Friday, June 11, 2010

PTSD....and "Dear John" ... a Great Story

Its 11 June here in Washington, DC…projected to be another fine day weather wise here in the Nations capital.

I have been up since early morning working on my dissertation; the rewrite is exhausting…as is the research. As I mentioned in a previous posting the VA had sent this document back to me with over 70 pages of “extreme edits” that I am plodding through. Suffice to say it is mind numbing!

To give you some idea of the depth of research going on today in PTSD studies across the county…last year when I began my dissertation I reviewed approximately 21 pieces of ongoing research from various universities and government forward to 2010…there are now over 50 (fifty) national level studies that have direct application to the work I am currently doing.

I just finished reading the book “My War; Killing Time in Iraq” …it was a suggestion from the advisory team from the VA and I must say it was well worth the read. It provides both an overview of combat operations as well as an in-depth look at what a soldier goes through in both the preparation for combat as well as the reintegration back into society.

The book details Iraq War Veteran Todd Vance's life and was also the genesis for the movie "Dear John" which detailed the real experiences as an Army team leader for a Stryker Brigade in some of the most critical and violent areas in Iraq in 2004.

The rationale for reading the book and some of the additional materials sent from the VA was that Vance has successfully recovered from PTSD as a result of counseling he underwent in the VA health care system. It is this counseling methodology that will be incorporated into my dissertation to provide a more balanced approach to treating returning veterans.

Some background….

The "Dear John" movie was the brainchild of novelist Nicholas Sparks…author of other best-selling books such as "Message in a Bottle" and "The Notebook" …after hearing Vance talk about his combat experience in Iraq Sparks felt it was worth writing a script…and the movie was born.

Within the book, Vance also talked about the significance of getting letters from home from his then girlfriend. Some aspects of his relationship with the girlfriend and the time frame were changed between the book and movie. While the fictional character in the movie is wounded in battle in the movie, Todd Vance did not suffer any physical wounds. After Vance returned safely from Iraq in 2004, he went back to Fort Lewis and then settled in the San Diego area. At first, things seemed all right…but then the problems started.

While not physically wounded, Vance had witnessed severe human suffering during his time in Iraq, ranging from seeing fellow soldiers killed from blasts from IEDs and sniper fire to scenes in which Iraqi children were blown up. His experiences had taken a toll and he needed help. By his own words…."three or four months into it, I just had a crash…the nightmares got to a point where I could not function."

Enter the VA….and the mental health team…

Vance received intense psychotherapy for several years in order to get his life straightened out. His is a prime example of how educational outreach to family, friends, and significant others can work.

The significant issues addressed by the VA in regards to Vance were making him realize that by avoiding life situations that reminded him of his military experiences and avoiding his memories…he was avoiding the life in front of him…and more importantly he was hurting others. Vance’s life was continually impacted by nightmares, poor sleep, hyper arousal and vigilance…all of which impacted interpersonal relationships. It is these relationships that pose the core of my own research…and henceforth the reason for reading the book and watching the movie.

Todd Vance has reintegrated into society and is currently a college student, a part-time employee and a personal trainer in San Diego. He speaks with Veterans about his recovery and treatment at VA, and often refers Veterans to seek counseling and services.

If you have time I recommend the book…if you’re short on time then I recommend the movie…but either way you will get a good overview of what happens to a soldier who is exposed to combat…and then understand the National issue that is growing as a result of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan…PTSD

Have a great weekend!


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