Krista Corner Havre Daily News email@example.com
Veterans suffering with post traumatic stress disorder can find a compassionate, resourceful person to tell their story to in Havre. Center for Mental Health therapist Charlene Schmitz leads a group for Vietnam and Iraq vets diagnosed with PTSD. She offers group sessions for them to learn management of their symptoms and begin their life recovery. She said her reasons for wanting to provide the group sessions lie in her past. “I guess I have a passion for vets,” said Schmitz, who had multiple family members in World War II and Vietnam. While the group is open to both Vietnam and Iraq vets, Schmitz said most of the clients now are Vietnam vets who’ve had symptoms triggered by the war in Iraq or looming health concerns that don’t allow them to control their symptoms any longer. She said vets hear all the time that readjustment is stressful and normal. “You’re not crazy, and you have a safe place to tell your story,” she said. “Most vets think they’re losing their mind when they begin to experience the symptoms. “There is a huge stigma about discussing it with other men who served together because the men in the unit start looking at each other as a liability instead of as an asset,” Schmitz added. Group work helps vets with PTSD get better faster than individual therapy, and if a vet has been in individual therapy for at least five to eight months, Schmitz said she recommends they get into a group. Schmitz said the group will provide vets with education on the symptoms and how to effectively manage them. This is done by working with other vets who validate that this is a real problem with life-interrupting symptoms. Those vets also recognize the symptoms can get better with treatment and effective coping skills, she said. The therapist also runs group sessions for spouses and partners of vets diagnosed with PTSD to learn about the disorder, its symptoms and how to cope with it and support their vet. “Veterans’ (families) have no one to talk to about PTSD because the Veteran’s Administration treats only the veteran, not the family,” Schmitz said. “To my knowledge, I am the only one doing a family member group for PTSD (in the state). The kids are welcome to attend if they are old enough to understand the materials ... usually in their teens.”
The family groups teach the families about the disorder’s symptoms. “This way the wives can understand why their husbands make poor decisions, why they scream in the middle ofThe night, why the night sweats, the perimeter checks, why when they may have had an active social life before they no longer do, and why there is increased alcohol and drug abuse” Schmitz said. Schmitz said Vietnam vets often developed PTSD because they went overseas as replacements for a unit instead of as a unit. They would be over in the bush on enemy front lines and the Army would yank them out, put them on a plane still in their fatigues and the soldier would be back in the U.S. in 12 hours flat. Three days later, the vets would be leaving San Diego, after processing, for home. After a year of service, she said, Iraq veterans are finding it difficult to let children and spouses get physically close to them because experience in the war zone proves that to be dangerous. “It’s a safety issue,” she said. She said 30 percent of veterans returning from Iraq come home with PTSD symptoms. The military debriefing according to one of her Vietnam vets, Schmitz said, dealt only with being gone from the family for a year. “One guy said the debriefing consisted of, Now, you’ve been away for a year and your wife’s learned to do a lot of things. You’re going to have to let her do what she’s been doing and ease back into family life,” she said. Schmitz said the vet told her the Army still gives that speech according to what an Iraq vet told him. Veterans often have multiple divorces, she said, and sometimes find it difficult to hold a job in the same place for a long period of time. Both of the therapist’s grandfathers and her uncles were WW II vets, she said. One uncle was a Vietnam vet and Schmitz was married to a Vietnam vet, she said. “I’ve been around lots of vets and vet groups,” she said, adding that two of her cousins entered the Army, one of which graduated from West Point. That cousin’s father, she said, retired from the Army as a Lieutenant Colonel of special forces. “My great uncle died in WW II,” she said. “He was a gunner in a plane and died in a crash over Europe. My grandmother, Grace Lansrud, was a gold star mother for losing a son in WW II. ” Schmitz runs the group for vets on Tuesdays from 7 to 8:15 or 8:30 p.m. at the center located at 311 Third St. The group for families begins at 6 and runs until 7 p.m. To get more information or sign up for the group either go to the center and pick up an application or call 265-9639.