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American Homefront

A Green Beret Busting Myths About PTSD

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Bobbie O'Brien
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WUSF Public Media

The U.S. military is downsizing. The war in Iraq is over, and combat troops are due out of Afghanistan by the end of next year. That means more than 1 million service members will be entering the civilian workforce in the coming years.

That’s why two veterans are on a mission to help employers and the community in general separate fact from fiction when it comes to post-traumatic stress disorder.

First, not every veteran has PTSD. It affects only an estimated 20 to 25 percent of combat veterans, according to Saint Leo University associate professor Dr. Jim Whitworth, a 21-year Air Force veteran with a Ph.D. in social work.

There’s a lot to understand about post-traumatic stress and the best teachers are those with the diagnosis. However, most veterans are not comfortable talking about their traumatic experiences.

That’s where the bravery of Brian Anderson shines through. He is willing to share what can be painful details so clinicians, the public and employers have a better understanding of returning veterans.

Anderson joined the military because of September 11th. His first hitch in the Army was as a photo-print journalist with the 82nd Airborne Division. Anderson then became a Green Beret.

“I killed my first man on Dec. 31st 2008. And, you know, at that point it was more of a high-five type experience.  I was psyched. I was really pumped about it,” Anderson said. “The second deployment, I went in, our very first fire-fight was eight hours long. And we killed 39 Taliban that day and we had a couple of our guys wounded.

“On Sept. 29, 2010, we were clearing a village and I got a call up from one of my teammates, Calvin, that they were held in building by a machine gun nest. So, me and a few guys  went around and took out the machine gun nest. We called ‘all clear,’ but we we’re aware that the Taliban was there and killed both Calvin and Mark with a Dragunov. It’s a type of sniper rifle.

“We de-sanitized Calvin and Mark. We took off all their military gear and everything and put them on a medevac and then we continued on with our mission,” Anderson said.

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Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
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WUSF Public Media
These are Brian Anderson's Green Beret ring and KIA (Killed in Action) bracelets commemorating friends lost on the battlefield.

As he described losing his best friend, Calvin, in combat, Anderson’s voice is almost matter-of-fact, his gaze did not waiver.

That’s because Anderson has told that story and other combat incidents countless times as part of his prolonged exposure therapy for post-traumatic stress. He said prolonged exposure therapy is designed to de-sensitize the person who experienced trauma. It worked for a while, but his PTS symptoms like hyper-vigilance continued.

So, he tried Accelerated Resolution Therapy and after a two hour session, Anderson said he was able to put his unpleasant memories into long-term storage. He likened it to defragging a computer.

“When people hear about veterans and some of the difficult experiences they have, they may over generalize or think that veterans are in some ways broken people,” Whitworth said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. They’re individuals who have been through a difficult experience, in many cases they have, but they’re having a very normal predictable response to that.”

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Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
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WUSF Public Media
Saint Leo associate professor Dr. Jim Whitworth is a 21-year Air Force veteran with a Ph.D. in social work.

He said veterans just want employers to give them an equal chance to compete for a job or a promotion adding they want to be considered for a job based on their character, their skills, and their knowledge.

So, Whitworth created the a workshop to layout the “Myths versus Reality of Post-Traumatic Stress” to help everyone in the community  from employers to educators better understand PTSD and trauma response in general.

As for Anderson, the St. Leo student is now an employee of Pasco County. He starts Monday as Pasco’s Veterans Services director.

Whitworth compiled some websites to help those with post-traumatic stress and to help everyone else understand the diagnosis and debunk the myths and misconceptions associated with PTSD.

National Center for PTSD:  http://www.ptsd.va.gov/

Center for Deployment Psychology:  http://www.deploymentpsych.org/

Make the Connection.net:  http://maketheconnection.net/

And here is an Off the Base list of 10 things civilians can do to help veterans with post-traumatic stress.