Veterans and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Conversation with Dr. Frank Ochberg
JS: You’ve dealt with a tremendous number and range of people with PTSD. In your experience, what are the most important factors in ensuring a positive result for those who suffer from it?
FO: Knowing what it is, for starters. Not allowing yourself to be totally demoralized because you have the condition – bucking up and putting it next to other conditions. There are people walking around with Lou Gehrig’s Disease which is a lot worse; it is relentless and it kills you. PTSD doesn’t get worse through time. It’s not lethal unless you let it be lethal.
More and more of us understand it, can help treat it, can help enlighten general society about what it is. It’s no fault of your own if you have it. It doesn’t mean that you’re weak. You shouldn’t be stigmatized. But let’s face it: in America there’s a lot of ignorance and a lot of arrogance, and there are people out there who are calling veterans cowards for having PTSD. That’s just stupid. More and more veterans are identifying themselves as having the PTSD injury and are confident about their general ability to cope with it, and to help others with it.
I don’t want to paint too rosy a picture, but it’s a hopeful picture. It gets better—and we’re getting better at understanding it, at treating it, and living with it.
JS: And some of these young military men and women are very resilient, aren’t they? What some of these guys have gone through and survived is amazing.
FO: It is. The flip side of focusing on what PTSD does to hurt you is realizing that most people come back from military exposure without PTSD, and those who do come back with PTSD recover relatively quickly. What’s important is that those who take a longer time to recover get decent help, professional help—that they get the help they deserve from the Veterans’ Administration and the military hospitals. I think it’s outrageous when we have cost-cutters who not only limit access to benefits that veterans have earned but tell veterans that they’re lying or that they’re faking it when they’re not.
It’s been exposed. There have been some abuses in America where people who are rating veterans for disabilities have been told to look for pre-existing personality disorders. This has happened to one of my patients. He got into fights at school, but he went on to become a damn good marine. But somebody has refused to diagnose him with PTSD because he had a history of being in fights at high school, and claimed that all he had was a personality disorder. We’re doing our best to get that turned around.
JS: Frank, trauma and PTSD among veterans is a huge topic, and we’ve barely skimmed the surface. So, why don’t we conclude by telling readers where they can get additional information and more detailed advice about how to deal with these invisible wounds?
FO: Yes, I’ve put together a website called PTSDinfo.org – it’s a gateway to other websites. There’s a lot of information out there, but I can vouch for the information that you’ll find at that site. I have a little letter of introduction at that site, and then there are four different organizations that you get referred to.
One of them is the National Center for PTSD, which is part of the Veterans’ Administration. It’s run by Matt Friedman, who’s a psychiatrist and a pharmacologist, and he is a world authority on PTSD and its treatment. Anything that you read that comes from that website you can trust. It’s been reviewed, vetted, researched. It’s particularly good for people who want scholarly articles about PTSD, but it isn’t all over your head.
Another website is the National Center for the Victims of Crime. Now this isn’t geared specifically to veterans, it’s geared to anyone who’s encountered human cruelty, and it’s one of the few places where there’s a call-in hotline. It has a lot of information. Again, while it’s not related specifically to the military—it’s related more to civilians who encounter crime and who suffer—it helps you know where to go for help.
One of the good things about that resource is there are a lot of pro bono lawyers who help out. If you’re a victim of crime, in addition to everything else, and you need a lawyer, this is the place to go.
Since I mentioned that, I just want to mention that I’ve been in touch with an old friend of mine who is the former top JAG of the Air Force, Jack Rives. He is now the executive director of the American Bar Association, and we were talking about how Bar Association members can help veterans deal with the legal issues they face. Hopefully we’ll have some initiatives to announce in the not-too-distant future.
Another website is the Dart Center website: www.dartcenter.org It was set up for journalists to learn more about PTSD, but it is also excellent for non-journalists who can take online courses there on PTSD and learn everything that journalists are learning about PTSD.
Finally, there is Gift From Within, which is run by Joyce Boaz. She’s not a professional therapist, but she’s done a wonderful job of putting together thousands of pages of information for people with PTSD. You can meet other people through the Gift From Within website who are dealing with PTSD-related issues. Anything that I’ve written recently, as well as audio and webcasts, is available on that website.
Now, there are a lot of specific veteran-to-veteran and veteran family websites. I don’t know them all, but most of them have a lot of good information. That’s a matter of seeing what you’re comfortable with and finding information that feels like it’s written with you in mind. There’s a lot out there.
JS: Frank, thank you for your insights and advice.
Jon Stephenson is a New Zealand journalist who has reported on conflict in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, and Zimbabwe. He was a 2008 Ochberg Fellow at the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, and is a member of the Center’s Australasian advisory board.
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© Gift From Within 2010. All rights reserved. Reprinted here with permission.
Enns, C. (2018). Veterans and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Conversation with Dr. Frank Ochberg. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 23, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/veterans-and-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-a-conversation-with-dr-frank-ochberg/