Veterans’ Reintegration with Families

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Veterans returning from service are not the only ones facing adjustments to life back home. Their families also see challenges in dealing with a returning military member. Don de Mars, a counselor employed by the Veterans Administration to provide clinical services to veterans and their families, will talk about issues faced on the home front when soldiers come back home.

Ted Simons: Drive a few miles north of strawberry on highway , nearly miles on rugged forest roads along the edge and into the deep woods atop the Mogollon rim, then scamper feet down the southern edge of a rocky canyon, and you'll come upon a monument to the battle of big dry wash. The site looks much as it did on July th, . When a party of over Apaches waited to ambush cavalry led by captain Chaffee. The troops were guided by Al secret who discovered the trap and warned the soldiers. The Apache had no idea they were now surrounded, outnumbered and they had lost the element of surprise. Nearly half the Apache were killed -- only two troopers died in the melee. The names of the cavalry that took part in the fight are listed on the back of the rarely visited massive stone monument. Including lieutenant Thomas Cruz, who won the medal of honor. The battle of big dry wash was the last battle fought between the Apaches and army regulars.

Ted Simons: Tonight at 7 we here on eight are broadcasting an ask an expert show that allows for viewers to call in and ask an expert on the challenges faced by returning veterans and their families. Joining us now Don De Mars, a counselor employed by the veterans administration to provide clinical services to veterans and their families. Thank you so much for being here. We want to reminder folks late they're evening at you'll be able to call in and ask folks like you personal questions, specific questions and these sorts of things. It's a good program and it's something we're very proud of. But kind of as a hint, a teaser for the show, we've got you here. The vets center program, what is that?

Don de Mars: It's a service that came about in reaction to the Vietnam war, and specifically veterans' frustration with V.A.s. It has its own budget that's authorized by Congress, and it's mandated to provide services, clinical services to veterans and families who have been deployed to a war zone. The services offered range from individuals, marriage, family, group psychotherapy, and we attempt to work hand in hand with the V.A., particularly mental health providers that are prescribing medications to combat veterans.

Ted Simons: As far as the challenges facing vets reintegrating into society, you mentioned there were problems in the past, were those problems in the past. Are those problems the same after all these years?

Don de Mars: I think they're probably more intensified, because of the number of deployments that veterans have gone through. If you remember, a deployment to Vietnam, if you were in the United States Army, spanned 12 months, marine it expand 13 months. Our veterans that are returning from war today have been deployed three, four, five times. And the war changes each and every deployment.

Ted Simons: So with that in mind, common signs of trauma related symptoms.

Don de Mars: The PTSD, they will encounter intrusive images, thoughts, memories. Nightmares, flash backs of the event. Hyper arousal, where the person will experience a flood of energy, as a result of the activation of the sympathetic nervous system. That galvanizes them to fight, flight, or freeze. Typically they will develop efforts to cope with the symptoms by way of avoidance, for example, avoiding large crowds, avoiding walking streets at night, avoiding interacting over the telephone with people that maybe calling, etc., and then numbing. Numbing may occur through work, working compulsively, alcohol, drugs. Many are coming back, however, numb anyway as a result of having been exposed to constant death.

Ted Simons: As far as the families are concerned, obviously the families are not being exposed to consent death. They can try as hard as they can, they just don't have that experience. How do they know it's time to see someone, it's time. How do you go from someone who is being moody to someone who needs help?

Don de Mars: If I can demonstrate, if you allow my slinky to represent the individual, the human organism, and his expenditure of energy, this would be considered normal function. Then if the person engages in exercise, this would be the normal state of expenditure of energy. If the person is traumatized, you find this. The veteran returns and suppress these energy, holding it within. The family, going about its daily business, is seeking to have access emotional connection with him. And on occasion when they do this, the energy explodes. In the form of rage or anger. Any evidence of that obviously is a telltale sign that the veteran is wounded, and needs services.

Ted Simons: And those services, what is out there, what's most commonly seen out there?

Don de Mars: Well, if you take the vet center experience, we're seeing veterans coming in with multiple deployments who are having a difficulty adjusting to civilian life because they feel so alienated. Their survival system was their battle Buddy back in the war zone, and they've left that survival system, and feel very, very vulnerable. Their families are making expectations for them to return, to share the burden of labor in the household, to meet their spouses' needs, and they're just not available. And for the family, it's necessary for them to accept that for a period of time, and help to mobilize the veteran towards seeking help, either at the vet centers for individual, group, family, marital, what have you.

Ted Simons: A lot of times the family needs help too. They've got to figure this out too.

Don de Mars: Absolutely. The family will typically mobilize its resources to try to contain and nullify the symptoms of the symptom bearer, and subsequently their individual needs are not being met. And so they'll come in often times more emotionally distressed than the veteran himself. And when you take the instance of children, children are solely dependent on their parents for just about everything. So if the veteran reacts and a relationship rupture ensues the child will accept responsibility for that. This is my fault. You project that over several decades, you can see the effect would it have on the youngster's self-esteem.

Ted Simons: Yeah. All right. So, let's talk about a healthy readjustment. What contributes to getting back -- Getting that reintegrate on a healthy basis?

Don de Mars: The veteran and the spouse have to step up. The veteran has to acknowledge and seek the appropriate treatment as a result of his exposure to death. The spouse likewise needs to seek treatment because during that time the veteran is attempting to recover from his trauma, she needs to take care of herself, so at our vets center, for example, we have a spousal group, led by Christine Johnson, and they use that support group to learn about PTSD, to learn strategies, to help cope with the trauma within the household, etc.

Ted Simons: You mentioned acknowledgment on the side of the family and the veteran. How difficult is that?

Don de Mars: For the veteran it has a lot to do with acknowledging he's weak, or vulnerable. Should be able to cope. It's not as nearly as difficult for the wife. But what is common to both wife, children, and husband is this tendency to try to close ranks and keep that information from the outside world for fear of being judged.

Ted Simons: All right. So the message veterans and families need to hear, we have the ask an expert show tonight here on 8 channel at 7pm. But before we get there, just from our conversation, folks watching right now, they're thinking, that sounds like so-and-so, that sounds like the family down the street, that sounds -- What do they need to know?

Don de Mars: They need to know that it's really important to do whatever is necessary to help that veteran acquire the assistance they needs. I also think it's very, very important if I can quote the Dalai Lama, that they -- If they really wish to make the veteran happy they need to practice compassion. If they wish to make themselves happy, they need to practice compassion. Compassion is the key to overcome the veterans' resistance to seeking treatment.

Ted Simons: And you've been doing this a long time. Have you seen that concept of compassion emphasized more now than it may have been in the past?

Don de Mars: It should be. In my practice it is.

Ted Simons: Because in the old days there was a tough it out syndrome going.

Don de Mars: Yes, sir.

Ted Simons: Is that still around a little bit?

Don de Mars: In the veterans ranks, absolutely. Absolutely. John Wayne has revisited another generation. Now it would be Clint eastwood.

Ted Simons: It's good information. Thank you so much for joining us. And again, that ask an expert show, people like you will be standing by on the phones for more particular and more specific calls as we run that program later tonight. Thank you so much.

Don de Mars: Yes, sir.

Don de Mars:Counselor, Veterans Administration;

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