyed up or on-edge.

According to Bettina Kanitz, a DHCC psychologist, the symptoms can have a dramatic and sometimes terrifying impact on the family.

�Spouses have to deal with so much, deployments, death, injuries and the unknown, which all have a psychological impact on the marriage and family,� she said. �We wanted to provide a way for spouses to learn about PTSD with others who share similar experience.�

The Army has tried to help and educate Soldiers and their families with initiatives such as the 2008 launch of Battlemind training, which consists of modules that target all phases of the Warriors� deployment and life cycles, and includes Battlemind training for Warriors, Leaders and families, along with a �chain-teaching� program developed in 2007 to assist leaders to openly discuss the signs and symptoms of behavioral health and mental health issues.

The Depart-ment of Defense opened the Defense Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury in 2007 for warriors and their families needing help and promoting resiliency, recovery and reintegration.

One of the goals of the DCoE is to reduce and eventually eliminate the stigma that prevents some servicemembers from seeking treatment for PTSD and TBI. According to Louque, at Fort Bragg, home of the 82nd Airborne, reducing the negativity associated with PTSD is still a challenge.

�You have to think about the culture at Fort Bragg to understand why Soldiers don�t want to admit or seek help for PTSD,� she said. They think it�s a sign of weakness, even though it�s not.�

The Deployment Health Clinical Center, one of six agencies within the DCoE, began as the Gulf War Health Center in 1994. In 2001, it transformed into the DHCC, and its mission was expanded to include clinical care of veterans of all conflicts.

At that time, DHCC was also tasked with providing deployment-related health research and developing deployment-related health education and training programs and products for both clinicians and servicemembers and their families.

About four years later, the Specialized Care Program Track II (SCP-Track II) was developed to treat servicemembers with combat stress, PTSD or difficulties readjusting to life upon return home. The program is based on the best available evidence regarding effective treatments for PTSD.

According to Dan Bullis, DHCC director of administration and operations, each SCP-Track II treatment plan, a three-week program, is designed to meet individual patient needs. Patients are put into a group-oriented treatment program to deal with physiological, behavioral, emotional and cognitive effects of stress and trauma on their lives.

�Many Soldiers who take part in Track II have said they wished there was something their spouse or significant other could take part in,� Bullis said. So, we developed this week-long program.�

�There was no funding for this program,� Bullis added. �This wouldn�t have been possible without the support of the Walter Reed Society. We hope to have another session in August.�

The �Army wives� learned about roles and relationships within the family; parenting issues; impact of combat on Soldiers; how to communicate and manage power struggles that can occur after return from deployment; and how to take care of you while taking care of spouse and family.

Devon Walsh thought the entire week of education, training and kinship was incredible but found the session that emphasized �taking care of you� as the take-away event.

�When your husband is coming back to you, your focus is him and your children,� said Devon, who lives at Fort Bragg. �You forget about your needs, but you can�t. I need some alone time to recharge. This is a wonderful program that is long past due.�

For these five ladies, their life-quilts are still a long way from being complete, and thanks to their week at Walter Reed, the new patchwork may be more vibrant than planned

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