Gerald Vest: MSG Hunt tells his story about War & PTSD/TBI    
 MSG Hunt tells his story about War & PTSD/TBI4 comments
picture23 Jan 2010 @ 18:54, by Gerald Vest

PTSD occurs when a person has experienced, witnessed, or has been confronted with a traumatic event, which involved actual or threatened death or serious physical injury to themselves or others. At which point they responded with intense fear, horror or helplessness. These diagnostic criteria for PTSD falls into three groups and are summarized as follows:

1)Re-experiencing the trauma (nightmares, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts).

2)Numbing and avoidance of reminders of the trauma (avoidance of situations, thoughts and feelings, etc.).

3)Persistent increased arousal (sleep difficulties, irritability, anger outbursts, startle response, etc.). Downrange to Iraq and Back by Bridget C. Cantrell, Ph.D. & Chuck Dean


More than this, however, is the fact that a physical injury affects the brain with these long, multiple tours; long days and nights while maintaining an acute awareness with all of the senses. And, emotions are 'wired' while performing military functions to prepare for action, secure the perimeter, protect your team and "look out" for potential dangers with sustained alertness without having the needed REM state sleep for recovery.

The concussions by IED's cause Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and are also a devastating blow to our soldiers' brains that have enourmous inpact on the central nervous system and impacts memory of short term activities and events. So many of our Warriors have enormous headaches and Migraines as well. So many of our Warriors also have Sleep Apnia that can be a career buster. "Big" Joe will describe his experiences and how he has dealt with his pain, suffering, transformations,ups and downs, relationships, rehab, and more. Thank you, Joe.

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I am proud and honored to post this article by MSG Joe G. Hunt, SR.(Ret.) who tells his story about some significant and traumatic events that he experienced during 3 tours in Iraq and his 6 month recovery in our Ft. Bliss Restoration and Resilience Center. I had the good fortune to be "Big" Joe's primary therapist during this time and can affirm that he did everything possible and all that was offered in our treatment program and more, to recover and complete his 34 years as a great Warrior in our US Army. This service member has written his story to help brothers, sisters and others in our society understand and appreciate what soldiers often experience during the wars. We will never know the whole story of war and all of the trauma, sleepless nights, horrendous nightmares and all of the other symptoms that prevent our wounded warriors from returning home and joining their families with comfort, security, and joy. In fact, it seems to me that it is a miracle that any of these families make a successful recovery--our soldiers are no longer the same persons they were went they went to War--families no long recognize their loved ones and those they left behind often find them as strangers to re-discover.

One more reminder for all of us. Don't let our Iraq and Afghanistan Warriors return home without the recognition that they deserve. They did not start these wars or continue them--they did their duty the best they knew how. Welcome them home with the respect and dignity that they deserve and help them get the best services possible to help them heal and recover from all of these injuries, wounds and trauma. Darryl Worley, "Coming Back from the War" describes this experience vividly in his great ballad: [link]

Jerry Vest, LISW, Holistic Health Social Worker

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This is my story and I give my authorization and permission for Jerry to post this on his Log. I was a patient in the worlds primere PTSD treatment center and I waive my rights to privacy and confidentiality so that others will seek treatment and help for these invisible injuries. No one should ever feel guilty and wrong for taking advantage of services that can help them return to their families, to active duty or get medically boarded.

My primary counselor from the R&R program, (Restoration & Resilience Program), Jerry Vest asked me to write about my deployments to Iraq and the effects that those three deployments have had on me and my family functioning in daily activities. First let me give you some background as to who I am. I spent 34 years of my life doing a job I have loved, being a soldier in the US Army. My rank at my retirement is MSG/ E-8. I have been an active duty soldier, Oklahoma National Guardsman, Army Reservist. During my 34 years of federal service I have worked daily in the Army and had several civilian jobs.

On December 25, 1990 I and my unit left Nurnberg, Germany to enter Operation Desert Shield. The ground war lasted 5 ½ days and no real major problems for me existed at the completion of that action. Yes, my humvee was fired upon by a Russian T-72 tank and I watched rounds drop 500 meters off our perimeter. Yet I truly believe I was okay when we arrived at Bassara highway, (highway of death) in Kuwait. The next morning I and my driver were tasked to help clear the highway so Gen Schortzcroft could land for the signing of the peace treaty. We were to put yellow flagging tape around vehicles with no bodies and red flagging around vehicles with dead bodies in them. This was absolutely the worst two and half days of my life at that time. Me and my driver vomited more times than I can remember and saw some of the most grotesque scenes imaginable. Bodies and vehicles were still smoldering, some were torn apart so bad you couldn’t tell their sex, some were charred so bad that they had broken in half. The smells, the sights, were more than I could handle. I returned back to Germany to my wife and son only to isolate from them, get very angry and blow up for nothing, and the worst was the nightmares. I had been a Medic early in my career and knew the symptoms of PTSD but missed them terribly for myself.

After returning to the states at Ft. Sill, Ok I got off of active duty and entered the Oklahoma National Guard. I had a civilian job and was not doing well at all. I and my wife had multiple problems and I thought I was crazy, (truly). The Oklahoma VA gave me all kinds of medication and life started going downhill fast. Me and my wife separated in November 1995 and divorced January 1996. I moved to Texas, (Houston) and started working in a totally different field. The Houston VA was no help with my symptoms and diagnosed me as Major depressive with bipolar symptoms and chronic Post Traumatic Stress Symptoms (PTSS). A lot more physical problems surfaced and I continued to get worst. In 1997 I started community college with the intentions of becoming a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor. I graduated in 1999 with honors and started interning. All the time going to the VA and having anger outburst and the nightmares got worst.

I have to go back and tell a real part of my life now so that the understanding will become really clear to you. On March 5, 1986 I entered a Residential Treatment Facility in Nurnberg hospital for the treatment of alcoholism. Since that day until this day I have not had a drop of alcohol. This March 5th will be 24 years. I needed to tell you this for reasons that are associated with soldiers with PTSD and TBI. Drugs and alcohol are a way of coping in a society that doesn’t have a clue, especially the ones closest to you. All the time from my return from Desert Shield, Desert Storm, and The Kurd Relief until my completion from college and interning drinking and doing drugs were not an option for me. Going to AA saved my life literally. I knew I was crazy, I didn’t belong, feel comfortable, or feel loved by anyone at the same time I didn’t want anyone to know me or get close. This was my double edge sword.

Things actually started getting better in 2001. I was working as a case manager for an HIV/AIDS outreach center and was actually enjoying it. The center after 9/11 lost a lot of its funding and we moved into a church that had a food pantry for my clients. I worked extensively with the pastor and my guilt got to a point that I was baptized and became a member of the church. I met my wife now at the church and we were married September 21, 2002. This whole time I was also in the Army Reserves. Six months after my marriage I was put on orders for Operation Iraqi Freedom. I left for Ft. Hood, Texas and came home on weekends I could and left for Iraq on January 4, 2004. The nightmares, anger, isolation, hypervigilence all were becoming even worst than before.

I arrived at LSA Anaconda Balad, Iraq with mixed feelings and emotions, but as crazy as this sounds I hadn’t felt as comfortable with myself since before I went to the Gulf war. Several things happened while I was at Anaconda, first being on a convoy and having an IED go off about five vehicles in front of me and my driver. No one got hurt, but it was a baptizism under fire thing. We came off the road with a high that no drug could ever match. It was and incredible feeling, even when nothing happened we would get this high. Second being at LSA Anaconda the Stars and Stripes newspaper dubbed Anaconda, “Mortaritiville “as we got hit with rockets or mortars everyday. Three to six at a time, I was knocked to the ground more times than I can remember. I received a Combat Action Badge for being engaged by the enemy under indirect fire. I and a 2nd Lt were on our way to the base theater to eat lunch one afternoon when a 127mm rocket hit and knocked us to the ground. I was stunned and dazed but his mouth was moving and everything was in slow motion. His voice sounded like the voice in Peanuts, “ wha,wha,wha,wha “, I don’t know how long it was but I heard a pop in my head and I could hear and everything was back to normal sort of. I had an intense headache the rest of the day and evening. No blood or any outward signs of injury were present not even from my ears. The headache would come and go and every attack after that one I would get real angry and start talking to my self. Once on a convoy a RPG round flew right in front of our windshield and landed about 50 meters from us as we were driving down the road. My gunner peed her pants. Other things happened but not as bad as the ones mentioned.

I returned back to Ft. Hood on 14 Dec 2004 and was very anxious, scared to return. I didn’t know how I was going to react with life and my wife. After six months things were okay I guess. Nightmares would come and go and most I couldn’t remember. I would be walking nothing going on and all of a sudden I would see a flash of bright light. It would scare the crap out of me and I would start breathing fast and my palms would be sweaty and then would go away after some time passed. All this time I couldn’t understand what was wrong with me. Having an Associate of Applied Science of Mental Health Technology degree only compounded my feelings. I had enough mental health education to be very dangerous. My self diagnosis was becoming obsessive. I finally diagnosised myself as truly crazy, just nuts and should be locked in a rubber room. For one year after returning I did not work or see any doctors. In April of 2006 I received orders to go back to Iraq. In some ways I was relieved but still scared. I had angry outburst against people and senior officers before leaving and I look back now and see were somebody should have stepped in and said go get some help. But no one did and I thought life was normal in a lot of ways. Me and my wife had some issues upon my return but nothing really major. I could not argue or debate anything. It was either relaxed or un-believably angry conversation from my end. I could see the fear and hurt in her eyes yet couldn’t do anything about it which made me even angrier. I only wanted some one to understand what was happening. Prior to leaving I couldn’t sleep and emotionally I was a wreck.

We arrived once again at LSA Anaconda on August 24, 2006 and I was home once more. I can’t describe the feeling I felt once I stepped off the plane. I still had panic attacks but not near as many. The Army in all of its infamous wisdom really didn’t have a job for me when we first got to Anaconda. So I started doing things for different people just to have something to do. Finally I met a 1LT that was Commander of a National Guard truck company from Arizona. She needed a Convoy Commander very badly. So I said yes and off I was. Again coming off the road was such a high. When things would happen there would be an even greater high if that’s possible. After being their for about 6 months, one night the convoy in front of us stopped in area 49 on MSR Tampa. Area 48 & 49 were known to be ambush sights or ied’s, efp sights. Anyway, the convoy in front of us started receiving fire from the passenger side of the road behind a berm. I got out of my vehicle and walked to the humvee that had been hit hard. I started giving medical support and gave a situation report to the convoy commander. They started moving and my truck came by and I got in. It was like everything that happened was in slow motion. I could hear rounds whizzing by my head but it didn’t bother me at all. That’s the only real incident that happened during that time. We still received mortar and rocket fire at the Forward Operating Bases we would stay at. I was relieved of my duties and put at Balad hospital as a patient liaison for injured and sick soldiers. This was hell. We would take the litters off the helicopters and take them to the ER. We would identify the person and contact their unit and give them an update. Sometimes the head Nuro-Surgeon would look at me and say palliative care. Then I would take the soldier to ICU 1 in the back and unplug everything and hold his hand and wait for him to die. Once that happened I would drape an American flag over the body and take it to the morgue for processing. I would be with the body until mortuary affairs would show up to take the body to the collection point. This was hard and I got full in my heart real quick. I had no room for anything else, nothing. Then Gabby Bell came into my life and in a world of chaos and craziness she made the world right. This baby girl I helped take off the chopper one evening thinking that it was empty. But under some blankets was this brown eyed little girl. She had been hit in her abdomen with shrapnel from an ied. Both her parents were killed. She would not go to sleep one night and I heard her crying. So the nurse gave her to me and I took her down to my desk and held her while I worked. She slept so peacefully. She would give this little grin just for a moment. So cute, a blessing for all of us. I tried my hardest to adopt her and take her back home with me. But the Iraqi government wouldn’t allow it. One day this Iraqi woman shows up and says she is her grandmother and takes her away crying. Boy, I cried like crazy and got extremely angry. I didn’t go on the Iraqi floors or have anything to do with them anymore. To hell with them. My time ended and I came back to Ft. Hood, Texas on August 2, 2007. My eyes hurt from all the green that day and I was sweating from the humidity, but yet I was shivering from being so cold. Completely strange, which didn’t help my home coming at all? The Army saw I had 18 years of active federal service and sent me to Ft. Bliss, Texas for two years to retire. I and my wife had a home in NW Houston and so I went to Ft. Bliss alone.

Once at Ft. Bliss I was assigned to B Co WBAMC, thank God the hospital SGM put me at the Wounded Warrior Battalion as patient liaison NCOIC. I was a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. I couldn’t sleep; large crowds scared the hell out of me. I had no interest or hobbies and everywhere I went I was always watching for something to happen. I could see flashes of bright lights and smell war everywhere. One day some soldiers from this place called the R&R center came to the battalion to tell the wounded soldiers about the R&R program. I met a lady named Sharon and she invited me to the center for a visit. A week later I show up and before I know it I’m crying my eyes out and being admitted into the R&R program. It was the best thing that could have happened for me. People actually knew I wasn’t freaking nuts or trying to get out of doing something or make a buck off the government. Group counseling was a dream comes true for me. I heard things that happened to me and heard the same crazy things that I saw, smelled and did. I know for a fact that the R&R program saved my life. My primary counselor would listen to me intently and have me talk to a chair with no one in it, (The Gestalt Therapy), if you have never done that you ought too! My secondary counselor knew of my AA background and had me write a lot. I didn’t want to but I did. Both counselors saved me from my self. I had zeal like I hadn’t had in along time. I really and honestly wanted to get well. I would force myself to go to the malls during very crowded times just to deal with it. I always took someone with me never went alone. Some days were really great others were not so great, but the gap between worst and best was shrinking. The group counseling was really good for me as it reinforced to me that I wasn’t alone or crazy. The latter being near and very dear to me as you can realize.

The R&R program was 6 months long and intensive which I believe it should be longer. I know we are trying to get soldiers back in the fight and understand that. But after I left the program I regressed a lot. I was working at McGregor Training Base Complex at the Mayor Cell as the evening shift NCOIC. There were times I would panic for absolutely no reason at all. Right after leaving the R&R program I started seeing a doctor for TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). He put me on zanax 1 mg for anxiety and to help with sleep. I had x-rays and an MRI of my head and he diagnosed me with TBI post concussion syndrome axis level I. My symptoms are memory short term recall, headaches, dizziness, some tendinitis in my ears ringing, irritability, concentration, frigidity, and anxiety. I spent a lot of time with a speech therapist for memory and concentration which helped considerably. After I left the R&R program I regressed and I know it was from just starting to feel comfortable and then you leave. If the program was a year long it would provide ample opportunity to relax and deal with everything. The families are really left out in the dark cause all the treatment is for the soldier. Arguing with your spouse every night while trying to relax in the daytime is very difficult even for someone who doesn’t have PTSD, I will never be the same person as I was before but hopefully I will get close. I’m now retired and at home in NW Houston and trying very hard every day to be the best I can be. I and my wife are communicating and working through issues. She has phone numbers to call any of the therapist or even my TBI doctor whenever she feels she needs to. My memory is my biggest problem today. I can’t talk clinically anymore because I can’t remember simple words when talking and it makes me sound like a complete idiot. I hope I have given you enough background and answered a lot of questions you may have about PTSD and TBI from a soldier’s perspective. I am patiently waiting my award letter from the VA with my compensation percentage so I can start going to the doctor again. The feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and extreme guilt are fading each day. Depression seems to not be their quite as bad as it was. But the tools I have learned from the R&R program work and I still use them.

Thank you all so much.




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4 comments

5 Sep 2010 @ 20:40 by B Francisco @68.117.58.158 : Concern about handling by military LNO
My 23 yr old son was on patrol in Afghanistan early June 2010, when his truck was hit with an IED. He was serving as the gunner in a remote capacity. His truck was lifeted 10 feet vertical and when it landed it violently rolled down a river embankment finally coming to rest on its side just short of entering the river. His seat and the on board equipment were ripped from their moorings and he became trapped under the debris at the rear of the truck. He suffered a broken ankle and a severely broken right femur open fracture. His head was wedge in his kevlar and it was firmly pinched in the wreckage. Once his team members freed him they came under fire and he was thankfully transported to BAF hospital, then to Landstuhl, followed by WRAMC and now to his home area VAMC. He has displayed symptoms of nightmares, crying out, anger and much of the feelings associated with what I have found researching PTSD. His doctors have discussed PTSD, and he has been given breathing and visualization exersizes to cope with symptoms, but no one has yet told us that they have disgnosed him with PTSD. He has recently gone through a period of frustration and anger with his new wife, mainly because she would consistently interrupt him as he spoke and then argue with him. We had conferences with her to explain what we believe she needed to do in changing her behavior to make this better. This has proved very positive so far. However, we as his parents were in the proces of calming him down after his last anger outbreak and we just about had him calm when his Army LNO Captain came into the room and threatened him with discipline. He also assigned him to write a paper on why he was at the medical facility in regard to Army Values. I was shocked that he was put through this and that the phsyciatrist present didn't put a stop to the Captains tormenting our son. I guess my question then, is threatening discipline an appropriate approach to deal with a soldier suffering an anger issue stemming from PTSD. Your insight will help us determine our next step. The bottom line is that we want our son to heal, both physically and mentally. Thank you.  


7 Sep 2010 @ 00:34 by jerryvest : Thank you for sharing your son's war
experience and subsequent disrespect and disregard for his injuries by his command and psychiatrist. The trauma that he experienced in his truck following an IED explosion is a serious incident and generally produces serious injuries as you describe--physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and socially. Even if this injury was not diagnosed as PTSD, it is still an injury that affects the whole person and commonly affects the family members as well.

Secretary Gates and other informed leaders are very concerned that mental health issues and symptoms continue to be undiagnosed and identified as serious injuries. Additionally, this courageous warrior was not treated with the respect, dignity and services every warrior deserves as well as all of the medical and behavioral health evaluations the military has available.

I hope that your son can be referred to a program like our Ft. Bliss Restoration & Resilience Center where he and family members can receive the most intense, comprehensive and extensive integrative health practices and other resources available.

I hope this is helpful to you, B. You and your son are to be commended for taking this incident and poor or digraceful response to higher authorities.

There are Omsbudsmen and attorneys available in medical facilities and Warrior Transition Battalions that should be consulted and informed.

Best wishes to your son and your family,

Jerry

Note: I am sure MSG Hunt(RET) will also be interested in advising you further.  



9 Sep 2010 @ 12:07 by B. Francisco @68.117.58.158 : Follow up-Concern about handling by LNO
Thanks for your comments. During our stay at WRAMC we became close to our LNO there. We trust him and therefore we contacted him to explain what our son had recently dealt with. He was disturbed that the current LNO handled things the way he did and he made some calls. A few days after our conversation with our trusted LNO we had a family meeting with the team from the WTU. The current LNO Captain was present. He seemed to be much more accomodating than we had found him to be. This change in his behavior may be a direct result of calls made by the previous LNO. Additionally, our sons primary PM&R doctor has assigned a different phsyciatrist to our son. Hopefully these changes will continue to be more positive for our son in his recovery. Thanks again for your insight.  


9 Sep 2010 @ 13:31 by jerryvest : Thank you, B, for the follow up
response. I would like to suggest that you recommend to your son that he receive integrative and holistic health practices as the conventional therapies without these methods have not been effective for most injured soldiers. Unfortunately, most of the behavioral health practices in the Army are guided by the conventional mental health professionals and they are generally skeptical about holistic and integrative medicine, perhaps because they don't know a better way. Most of our professional mental health programs are a failure for this reason.

I recommend that your son receive lots of body work, learn meditation& guided relaxation, and some movement therapies, refrain from alcohol and drugs, learn mindfulness exercises, join with others in therapeutic outings in nature, meet weekly with a trauma group therapy program for at least a year, and, participate with his spouse in couple therapy and maintain a private journal to express self.

We are working in our area to identify a sponsor for every warrior returning from deployment, much like the AA approach. When they feel anger, depressed, stress, wanting to isolate or use alcohol to bury their trauma, they contact their sponsor.

There is no doubt that this is a whole body, mind, emotion, spirit injury that will not just go awsay as we all know from previous wars. We now know that by participating in integrative health along with some holistic health therapy, this injury can and will be healed. Without Hope for recovery and while believing or accepting that this is a life long 'disorder'and label, will only prevent your son from living a whole and complete life.

I have many warriors who would tell him that these trauma experiences can be translated or reframed into positive learning and make him a better and more successful human being and leader.

Best wishes to you all. Do let me know if I can be of further support and assistance. I will also be willing to refer one of my graduates to your son if he chooses. In fact, one of our medics was a Marine before joining the Army following 911,

May God Bless our injured warriors and their families.

Jerry
{link:http://jerryvest.pages.qpg.com}  



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