PTSD can harm families of veterans

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For 22 years, Shirley Booze attributed her husband’s violent nightmares and depression to “mental fatigue.”

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Shirley Booze, of Evans, has been married to a Vietnam veteran for 29 years. In 2005 she realized that her husband's mood swings and depression were a result of post-traumatic stress disorder.   EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Shirley Booze, of Evans, has been married to a Vietnam veteran for 29 years. In 2005 she realized that her husband's mood swings and depression were a result of post-traumatic stress disorder.

It was clearly more than just everyday stress that was affecting the Army veteran, but Booze had no other way to classify his emotional isolation.

“It was like he was in a foxhole and trying to protect himself,” she said.

Her first clue came in 1994, when she read an article about violence in military families and recognized some of the problems. It wasn’t until 2005 that a medical pamphlet gave her a name for his condition: post-traumatic stress disorder.

“That was a big ‘aha’ moment,” Booze said.

PTSD is the enduring psychological reaction to a traumatic event. While the renewed focus on PTSD in the last 10 years has rested largely on the veterans, experts say families pay a price, too. The Department of Veterans Affairs says “families of veterans with PTSD experience more physical and verbal aggression.”

Little has changed in the seven years since Booze recognized symptoms of PTSD in her husband, Edwin, who did not want to be interviewed.

His wife said he still goes through spells of depression and suffers nightmares that require her to shake him awake.

Just having a clear understanding of PTSD and the resources available to her has empowered Booze.

“It was a relief for me to be finally making some headway in understanding where we are,” she said.

Booze was a young bride when she realized her husband was battling a host of mental issues. A career service member, Edwin Booze served as a field radio repairman in Korea and Vietnam, as well as deployments in Germany and Ethiopia. Though he doesn’t talk much about his service, Booze gleaned that he did not engage in direct combat.

Three months into their relationship, it was a struggle to get her husband to eat out at restaurants or be in public places, Booze said. So she created opportunities to socialize with her friends at home through cookouts and parties. She uses words like “hurt,” “angry” and “betrayed” to describe those early years.

“I was waiting for him to be the leader” of the family, Booze said.

Through talking with her husband’s family, Booze attributes her husband’s problems to not just 30 years of military service but also his parents’ divorce at an early age, living as a black man in the civil rights era and a first marriage that ended in divorce.

That knowledge helped to an extent, but Booze still has to cope with living with a veteran who has PTSD symptoms. Booze has taken her two grown children to two workshops where they had an opportunity to talk with other adult children about their experiences living with a mother or father experiencing PTSD. It was a healing experience, and Booze continues to seek those opportunities for her family.

Having trained mental health professionals describe their father was a validation of Booze’s research and counseling.

Booze said her faith has been an anchor throughout her trials, and she credits God for providing the right people and information to help her along the way.

“I was always moving in the right direction, I just didn’t know it,” Booze said.

HELP FOR FAMILIES

• Research and learn more about PTSD. Understanding the symptoms helps you understand what your family member is going through.

• Offer to accompany your veteran on doctor visits. You can offer support and keep track of therapy.

• Set up a “time out” system to allow either person in an argument to take a break and calm down.

• To get help, call the Veterans Crisis Line at (800) 273-8255.


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