Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Witnesses of limbs blown off and soldiers on fire need just as much attention as survivors

When you talk to veterans with substantial physical wounds, they talk about all the support and care they received. It would be pretty hard for medical providers to not understand there could be wounds not visible to the naked eye after losing limbs or suffering burns. This obvious need somehow never seems to penetrate the survivors who witnessed the limbs being blown off or the soldier on fire.

Witnesses of limbs blown off and soldiers on fire need just as much attention as survivors. If they feel the need to talk, listening is very important but it really depends on who is doing the listening and how much the talker trusts them.

Chaplains are deployed after traumatic events, trained in crisis intervention, among other things for a very specific reason. First, they are trusted. People see the insignia of a Chaplain and they know they are deeply spiritual people (no matter what faith the person has) and they will not judge the one needing to open up.

Chaplains are trusted also because they care. No one becomes a Chaplain unless they care about others deeply. The survivors of traumatic events also know they will not dismiss any of what they have to say by responding with "Get over it" or "It isn't so bad" or even worse when people can respond to pain by trivializing it and laughing.

We don't have all answers but when people are in crisis, the answers are not as important as hearing. Being able to talk to someone is sometimes all it takes to prevent what we are seeing with PTSD.

It's wonderful to have someone to talk to but if the person doing the listening does not know what to say, or when not to say anything at all, too often the friend we confide in will make us regret talking at all. We may struggle with our faith in that moment and have a well meaning friend dismiss our crisis while magnifying their own issues. They may answer a cell phone while we are trying to pour our hearts out so they can talk to their friend about plans for later or to hear gossip, or look at their watch wondering when we'll be finished taking up their time. A buddy may take us to a bar for a drink so we can calm down but has no interest in hearing what we have to say.

I grew up in a big Greek extended family surrounded by relatives I knew cared no matter what. No matter what crisis someone was going thru it was always talked out. When the one suffering was done, no matter how long it took to get there, then the subject was dropped, but not until the one in need was no longer in need. That helped immensely but as with most people they also had their own way of "helping" which was not very useful at all. Still with ever crisis I had, some of them life threatening, it was "talked to death" until I had nothing more to say.

It is my greatest belief after all I've learned about veterans that this along with my faith, is the reason why I did not develop PTSD, especially considering I have a lot of the same characteristics they have. The leading one opening the door to PTSD is compassion. This is the most common with PTSD veterans.

We know it's vital they have someone to talk to and watch over them. What no one seems to be talking about is what kind of training the "buddy" has to address the crisis and help instead of making things worse accidentally. This is where having a support group with even minimal training will accomplish a great deal until the DOD and the VA have enough mental health providers to fill the need. Every expert has stated clearly the sooner PTSD is addressed the sooner it stops getting worse and begins to get better. Having someone to talk to until they can be seen will prevent it from taking control over the life of the survivor.

While there is no one dismissing the need to add trained psychologists and psychiatrists, as well as Chaplains, their job healing will be made easier when the trauma is not left alone to fester. This isn't rocket science. It's human science and mostly common sense.

Learning to listen the right way is just as important as caring in the first place. We can all learn to do it and then think of how far we will really go helping our troops heal. We can help keep them from killing themselves. We can help them from seeing their families fall apart. We can help them stay in the military and live a long happier life if we learn how to listen with our hearts and shut off our ego.