5 posts tagged “army”

“I can see that there actually is help here.” – JustinSingleton shares his experiences with PTS

Posted August 21st, 2015 by

JustinSingleton is an Army veteran who recently joined PatientsLikeMe back in June, and he’s been exploring the veteran’s community ever since. This month, he wrote about his experiences in an interview, and below, you can read what he had to say about getting diagnosed with PTS, managing his triggers and the importance of connecting and sharing with fellow service members. 

Can you give us a little background about your experience in the military?

In 1998, I joined the Ohio Army National Guard as an Indirect Fire Infantryman – the guy that shoots the mortars out of a big tube. For six years I trained on a mortar gun, but after being called back into the Army (I left in 2004), I was assigned to an Infantry Reconnaissance platoon, and I had no idea what I was doing. Before heading to Iraq, we trained together as a platoon for six months – learning not only the trade, but to trust each other with our lives.

It wasn’t until March 2006 that we arrived in Iraq, and I was assigned to the Anbar Province, which at the time was rated as the worst province of the nation. I was deployed in the time leading up to the need for “the surge.” As we drove the highways of the Anbar, we were shot at, mortared, and bombed. Intelligence even found “wanted” posters of one of our vehicles (we named it Chuck Norris).

When were you diagnosed with PTS?

I wasn’t diagnosed with PTS until many years after the war (I tried to “fix” myself), but the traumatic events are actually multiple, including receiving indirect fire on what was supposed to be my last mission – just a week or so after two good friends were evacuated after being maimed for life.

What have you done to manage your symptoms of PTS?

At the beginning, I refused medicines – I thought I was strong enough to beat it on my own. I worked with a VA counselor before moving for a semester. While there, I worked with a university student/counselor, but nothing was really helping. Finally, I went to my Primary Care Physician and told her that I needed more. The VA psychiatrist tested some medicines, but one needed to be changed (this is normal). Finally, the combination of medicine and individual therapy created within me a sense of “I might make it.”

You joined PatientsLikeMe in June 2015.  As a newer member, what do you think of the veteran’s and PTS communities?

I joined this community because although I feel better than before, I still need the help of others. I can see that there actually is help here.

You’ve mentioned in the forum that your triggers seem to be non-combat related – can you describe your triggers?

In one of the forums I mentioned my triggers. These, to me, are odd. Bridges, garbage on the side of the road, and even a midnight stroll have triggered panic attacks or anxiety. Often, simply being in a grocery store too long causes anxiety to the point that I take a quarter of Ativan, squeeze my fists or the cart, and head to the door or checkout (whether finished or not). While this has caused an impairment in life, it has never been “the end” of life. These are objects on my road to a healthy living – objectives to be conquered.

Although there is a prevalent idea in the Armed Forces that a man/woman should never ask for help or ever see a physician, I have found that to be a rather juvenile view on life. The greatest thing a veteran facing PTS or anxiety can do is not try to face it alone. We are a community, a brotherhood, and only together with a good doctor can we ever hope to survive.

What advice do you have for other military members who may be experiencing PTS and related conditions?

Twenty-three of our brothers and sisters quit every day. I refuse to be a part of that statistic.

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Patient, caregiver, wife and mother – Georgiapeach85 shares about her experiences with MS and her husband’s PTS

Posted June 22nd, 2015 by

Ashleigh (Georgiapeach85) is a little bit different than your typical PatientsLikeMe member – not only is she living with multiple sclerosis, she also a caregiver for her husband Phil, who has been diagnosed with PTS. In her interview, Ashleigh shares her unique perspective gained from her role as a patient and caregiver, and how PatientsLikeMe has helped her to look for a person’s character, not their diagnosis. Read about her journey below.

Hi Ashleigh! Tell us a little about yourself and your husband.
Hi! I am 29 and my husband Phil is 33. We have been married for 9 and a half years, and we have a son who is almost two 🙂 . I was diagnosed with Relapsing Remitting MS in July 2009 just before my 24th birthday. My husband served in the Army Reserves for just over six years and did one tour in Afghanistan in 2002. I met him while he was going through his Med Board and discharge. We met while working at Best Buy – he was Loss Prevention, the ones in the yellow shirts up front – and I was a cashier and bought him a coke on his first day 🙂 . We dated for nine months, were engaged for six, and got married and haven’t looked back!

What was your husband’s PTS diagnosis experience like?
It has been hard as his wife to see him struggle with first acknowledging that he had stronger reactions to small things in life than most people would and that perhaps he should seek outside help and then the struggle to get the care he needs from the VA. He is finally seeing a counselor next week after requesting he be evaluated for PTS a year ago. He has never had insurance other than the VA so has to rely on their lengthy processes for treatment. He was given a preliminary evaluation in March for the claim and was told that he definitely needed to be seen further, but then the VA made no follow up.

One of his manifestations is getting very frustrated very quickly, so I try to make all of his doctor appointments for him so he doesn’t have to deal with the wait times and rudeness from the VA employees. I have spent hours on the phone getting the right forms filled out and referrals done. I am proud of him for not giving up on it and seeing that he needs to learn some situational coping strategies so that we can enjoy life as a family. Phil loves camping and the outdoors where things are peaceful and open, so we belong to a private camping club and he loves to take our son and dog up there to get away.

You have a unique perspective as both an MS patient and a caregiver for your husband. Can you speak about your role as a caregiver and some of the challenges you face?
The biggest challenge I face is remembering his reactions to crowds and loud stimulating environments when we are choosing where to go. We have had to leave restaurants because they have been so busy and crowded just waiting for a table that he gets very panicked and apprehensive about being able to get to an exit quickly. He does just fine most places, but crowds and small areas stress him out. I handle making all of my appointments for my MS and his for his medical needs so it can be stressful sometimes while trying to work full time and be a mom.

How has PatientsLikeMe helped you expand your role as a caregiver?
I am just exploring the Post-Traumatic Stress section to see what others are experiencing. I never even thought about getting support for being a caregiver for Phil, I just always assumed he was the only one with caregiving responsibilities for me, but I see that I need to learn what I can about what he is going through so that I can give back the support he has given me over the years and through my diagnosis. Just as I want to be open about my MS, but don’t want it to define me as a person, Phil wants to learn to address his experience in Afghanistan and how he reacts to situations outside his control, but doesn’t want to be defined by a label of PTS. PatientsLikeMe has helped me to look for a person’s character, not their diagnosis. I have met many wonderful people and it is a great relief to know I can log on and vent or seek guidance from people all over the world.

What has been the most helpful part of the PatientsLikeMe site with regards to your MS?
Well I found the best neurologist ever through the site by looking up people who were on Low-Dose Naltrexone for their MS (which is an off-label prescription my former neurologist thought was not worth pursuing), then I sorted by those geographically closest to me, and I sent them a private message as to who prescribed them LDN. One of the members gave me Dr. English’s name at the MS Center of Atlanta, and that center has been a godsend for the care and advancements I have been exposed to. In a similar circumstance, I have made a new friend when a lady two years older than me found me under a search for those in her area and through messaging we found out that her son and mine were born on the same day, just one year apart! She lives 10 minutes away and Phil and I have become friends with her and her husband and that has been so great to have a female friend my age, with MS, and with a young child. Beyond the connections, being able to search for a medication and seeing how it is working for others and their reviews has been immensely helpful.

What’s one piece of advice you have for other caregivers who are also managing their own chronic conditions?
Just because there might not be a cure doesn’t mean you can’t learn a lot about life and yourself in the journey for caring for someone you love. Learn to take the good days with the bad and be thankful for life and being around to give support. In my case, I care for my spouse whom I love with all my heart and will be with for the rest of our lives. You have to view the big picture when you get caught up in the stress of day-to-day or certain circumstances, it’s the only perspective you can take when you’re in it for the long haul 🙂 . Also, don’t feel guilty when you need to take a break for yourself, you are only good for others when you have charged yourself up.

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Give veterans access to the care they need

Posted March 11th, 2015 by

By Peter Chiarelli, retired U.S. Army general & CEO of our partner One Mind

As originally seen in the Washington Post

Soldiers listen as U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter (not pictured) holds a question-and-answer session with U.S.military personnel at Kandahar Airfield in Kandahar February 22, 2015. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

 

The high-grossing film “American Sniper” was nominated for an Academy Award for best picture, but it deserves higher honors for highlighting one of the greatest causes of casualties in our recent wars: post-traumatic stress (PTS).

The story of Iraq war veteran Chris Kyle, who was killed by a Marine veteran suffering from the effects of PTS and other mental-health problems, makes a powerful case that PTS needs to be a higher national priority. (You’ll note that I don’t include the word “disorder” at the end of PTS; the longer PTSD label actually discourages some service members from seeking treatment.) Since “American Sniper” debuted, Veterans Affairs and Defense Department leaders have been highlighting their programs for helping veterans diagnosed with PTS. But are those programs working?

In too many cases, the answer is no. Our PTS diagnostics remain crude, and no drugs have been approved specifically for treating the condition. Complicating matters, because of genetic and other differences among individuals, patients react differently to varying drugs and dosages. Finding the right mix can be a frustrating saga of trial and error. The wrong drug or dose can, if not caught in time, become a factor in other serious mental-health and behavioral issues, even including suicide.

It only makes sense that once Defense Department doctors identify an effective treatment for a service member, that same treatment should be available when the service member leaves active duty and moves to VA for care. More often than not, however, it is not.

The disconnect occurs because Defense has an all-inclusive drug formulary that allows clinicians to prescribe almost any medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration, while VA has a very limited formulary, primarily to control costs. Medically discharged service members who are given a 90-day supply of PTS prescriptions eventually must report to their VA medical facility for refills, where they are often denied — not for medical reasons but because the medications they rely on are not on VA’s approved list.

This is not a case of one prescriber issuing Bayer aspirin while another uses Saint Joseph. Service members whose symptoms are being controlled by specific anti-depressant, anti-anxiety or anti-psychotic drugs, as well as pain and sleep medications, are forced to give them up and search for a replacement — often a painful and dangerous process — simply because Congress has failed to require Defense and VA to harmonize their drug formularies.

Let me be clear: The problem is not that doctors within the two systems disagree over which drugs should be part of their formularies. Their hands are tied. They must operate within the rules set out by Congress.

Rather than repeating the laborious process of finding another drug that works, many veterans have told me they sought out private providers to fill their prescriptions, usually paying for their medications out of pocket. Imagine how they feel about VA when their first experience with the agency is a doctor telling them they cannot fill a prescription that has relieved their PTS symptoms for months or even years. In some cases, the veteran is not even given enough of the recommended drug to safely discontinue its use.

I have testified about this serious discrepancy, most recently as a member on the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, and have discussed it privately with members of Congress. A few have said they will try to address the problem, but most have declined, citing the added cost to VA of a fuller formulary and the time the Government Accountability Office would require to determine the budgetary impact of such a change. Shouldn’t the long-term cost, danger and social impact of denying vital medications to veterans provide a sufficiently compelling reason for Congress to act?

The obvious solution is to include the same medications in both formularies. If this is not possible, Defense Department doctors should exhaust all the options available on VA formulary first before considering any drugs not covered by VA. If neither of these options can be adopted, Defense doctors should at least warn service members that their current prescriptions will be unavailable in the VA system.

This problem needs to be fixed immediately. A directive released by VA in late January seeking to address the problem without correcting the misaligned formularies contains too many loopholes and is totally inadequate. We need a solution, and not a patch. Chris Kyle’s death underlines the urgency of providing effective treatments for PTS. We can start by getting the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments on the same page.

Learn more about One Mind.

Read what the PatientsLikeMe community is saying about Peter Chiarelli’s article.


“You can get better” – PatientsLikeMe member jeffperry1134 shares about his journey with PTSD

Posted February 12th, 2015 by

Many veterans are a part of the PTSD community on PatientsLikeMe, and recently, jeffperry1134 spoke about his everyday life after returning home from military service. In his interview, he touched upon his deployment to Somalia in the early 1990s, and how his memories of Africa cause daily symptoms like anxiety, hallucinations and nightmares. But despite everything, Jeff remains upbeat and reminds us that there is always hope. Scroll down to read what he had to say.

Note: the account below is graphic, which may be triggering.

Can you tell us a little about your military service and your early experiences with PTSD?

I entered the military in the Army in July 1990 as a heavy wheeled mechanic. I went through basic training and AIT at Ft. Jackson, SC. I went to my first permanent duty station in December in Mannheim, Germany. I was assigned to a Chinook helicopter unit. My unit was very relaxed and we got along well. As soon as the war broke out we received our deployment orders. We returned home in July from deployment. My PTSD was early onset after returning from Desert Storm. I experienced nightmares, depression, alcohol abuse and drug abuse. At the time I was a 19 year old alone in Germany away from my family struggling with this mental illness. My supervisors were able to help me hide my problems well and it was not discovered at that time. I feared being singled out for having these problems. Three days before it was my time to PCS stateside our company was deployed again, this time we were going to Somalia. I was told I could leave but I felt guilty so I volunteered to stay and deploy with my teammates. We deployed in November 1992 and returned in June 1993. During my time in Somalia it was rough. During the deployment my job was perimeter guard duty and body remover. During the deployment I used local drugs of Khat and Opium Poppies to control the symptoms of my illness. After returning from Somalia not only did I have the symptoms that I had earlier but now I was hallucinating hearing voices, smelling smells and seeing flashes. I went stateside a week after we returned. I went to Ft. Leonard Wood, MO in an engineer unit that was strict. I made a huge impression with my skills as a mechanic and a soldier so when I was having problems my superiors hid it for me to keep me out of trouble. I did get in trouble once after a night of heavy drinking and smoking marijuana and was given an article-15 for being drunk on duty. Before that day I had still considered myself as a career soldier and I decided then that I was not going to re-enlist. I spent the rest of my military time waiting to get out and finally July 1994 came and I was out and had a job at a local car dealership as a mechanic. After working a while I got into a verbal confrontation that turned physical with the business owner and had to be removed by the police from the dealership. After that my thinking became bizarre and very hyper-vigilant. I took newspaper clippings and taped them to a door so it would motivate me to exercise harder and be ready if I were ever in a life or death situation. At the time I was working with a great therapist and she did wonders for me keeping me stable. She convinced me to take my medications and stop drinking daily.

What were your feelings after being officially diagnosed? 

I was blown away when I was diagnosed in 1995 after a suicide attempt that ended up with me being hospitalized on a psych unit for a week. My sister walked in on me at my apartment with a loaded gun in my mouth. I was resistant to treatment or even acknowledging that I had this illness. I was linked up with a therapist and psychiatrist before leaving the hospital.

What are some of the symptoms you experience on a daily basis?

On a daily basis I usually deal with a lot of anxiety, some depression, occasional hallucinations and nightmares. On a bad day I will have sensory hallucinations with me smelling dead bodies, burning flesh or cordite. Usually when that happens I get physically sick.

You recently completed the Mood Map Survey on your PatientsLikeMe profile – what have you learned about your PTSD from your tracking tools?

I learned that my PTSD is not as well managed as I would like it. It made me press my doctor to give me an antipsychotic medication and I have a new therapist at the VA that is working hard to help me identify when my symptoms are becoming worse.

By sharing your story, what do you hope to teach others about PTSD?

I just wanted to show that you can get better and that there is hope and that they can get through it.

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Raising awareness on Veteran’s Day

Posted November 11th, 2014 by

Right now, there are almost 22 million American veterans living in the United States, and every one of them has a story to tell. So today, we’re honoring their service by raising awareness for life after the military.

Like many others who are living with chronic conditions, the injuries our military men and women sustain are not always visible. Thousands of veterans are affected by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), 30,000 have been diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) since 2000 and many others are living with depression. Sometimes their symptoms don’t even manifest until many years after their service.

These eye-opening statistics are why we’ve recently announced a new multi-year collaboration with One Mind to help the millions of people worldwide who are experiencing post-traumatic stress traumatic brain injury, or both. We’ll work together to expand and enhance the PatientsLikeMe online registry experience for people with these conditions, to provide better resources for day-to-day living, and to capture more patient-reported data for research.

If you’re looking to learn more about US veterans, head to your nearest book store and grab a copy of “For Love of Country,” Howard Schultz’s and Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s new book (just released on November 4). Check out the video synopsis below:

 

There’s also the Concert for Valor today – it’s a free live event that is being organized on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for veteran’s awareness. If you can’t make it in person, tune in on iHeartRADIO.

If you’re a veteran living with PTS or TBI, you can find others and connect to people who understand what you’re going through on PatientsLikeMe. There are more than 4,000 of members in the Veterans Forum, and every day, veterans are learning more about their health and the best ways to cope. Share a bond, and live better, together.

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