Women Combating PTSD, "The Silent Killer of the Military"
*Click here for an exclusive interview with an active female veteran.
Comparing The PTSD Rate Among Military Men Vs. Women Serving In The Military
You know all about physically wounded warriors. You hear their stories on television and you read them online. It's important to realize the "Silent Killer of the Military" is just as debilitating to our nation's troops. That is, to our servicemen, as well as servicewomen."
The statistics are surprising.
- Eight out of 100 men (only 8%) serving in the military in the United States have PTSD.
- Twenty out of 100 women in the military, or one in five (20%) have been diagnosed with PTSD.
- It's also important to remember that perspective is key in this data. The military is made up, in a large majority, of men, not women. Yet, the PTSD rate among military women is double that (or higher) compared to men. Of those members of the military deployed right now in Iraq or Afghanistan, only 15% of them are women.
Shadowing One Of Texoma's Female Veterans – Kymm Putman, Iowa Park
Kymm R. Putman is a veteran of the United States Air Force. She spent about 14 years serving in the Air Force. Kymm spent time serving her country overseas on numerous occasions, including in Germany. She was stationed across the globe, including in Germany at times, but was also deployed to various regions, as well.
In November 2003, toward the beginning of the war in Iraq, Kymm Putman was deployed to Tallil, Iraq, as part of the 4077 Expeditionary Medical Group for the United States Air Force. Her deployment was four and a half months long. While deployed, her squadron's focus and dedication was on public health.
"We trained for mass casualty, but this was the real deal. Grace and I prayed and cried for a minute. Once the patients came, this former Marine helped us carry patients to their respective spots. There were about 20 total patients that came through. One was a baby that didn't make it... I saw her as they were trying to save her. I then saw the Italian nurse crying and knew that the baby didn't make it... I miss my family and wish I could talk with them at a time like this."
It was not until nine years later, after she stepped back on American soil post-deployment, that Kymm was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Despite nearly a decade since her time deployed in the Iraq War, it wasn't until 2011 that Kymm Putman was diagnosed with PTSD.
Putman is just one of approximately 300,000 deployed military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan the past six years who've been diagnosed with PTSD. It is an overwhelming trend. Kymm Putman told Newschannel 6, "Every night, I sleep with ear plugs in and it wasn't until recently that I realized that I've done that since I deployed. And it's to drown out noise so I can sleep." Kymm struggled from other symptoms of PTSD, as well, including basic anxiety and family / relationship / spousal-relationship and/or intimacy strains.
Even with a heightened sense of anxiety and fear, while deployed and now, back at home -- Kymm Putman survived deployment. When it comes to surviving her PTSD diagnosis however, (post-deployment transition and post-active military transition), Kymm is making progress on what she called her "daily profess." I asked Kymm directly, "Do you feel like you've survived PTSD?" She responded, "That's a tough question... I've never been asked that. I think that's a process, so, I would not say I've survived it, but I'm doing okay."
Kymm is getting there. She is improving and realizes it. In fact, Kymm Putman copes with her Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the symptoms tied to it thanks to her husband's music and a little elbow grease when she cleans at home (control mechanism). Most of all, however, the best tool Kymm said keeps her in line and looking to the positive in life is her interaction at work in Wichita Falls, Texas. Her first job outside of the military after 14 years and as a civilian keeps her PTSD in check.
As a Veteran Peer Provider and Certified Peer Specialist in the Mental Health Services Department at Helen Farabee Centers, Kymm uses her experience as a Veteran, as a woman Veteran, and as someone with PTSD to provide service and support to people just like her. Instead of giving into her PTSD and the tendency to want to withdraw and/or remain numb in relationships of all spectrums, she spends her days in the civilian world as a Veteran representative. She shares her story. She shares her battle with PTSD. She relates with and helps Veterans in Texoma struggling from the very same disorder - PTSD. And, because of that link, Texoma's Vets confide in Kymm because they know how much she really cares.
Kymm Putman's life may seem like a juggling act some days, especially when you add PTSD to the mix and of course, the joy of motherhood, as well. As a wife, mother, Veteran, and perhaps most complex: as a woman Veteran. Kymm Putman said it best: "It's a process," as she strives to make a happy home for her family.
DEFINING PTSD (as defined by the National Center for PTSD and distributed by the United States Air Force):
"Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to an experience in which there was the potential for serious physical harm or death. Examples of traumatic events include military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, spousal abuse, child abuse/neglect, automobile accidents, and violent assaults. PTSD is distinguished from 'normal' remembering of stressful events because it is persistent, causes emotional distress, and disrupts functioning in daily life."
A person with PTSD has three main types of symptoms (this is usually the case):
1. Re-experiencing the traumatic event.
Experiencing the same mental, emotional, and physical experiences that occurred during or just after the trauma. Such as: unexpected and distressing memories of the event or flashbacks (feeling as if the event were happening again while awake), nightmares consisting of the event or other frightening images, exaggerated emotional and physical reactions to triggers that remind the person of the event.
2. Avoidance and emotional numbing.
Avoiding reminders of the trauma. Survivors may or may not realize that their behaviors can be motivated by the need to avoid reminders of the trauma. Avoidance is indicated by: extensive avoidance of activities, places, thoughts, feelings, or conversations related to the traumatic event; feeling detached from others; loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable; restricted emotions; shutting down emotionally or feeling emotionally numb; trouble having loving feelings or feeling any strong emotions; losing interest in things you used to enjoy doing.
3. Increased arousal.
Physical reactions to trauma reminders such as: trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating or remembering information, irritability, feeling agitated, outbursts of anger, feeling hypervigilant or on-guard, constantly on the lookout for danger, getting startled by loud noises or someone touching you when you are not expecting it, feeling shaky and sweaty, heart pounding and/or having trouble breathing.
*Cite: National Center for PTSD fact sheet.
Why is/has the PTSD rate among women in the military become an aggressive trend and what does the disorder entail on a daily basis for those diagnosed?
Doctor David Carlston is a licensed clinical psychologist in Wichita Falls. Carlston described PTSD as an anxiety disorder. It is a disorder he said, that women, by nature, are more susceptible to. That is, upon a loved one's return to the United States.
"When they come home, they have more roles," Dr. Carlston said. "So they have a wider range of roles that they have to meet - mom, working, spouse...," he explained. Among other things, Dr. Carlston said the disorder causes a lack of trust and warmth for family and friends that can often lead to broken relationships and families.
Dr. Carlston explained some symptoms associated with PTSD to Newschannel 6. "The individual comes back meeting criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. You know, the symptoms in terms of emotional numbing. Often, they'll put a distance. Intimacy and closeness are difficult. Kind of that jumpiness or irritability... Those can be very difficult for family and loved ones," he said.
COMBAT & THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN THE MILITARY
Concerning military women's role in the U.S. military and in regards to combat, Rasmussen Reports released findings in February 2012 that showed, in a survey of 1,000 U.S. likely voters, 54% of Americans surveyed favor a full combat role for women serving in the military. In fact, 22% surveyed incorrectly believe that military women are already allowed to fight on the front lines of warfare/combat and can participate in all of the same combat roles men in the military do. Of the participants surveyed, just barely more than half, or 56%, recognize that this is not the case at war. Respondents unsure of women's role in the military concerning combat made up 21% of those surveyed.
Additional Survey Findings:
- 54% of voters say, regardless of the current policy, women in the military should be allowed to fight on the front lines and perform all the combat roles men do, but 36% oppose a full combat role for women, and 10% are undecided.
- 57% of men say it's okay for women to serve in combat. Only 52% of women share that view.
- 44% believe it will be good for the military if men and women serve together in combat roles, but 31% think it will have a bad impact. 12% say it would have no impact. 13% are unsure.
RESOURCES AVAILABLE FOR DOWNLOAD:
To download an informational packet about PTSD distributed by the United States Air Force, click here.
To download an informational packet about life after deployment distributed by the United States Air Force, click here.
To download one of three PDFs that list the local and crisis phone numbers for anyone struggling with PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, and/or Military Sexual Assault, as sponsored by "Bring Everyone In The Zone" and Helen Farabee Centers (Texoma & National Resources), click one and/or all of the PDF hyperlinks below.
Brittany Glas, Newschannel 6