(WZZM) -- WZZM 13 is On Your Side this Veterans Day with a look at the struggles of our local vets dealing with Post-traumatic stress disorder.
PTSD is a condition destroying lives and some doctors estimate only half of the veterans who have it are getting help. Now some of our local vets are speaking publicly for the first time about how they deal with PTSD.
Inside American Legion Post 459 in Grand Rapids, you'll find some of the nation's biggest fans. They keep their war stories to themselves for the most part, but there with fellow vets, they can open the door a crack; let out some of that tension they feel every day, year, and decade.
"Sometimes my wife has to wake me up at night. I scream... I holler," one Vietnam vet told me, wanting anonymity.
"One of the toughest things to do is reintegrate," said another.
Now, post-traumatic stress disorder is disabling a new generation. "I have to take pills every now and then just to try not to remember what happened," said Mike Ganzak. Mike is a Marine, and misses the way he felt and acted before he deployed. "Two of my best friends died right next to me," and there's no time to grieve on the battle field. "You can't just go in a corner and cry because they need you." In 2005, Mike served a tour in Iraq. Then, he served a second in Afghanistan.
"This is a real, physical problem," said PTSD specialist, Dr. Michael Ryan. He says PTSD is only recently becoming more frequently diagnosed. "There are three main symptoms; first is reliving the stressful event. Second, you begin to avoid anything that reminds you of that trauma. Third, you stay in a state of hyper-arousal where you're very vigilant, you're very jumpy."
Mike knows now, he fits the description. "I'd get up in the middle of the night and cry because of the stuff I've seen over there."
There are vets who will never get help, especially those who served in older wars. A few vets told me their symptoms, without wanting their identity revealed. "I had bad dreams. I was very hyper-vigilant." "You start doubting yourself." "Crowds; even today in public bars, it bothers me a lot."
PTSD starts with a traumatic situation. The brain protects the body by almost doubling its normal reaction time. The problem is learning to control that adaptation back at home. "Things can trigger it," explained Dr. Ryan. "Maybe a smell or a noise that reminds them of a previous situation. We once worked with an individual who responded to water bottles because they reminded him of IV bags."
Vets with PTSD don't trust easily. Many are scared to even admit they served, including the anonymous vets we spoke with: "Coming home from Vietnam, we were all baby killers." "On the airplane, there were two people that didn't even want to sit next to me." "I was spit on." "I felt safer in 'Nam than I did here in America."
For others, like Navy Vet Catherine Buckley, denial keeps them from help. "I went active in 1982, and was with the first group of women that infiltrated the ships...men didn't like it."
Catherine was diagnosed with PTSD eight years ago, but only recently started therapy. "I was forced into molestation, rape." She was terrified of the possibility of a dishonorable discharge if she told anybody; scared to disappoint her father and brothers; all veterans themselves. "I was raised very patriotic."
Several years later, another blow. Catherine received news about her son; a marine stationed in Guam. "John, he committed suicide...He was kind of a recluse when he came out of the service. What caused everything? We don't know." John was never offered counseling, but Catherine believes he had it, just like her, and several other family members. "They never heard of PTSD back then."
Today, Catherine is no longer depressed, and is always on the go as an American Legion Commander; encouraging other vets to get help. "You drown yourself in being busy."
And with an extra push from his family, Mike also went to the VA and started seeing a therapist a couple months ago. "I feel like a new person. It feels so good to talk to someone about it."
"It's time to face it," continued Catherine. "Go for the help you need before it destroys your life."
Do you know someone with these symptoms? Click here formore information on PTSD.
To find whattherapy and compensationis available for you through the Department of Veteran Affairs, click here.
Call your local VA office:
- Kent County: (616) 632-5722
- Muskegon County: (231)-724-7143
- Allegan County: (269) 673-0567
- Ottawa County: (616) 393-8387
- Newaygo County: (231) 689-7200
- Montcalm: (989) 291-9680
- Barry County: (269) 945-1296
- Ionia County: (517) 284-5299
- Mecosta County: (231) 592-0124
- Oceana County: (231) 873-6836
For more urgent counseling, you can also call the Veterans Crisis Hotline: (800) 273-8255
Dr. Michael Ryan, featured in this piece, is also a founder of the Michigan Combat PTSD Task Force. The mission of his group is to inform therapists outside of the VA to learn more about PTSD, in preparation of more cases of PTSD than the VA can handle. For more information, and to learn more about up-coming conferences, email him at Ryan7476@mac.com