Veterans with PTSD battle emotional conflicts at home - 14 News, WFIE, Evansville, Henderson, Owensboro

Veterans battle emotions at home

Nearly 2.2 million men and women have been involved in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. 

Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health estimate more than 700,000 servicemen and women have returned home with long-term mental issues.

For service members, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is when the fear and anxiety of war never goes away.

For spouses welcoming home a service member, it can be difficult.

There are some things everyone should be aware of about coping with loved ones who have served in combat.

For some soldiers, the wounds of war leave behind scars that run skin deep. For others, the pain can persist well after a war ends.

Jamie Blake was a gunner in the U.S. Army in 2005. He knows how PTSD can wreck havoc on a happy homecoming.

"I come home and it's the same," Blake says. "I'm on a mission; I've been on a mission ever since."

After marrying his fiance, Lisa, he spent his first year of marriage away at war.

When he returned from Iraq, Lisa Blake says the man she married was not the one she picked up at the airport. She says he was suddenly short-tempered, anxious, impatient and distant. Her husband was a new person.

"I loved him, but [was I ]in love with him?" she asks. "Zero." 

Research surrounding the effect of PTSD on marriages reveals severe impacts on both the function of the entire family, and the mental health of spouses and partners.

As a result, problems with parenting, family violence, divorce, sex and aggression often arise.  

"How do you not lose love and feelings in your heart because of their bad day?" Lisa asks.

Military family assistance and veterans' centers offer support services to help the service member adjust to life away from war. 

A homecoming plan made prior to the service member's arriving back at home may be the best defense. This could also include an outline of new household rules and roles which inevitably have changed.  

"Don't try to reclaim the routine you had before you deployed," advises Colonel George Smawley with the 25th Infantry Division. "Adjust to the one that you come home to."

Major Robert Heinssen, Ph.D., is with the National Institute of Mental Health and he knows about the challenges service members face.   

"You think, 'I've been running with my foot down on the pedal for months and now I can ease up,' but you find that when you ease up, the pedal is still stuck," Heinssen says.

He says about 20 percent of service members aren't able to de-activate after deployment.

That's when PTSD sets in, usually after a soldier has been home for about four months. The symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares and numbness, just to name a few.

"As a good soldier, you're always taking care of your equipment. Well, part of your equipment is your mind. You need to take care of it," Heinssen says.

The transition phase to civilian life can last well over a year for any service member.

For the Blakes, it's been five years since his return home and their marriage is still a work in progress.

"I'm more comfortable in that kind of environment than I am in the United States," Jamie Blake says.

Without an immediate military support in their community, the Blakes have received assistance through couples counseling.

The Department of Veterans Affairs also recommends individual and family counseling.

Experts say it is important to remember that with time and treatment, life can get back to normal.

It will be a new normal, one Heinssen believes will eventually be better for everyone.

"I'm very optimistic of the future because I have served with these people and they're good," Heinssen says.

He encourages families to talk about the service member's experience, but without any pressure or judgment.

"That allows the service member to tell their story while helping the family and, largely, the country understand what they have endured and overcome," Heinssen says. 

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