Minnesota Veterans Finding Their New Normal


Everyday Carl brings an honorary member to work with him. "He's my 6th child, very important." Jed is Carl's service dog. "I work in a shop, there's loud noises. With him laying like this [next to me], he's my security blanket."

Following his service in Iraq and Afghanistan, Carl now lives with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). After doing some thorough research, Carl came across Helping Paws- where he was paired with Jed. The connection between the two was instantaneous. "I went through a placing process with dogs. Which one do I need? What kind of personality do I want? And what dog would work for me? Right away, Jed and I were attached at the hip. "

As a Vietnam veteran, a career serviceman in the Army, Robert Saddoris has been a lifelong advocate for veterans and their families. He recalls the moment PTSD was mentioned. "Back when the Vietnam veterans were coming back from Vietnam, they called it 'Post Vietnam Syndrome.' The DAV started the Forgotten Warrior Project, because the DAV was not happy that the veterans from Vietnam were labeled as a 'syndrome' because it didn't make sense. It was a disease. It was a problem. But people were not recognizing it as that."

It wasn't until the 1970's that the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) started calling it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. A decade later, around 70 posts were set up to help treat veterans and their families suffering from PTSD. Shortly after, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) jumped aboard. Currently, there over 320 veteran centers across the nation.

Today, one out of five veterans who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from PTSD. " If they have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder bad enough it can shrink the brain," says Saddoris.

Their mind, it's like they can never leave it. They can be driving down the road and there's a car sitting alongside the road that's broke down and to them, that might be a roadside bomb.

To help veterans with PTSD, the DAV has created a new normal for the fellow servicemen and women. "The first part of any problem is admitting you have one," says national guard veteran Dave. Today he's the Associate Executive Director of DAV Minnesota. "We try to help empower veterans to lead fulfilled lives, for them and their families. They did their job by serving and we want to make sure that they're taken care of when they come home because of that issue that arose through service."

One woman's journey facing the many obstacles of PTSD

According to Pentagon figures, today there are over 200,000 women serving in the active-duty army. As the woman's role is constantly changing in the military, the VA reports 11 percent of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are women. Among those veterans, 20 percent have been diagnosed with PTSD.

For Tiffany, joining the military never crossed her mind. After a friend from school asked her to go to a recruiters office and join the army, she enlisted without hesitation. Three weeks later she was in basic training. From that moment, her life changed dramatically. Following the attacks on 9/11, Tiffany deployed to Iraq for a year.

Her return home was a bless, but quickly, she felt the changes and challenges of going from activity-duty in a war zone to once again being a civilian on her own turf. "I found it more difficult to relate to people because you can't understand a situation like that, you can't understand what somebody's just been through for 15 months, what they've experienced, what they've seen, what they've been through. So I quickly withdrew from a lot of people," explained Tiffany.

Coping with PTSD was difficult for Tiffany. "The last thing I wanted to do was admit something was wrong with me. If I could handle all that [the army], then I can certainly handle living normal life at home," said Tiffany. After her family continued to bring up her struggle with PTSD, she realized she needed to get help.

Its been over ten years since Tiffany has been home from her deployment to Iraq. Today she is the wife of an active-duty serviceman and the mother of two. She says life today is much easier living with PTSD. "I've found a comfortable new normal of my own. I think when everybody comes back they find their new normal and what works for them; the things they have to avoid or the things that they have to engaged themselves with to keep them out of a funk or to keep them focused. "

I have my new normal and I have a great life and I have so much to be thankful for.

Combating the stigma of PTSD through education and advocacy

Till today, many veterans experience stigma from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which can affect every facet of a veterans life. "It's school. It's their job. It's their religion. Its their community. Their home life. Their children's life. Everything is affected by it because it changes the way your mind processes things and the way you think about things," explains Dave.

Because of stigma, many veterans go undiagnosed. That's why organizations like the DAV and the VA are working hard to provide resources for veterans suffering from PTSD. "I think our veterans have more and more ability to seek treatment today than they've ever had when it comes to post traumatic stress," says Saddoris.

But perhaps one of the oldest and most important avenues to help veterans with PTSD is through education and advocacy. "The biggest thing to remember is that is is not a weakness," says Tiffany. "It's actually a sign of strength to say 'Ya, maybe their is something that could use a little work,' and to reach out to somebody or to just go in and do something about it. Even when you're in the dark and your down and you feel alone, there's so many people out there. You're not alone. Whatever you're feeling, somebody else has felt it too."

When asked what he wants others to know about PTSD, Carl says, "Some people see it as 'it's all in your head, get over it.' It's not that easy. When you leave something so traumatic, you relive it everyday. " He says it's really difficult for veterans to ask for help. "If you see someone struggling and you know that they might not admit that they have PTSD, but you know something is wrong, encourage them to get help. There are multiple programs that can help them."

Promotional Consideration Provided by Disabled American Veterans of Minnesota