When the nation's heroes return home from overseas, they oftentimes are bringing with them the heavy baggage of their traumas from the events they have endured.
They are expected -- and want -- to jump back into work and return their lives back to normal. But after the first few months, things start to change. They start to lash out at their loved ones, or start drinking heavily. Some have trouble sleeping at night while others have suicidal thoughts.
Aside from their time in service, they all have something in common: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
But they are not alone, according to Reg McCutcheon, the executive advisor to commissioner Alex Payne at the Department of Criminal Justice Training and clinical director for Kentucky Post-Critical Incident Seminar. The retired lieutenant colonel of 34 years himself suffered trauma after being deployed in Afghanistan.
"I lost nine men and women on my fourth day in theater and it became a reality check for me," McCutcheon said.
The number of Veterans with PTSD varies by service era, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, but the numbers are staggering.
Those who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF) show about 11-20 out of every 100 Veterans (or between 11-20%) who served in OIF or OEF have PTSD in a given year. The Gulf War, also known as Desert Storm, sees about 12% of veterans that have PTSD in a given year.
For the Vietnam War, about 15 out of every 100 Vietnam Veterans were currently diagnosed with PTSD at the time of the most recent study in the late 1980s, according to the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study. It is estimated that about 30% of Vietnam Veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime.
Additionally, McCutcheon said it's estimated that for every 10 cases of diagnosed PTSD, there are 6.5 that go undetected.
But to understand how one can treat PTSD, they first need to understand how trauma works as well as changing their perspective of the situation.
McCutcheon, who started taking an undergraduate psychology class while in combat, also has his masters in therapy, is EMDR certified (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) and is a certified clinical trauma professional.
He explained that trauma is like putting sand in the gas tank. It creates problems in the engine, causing it to sputter and become disabled and unable to filter out the sand to get working again. When one goes to sleep, the brain files away everything it learned in the day. But when it comes to trauma, it doesn't know where to fit it. That trauma bounces around until it starts to cause disruptions in that person's life -- sputtering and becoming disabled. Once the trauma is recognized, one can then learn how to cope and move past it.
One of the ways the DOCJT is trying to help law enforcement officers and dispatchers is through their Kentucky Post-Critical Incident Seminar (KYPCIS), a program that has been modeled after highly successful programs developed by the FBI and South Carolina.
Starting in August, a different version of the seminar will begin taking place, the KYPCIS-M, for military veterans. While there isn't much of a difference between the programs, this one is more geared towards those who have returned from service overseas and uses lingo they can relate to.
The seminar takes place over three days, and on the first day, the group meets at a U-shaped table. Behind them is another U-shaped table where the peers sit, so they literally and figuratively are showing the participants that they have their backs.
The peer team will take turns sharing their own critical incident before having the group share their experiences. It's an emotional day for all involved.
In addition to sharing their stories, the participants are evaluated by mental health participants to ensure no one is actively experiencing a crisis. But the first thing they do is assure the participants that they are normal.
"We want them to know that you are not alone. You matter," McCutcheon said.
On the second day, the participants begin with a class on stress and trauma before breaking off into small groups. Throughout the day, they learn about coping mechanisms, communication and relationships.
On the last day, they meet in their small groups and talk about religion and spirituality, as well as taking medication for anxiety, sleeplessness and other normal reactions that happen after a critical incident. The peers urge participants to speak with their physician to get help.
By the end of the day, the groups will have learned healthy ways of coping and how to live a normal life again.
"For you to come in on the first day before the stories are told, when the peers tell the stories, just notice the air of the room," McCutcheon said. "Then come back the last day we close and then measure the air of the room -- it's completely different. If that doesn't choke you up, I don't know what will."
"If you could just be there to get a feel for the air in the room on the first day, and come back on that last day -- it's completely different," McCutcheon said. "It could bring you to tears."
After three months have passed, a survey is sent out to participants to check in and see how they are doing. This is repeated at the six and 12 month marks, not only to determine the programs effectiveness, but also as a safety net to ensure they are still doing okay.
In addition to the veteran themselves, a spouse or significant other is also encouraged to attend. This gives an opportunity for their spouses to not only hear their partner's story, but the stories of others around them and hear the things they have to endure just because they decided to serve their country.
Lodging, food and the seminar are all free of cost. The program is set for Monday, August 12 through Wednesday, August 14.
To find out more information about the KYPCIS or KYPCIS-M can call 1-844-5KY-PCIS or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you or someone you know needs immediate help to get through a crisis, call Safe Call Now at 1-206-459-3020, 1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255 (Option 1 for veterans) or 1-866-COP2COP (1-866-267-2267).
Reach Kaitlyn Brooks at 624-6608; follow her on Twitter @kaitlynsbrooks.