NOTICE: I am writing this based on our own experiences and encounters. I have omitted names, specific program details and intentionally left out any other detailed information so no one gets their underwear in a wad. Individual results will vary just as the severity of a Veteran's PTSD will vary.
Last weekend I made my way to see my husband on his weekend pass and to meet with his therapist who had requested a meeting with me. I haven’t blogged much about this because; well…I have been stewing on how to write this. For the past five weeks, I haven't seen any improvement in my husband except for some tiny little things like missing his family, trying some new things like equine therapy and well, just trying period. Because he tried so hard, I think this is why the Mistress is so upset and bothered. I most definitely had some legitimate concerns regarding my husband’s stability, in patient treatment, types of treatment given and whether they could assure me he was considered “safe” for my family’s safety and for himself. It's been a roller coaster ride of emotions and issues, and to be honest...I am disappointed.
For those of you who haven't read past posts, my husband voluntarily opted to attend a six week rehabilitation program for acute PTSD through the VA. It was quite honestly, our last hope. It had been one of those "if only we could get into that program" wishes as finances and job dependency kept my husband from going in the last two years and one that was made possible by the temporary granting of his 100% disability. This year, it wasn't put on the back burner because his stability had gone from tolerable to complete zero. It seemed like it took forever but my husband remained optimistic, hopeful and willing. This was a huge step for him and one I was really proud of him for.
I wanted this to work so badly not just for him but for our whole family. It seems like I have done nothing but try to keep our bubble intact, but the cracks kept getting bigger than my ability to repair them. More importantly, I had hoped that the time apart would help me find myself and give me the opportunity to work on my family, marriage and my stress level. Instead, I found that I am probably one emotion away from a complete nervous breakdown. Rather than find any sort of peace and healing, I found it to be more stressful and exhausting. I have told our caseworker, our Federal Recovery Coordinator, and anyone else who listened to me that this wasn't working for my husband. Some acted as if I had suddenly grown two heads or acted surprised that it wasn't "wonderful" when asked how it was going. There are many programs out there for acute PTSD and some do work for some...and then some don't work at all which I think should be discussed. Not every program is going to work for some individuals as their PTSD is different just like the programs that treat them. So now that statement is out of the way...I will explain to you just how bad our experience was.
First off, the trip up there to see the therapist? I was initially quite impressed because finally someone wanted to talk to me from this program! When I got there? WASTE OF TIME. While professional and very nice, it has been bugging me why this person wanted to meet with me a week before my husband is allowed to come home. I guess I was hoping for some instructions, some advice, and maybe just someone to listen to me for a while, reassure and give me some tips I could utilize. I wanted desperately to find any help to continue helping my husband here at home. I assumed (there's my problem) for a while that my husband was receiving one on one time with a therapist, a doctor, and got some type of structure in therapeutic treatment. Instead, he has seen a part time therapist, once a week and this particular weekend was only his fourth or fifth visit.
I was taken back! I assumed my husband’s complaints were based on being away from home, and of course, the "snowball effect" of having to talk about issues he doesn't want to talk about. (The snow ball, as I refer to it, stems when the PTSD Veteran gets upset over one issue and then it escalates to include everything under the sun, has nothing to do with the issue at hand to begin with and of course just escalates the anger, and agitation.) I wrote off much of his complaints due to him just being him and now being there...I see what he was talking about.
Repeating back on what I said...this therapist was very nice and pleasant to be around just so that's out there. On the outside looking in, I would have thought that a meeting with the spouse or family should have been done early so issues that my husband couldn't remember or just didn't think about, could be worked on throughout the program. As I always maintain, the most important person and vital to the Veteran’s health and recovery, is the spouse or caregiver. We notice so much more because we don’t have any blinders on and we know what they were like prior to war. Working on the issues at hand such as the "reasons" why he is suffering from acute PTSD just recently was discussed this past week. The "guilt" portion of that will be discussed this week before release in a short session. This upsets me highly and disappoints me in the methods of treatment. Sure, let's break open the egg....shake it up and scramble it...then let's send it right back home to the family! This made no sense to me but what do I know right? Why are we just now working on "guilt" a few days from release and this being the last time he will see the therapist?
Now to be the devil’s advocate here, and to give anyone the benefit of the doubt like I usually do... I will state that I am sure they know what they are doing and I am sure that they have had plenty of success stories to back up the failed ones. I don't have a fancy medical degree hanging on the wall but just going by this ol' gal's common sense. I was nervous and a little leery of doing this visit to begin with because we have been burned before, but I drove the five hours with optimism and high hopes. While the visit was ok, I just felt like looking at the therapist afterward and saying "Is this ALL you have? Is this it? Really?" She had some good insight for him, but how can you really help anyone when you have only seen them a couple of times? I spoke about the stress level, how it has affected our children, and the fact that I just can't take on anymore. The therapist did listen, but really didn't offer me anything. It seemed to me the previous day, all that was discussed in my husband's "treatment" was one particular incident . However, this didn't completely scar my husband, it was a year's deployment worth of incidents...so why are we only focusing on one particular thing when there was so much?
I appreciated her taking her time out on a day off...I really do. I knew that doing a Friday with three children and school, would be impossible trying to juggle pick ups and getting there on time with that amount of driving time. I was impressed she was willing to come in and meet with me. However, I did notice throughout the meeting, the eyes kept darting towards the clock on several occasions. I know, to be fair, it was probably a day off and she didn't have to be there...but really didn't feel like we should have even been there to begin with especially since we didn't get anything out of it or we instead felt like we were taking too long. I would rather have someone say "Hey, I only have an hour and so let's focus on such and such". I get it. I would appreciate the honesty...but not constantly checking the clock. It's rude.
I thought maybe there was something at home I could do or set up for him such as certain times to simulate hospital or military environment such as having "chow" on the table at a certain time or having a certain day for particular things. My husband seems to do very well under a guided structure of such and such time for chow and you have to report for such and such time. As someone mentioned before in a comment, it's similar to that of being in the military and being told what to do. So I asked "Is there something I can be doing at home? Is there a way to help with structure for him when he gets back?" She looked at my husband and said "You need to work on a structure". Yes, I agree...but half the time the man forgets his head if it wasn't attached and can't even remember to shower or take his meds! When we talked, I mentioned that my husband had suicidal tendencies and thoughts, so therefore I didn't feel safe and damn sure didn't want to lose him. It scares me most of the time with him home now after the bottom fell out. I didn't get any type of reassurance at all from this doctor. Not even a "let's just hope for the best" yada yada talk. Nothing.
The therapist said of course, this was understandable but he needs to see a therapist. During this time, my husband stated he thinks about stuff like this all the time and "he feels more hopeless now" than he ever did because the program didn't help. I just sat there....frozen. I looked at her, she looked at him and that was it. I felt it coming...burning deep and low in my belly while my heart was pounding and I thought I was going to lose it. So he is supposed to come home this week, after six weeks...and he is still thinking like this? Something is wrong here! I looked at her, and thought maybe I misunderstood. "Go see a therapist?" What the hell did we send him up there for then? Now as a stipulation of mine, I have put my foot down and told my husband he WILL go see his counselor at the Vet Center who is a licensed therapist. However, she backed that with "Don't go to the Vet Center because although they are there to listen, they can't help you with techniques". Ok,yeah like the techniques you have been working on so diligently with him this past six weeks right? So now the Vet Center is bad or my husband shouldn't be seeing a licensed therapist and one he completely trusts and is open to?
We did make it through the two hours of whatever you want to call it and I was handed the same PTSD Education Group Participant's Handbook. I took it graciously, when I really wanted to say "I drove all this way..$150.00 in gas money we couldn't afford not to mention the overnight stay in a motel....and this is all I got? A PTSD handbook for the patients?" I am sure there is a reason for her giving it to me, maybe its because I seemed skeptical of the program...but the book actually made it worse!
I walked out with my husband and was upset. So upset I could hear my heartbeat pounding in my ears and I just couldn't decide whether I wanted to scream bloody murder or sucker punch someone. Hey, never said I was a Saint right? I didn't want him stressed out, didn't want him upset or mad...so I hid my emotions and bit my lip. We got in the car and as we were pulling out, I told him "I walked out of there and didn't get anything from that at all." He said "See, I told you". I was so disappointed, and well...hurt. This was the "savior" of programs and one that helped so many others "supposedly". So why is it the ones that just left have all the same complaints, or our same sentiment heard from other Veterans and some employees? All that wait, all that hope....all the worries...and that's what we got; to be told to send him to another therapist.
Flipping through that stapled copies in the hotel, there wasn't anything at all I haven't already learned on my own or that we have tried. The information is somewhat outdated and nothing new I haven't seen before. Just the same old reshashed standardized PTSD definitions and symptoms. Hold your breathe, count to ten, hold it again til your blue, relax, stand on your head etc etc etc. Here I was thinking my husband was going to be seen by a therapist several times through the week and get to the root of the issues at hand. He is also doing group therapy but with some of the guys, it was "shut up..the more you talk the more we are stuck here" so the guys just stopped talking. While my husband liked the group therapist and his therapist, he wasn't happy about the little of time spent on any issues or problems he had. The most he has done is rehashing breathing relaxation which didn't work or deep muscle techniques which didn't work. Rest of the time? He sat, sat, and sat some more. Other than a few "field" trips, he spent working on crafts, half of which again, we had to pay for and definitely could not afford to cover the costs on. This was because they were allowed one at the Volunteer Services through the week, but you can put together a leather wallet fairly quick so he had to find something else to fill the time.
The one thing I did find pleasing, and I am sure you know why by looking through the other posts I have written; is the introduction of Equine Therapy which he absolutely loved. This gave him something to look forward to each week and seemed to thoroughly enjoy working with this particular horse. I think Equine therapy is a wonderful stress reliever as I went through such a similar program at Quantum Leap Farms in FL through a retreat I went on. There seemed to be a few "drama" issues among the higher staff which rolled on to the patients and made my husband more agitated and frustrated. This caused tension and stress in all of them. Wrong place to be having issues on the mother ship with unstable PTSD Vets on board! The more they sat, the more my husband got angry and festered. Not good at all. The program itself in our experience wasn't set on a regular schedule, so you may be in your third week and getting to know the people with you...then boom, they are gone and new ones brought in. This leaves the ones still remaining to repeat all the classes they have already done. After a few times, it becomes monotonous, annoying and therefore setting the Veteran off and they lose their focus. They don't know the new guys, having to talk in groups about their issues once again to new strangers, and then ticked because they are having to go through stuff they have already done.
What I don't understand is there is obviously a list of Veterans awaiting to get through this program. So if that's the case, why not have a set six week schedule with the same set of guys starting and ending together. Makes sense to me, but perhaps there is a reasoning behind the way they are doing it. Now although we don't agree on the program and its failures, we will say the guys and gals on the floor...or the "peons" were really nice, kind and wanted to be there. That was the only thing we got out of this whole thing, was seeing another person's compassion for working with Veterans and their genuine concern for their well-being. These individuals took their time out and listened, offered advice and well, just friendship. It speaks volumes when you can come across a group like this in one area.
So in OUR experience, the six week program didn't help him at all and only made him worse. His anger and frustration level is higher and faster, meaning he can now rear that ugly PTSD beast in a split second where before he had small levels to climb before full demonic posession began. He has now discarded all programs for PTSD and feels more hopeless. Depression has settled in at an all time low. We never expected a cure or even all the bad stuff to go away. My husband simply wanted someone to help him dig the foundation, lay the first blocks and teach him to keep building and go beyond the demons haunting him daily. No matter what I look into or say "Hey they have this one", I get the "look" and the ranting and ravings of a PTSD Veteran who has been severely burned. I think the most disappointing aspect of all of this, is no one really seems to care up there. The main doctor doesn't seem to be concerned, the therapist didn't seem to think my husband blatantly stating he feels hopeless and all is lost all the time, was an issue...and the comment of "go see a therapist" when you get out of this program is going to be our saving grace. Unfortunately, our saving graces have come few and far between which is even more disheartening.
I have to agree with my husband that if all we got out of losing six weeks of our lives was all of this...we might as well just give up on any other possibilities of getting the help he needs. I got more out of trying to figure out things on my own than anything the therapist offered us which was nothing more than go see another therapist. I don't want my husband to become another statistic, I don't want my children to be in those numbers...so I guess it will just have to be my husband and I trying to figure everything out on our own. Again, this is our experience for an Acute PTSD Combat Veteran, and results will vary for everyone. I don't want for anyone to think that I am completely bashing the program as I have seen several miracles performed on other Veterans and the programs did help. I am writing this because for the ones it didn't help...I want you to know I get it. I have been there. Unfortunately, we just were one of the failed cases. I wish we hadn't been and could have written with positivity and happiness.
Six Weeks of PTSD Treatment And All We Got Was This Lousy PTSD Manual For Patients,