Monday, May 27, 2013

Remembering vets with PTSD on Memorial Day

      Good Day World:

It’s Memorial Day and I thought it only appropriate that we look at one challenge our troops often experience, especially combat troops: PTSD.

It’s been in the news more often the last few years as awareness of the scope of the problem becomes evident. Our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken a mental toll on these men and women serving our country.

It was Vietnam veterans who were first introduced to the concept of PTSD, and ways to treat it. Treatments sprang out of rap groups, which is all they had for years. Now, there’s more and more programs addressing the needs of these wounded warriors. For many of them suicide seems the only way out of the agony. I’m remembering those who suffered with PTSD and took their own lives today. I also want to remember those who are still fighting wars in their head.

This article is about one of the programs helping PTSD victims: 

Unmasking the agony: Combat troops turn to art therapy

“The skull’s left corner is gone, leaving a jagged, diagonal edge drenched in red. The eyes are black and frantic. All of it resembles the Iraqi man who, in his final minute alive, stared up at Maj. Jeff Hall.

For five years, that face tortured Hall, once a sharp Army leader later shoved to his own ragged edge. Not long ago, a woman handed Hall a blank mask, brushes and paints. She asked him to see what may emerge on the surface.

“That image, seared into my mind, began leaking out of me,” said Hall, one of hundreds of active-duty troops who have created masks as part of an art therapy program at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. “I almost needed to regurgitate it. To be honest, it helped me let it go.”

Many more masks, some resembling Hall’s violent creation, some depicting abstract demons, adorn walls at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICOE) on the Walter Reed campus.

Slideshow: Art therapy helps soldiers coping with trauma

They reveal scars once carried and cloaked inside the minds of men and women back from war — troops diagnosed with mild brain injuries and secondary psychological issues, including post-combat stress.

Hall, 43, who titled his mask “The Shock of Death,” served a pair of year-long tours in Iraq spanning 2003 to 2005. Ultimately haunted by violent events he saw and survived in Iraq, including the loss of friends, Hall eventually contemplated suicide and became more isolated. His commander noticed Hall's behavioral changes and guided him into counseling in 2008.

Two years later, Hall was invited to seek treatment for a traumatic brain injury at then-new NICOE, a Department of Defense facility offering research, education and treatment focused on TBIs and psychological health.

When service members initially enter the art-therapy studio, their faces often are blank and unyielding, hiding unwelcome war souvenirs within — the mental cargo they’ve lugged home but can’t shake. On their masks, they expose that secret turmoil: vulnerabilities, anger, grief or, often, fragmented identities.

“It’s intense. They get really invested in this. It becomes very meaningful for them,” said Melissa Walker, an art therapist who coordinates the masks program at NICOE. (rest of the story here)

Related stories:


Obama: Many Americans 'don't fully grasp' soldiers' sacrifice

No rest for 'Flag Man,' who honors fallen soldiers

Time for me to walk on down the road…

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