MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (WDVM) — The VA Medical Center in Martinsburg, West Virginia is the “go-to place” in the Mid-Atlantic region for veterans who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder — or PTSD. Sadly some veterans who have appeared on Veterans Voices over the past three years are suffering in silence.
Dr. Mark Mann, Chief of Mental Health Issues at Martinsburg, believes there are a lot of reasons that a veteran may keep their silence, especially among younger veterans who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“They’re worried it [PTSD] will ruin their chances of getting a security clearance or being able to carry a weapon,” said Mann who believes society demands men and women in uniform be strong. “Army Strong; an Army of One. “And it seems like society says if you need help, it’s a sign of weakness,” added Mann.
“Admitting they have a problem is one of the hardest things they have to so, but once they do it, we has so much open to them,” said Mann.
“We’ve been planting mental health professionals in all of our primary care clinics; right next to a doctor. If a veteran opens up, that person can come in and start talking to them immediately,” said Mann.
It’s estimated that seven or eight percent of people who are traumatized will finally get PTSD. With veterans who have been in combat, Dr. Mann says the numbers can fluctuate from 10 to 20 percent — “But most people recover.” However, symptoms may vary.
“I think one of the first signs your family and friends are going to notice before anyone else a veteran comes in contact with on a regular basis is that something has changed,” said Mann. “You’re not the same person and that’s why it’s so important for veterans to come in to a VA clinic and let a mental health professional evaluate them.’
Combat veterans tend to have an increased awareness of their surroundings when they return to civilian life. Crowds scare them.
“The first thing they look for in a restaurant or theater is the exit,” said Mann.
Veterans tend to withdraw from society.
“When you have PTSD, your mind pushes you to withdraw from a lot of things that remind you of the situation or bring to mind things that put you back in that situation,” said Mann.
He continued to say that more than 10,000 veterans seek help for mental health issues at the VA Medical Center in Martinsburg every year.
Mann doesn’t think things have gotten worse since Iraq and Afghanistan, but he says guys doing multiple tours today compared to one tour in Vietnam is making treatment more difficult.
“Their level of trauma is much higher and we don’t know where that’s going to end, and I don’t think we have done them any justice by sending them back to those areas over and over,” Mann stated.
You don’t have to be a combat veteran to suffer from PTSD.
“That’s one of the big myths,” said Dr. Mann.
First responders, law enforcement, medical personnel and even doctors and nurses can suffer from PTSD. Mann said that the key to coping is treatment.