NORTH ADAMS -- As the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder continues to rise among veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a local group of volunteers has formed a support circle aimed at helping families understand the disorder and help their service member readjust to civilian life.
"When these soldiers come home, they are not deprogrammed. Many veterans feel they don’t fit into society and it becomes an issue for the spouses and children," Rebecca Litchfield, a veteran of the U.S. Navy and volunteer in the city’s Veterans Services office, said Wednesday. "There is help for the veteran through the Veterans Affairs Admin istration, but there aren’t any programs for the families or siblings."
The lack of support for family members was the impetus behind the creation of The Berkshire Veteran WINS (Women in Need of Services) Program, which will hold its first meeting Wednesday, Sept. 19, at 7 p.m., in the lower-floor meeting space of the First Baptist Church.
In addition to being a support group, the program will also host speakers and events. As part of Wednesday’s kick-off, the group will host Mary S. King, a Bennington, Vt., author whose book, "Facing the Wall: A Mission," chronicles life with her husband, Jim, a Vietnam veteran with PTSD, and the effect it has had on the family.
"I was talking with Becky about the need for a support group for families when Kathi McCarthy
According to a study released in July by the Institute of Medicine, of the 2.6 million service men and women deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, an estimated 13 percent to 20 percent, or 338,000 to 520,000, will be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
"We want our group to be a safe place for these families, a place where we can let them know that they are not alone," McCarthy said. "I was married for 27 years to a Vietnam veteran with PTSD. It affects everyone."
Despite the group’s name, she said it is open to any family member of a veteran -- wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends, parents, siblings and children -- who is diagnosed with or shows symptoms of PTSD.
"We don’t have figures on how many local men and women have been deployed or how many have been deployed numerous times," Litchfield said. "What we do know is that the rate of divorce and suicide is increasing among these veterans. We also know that it is affecting the families."
Harpin added, "I have a concern about how it’s affecting the children. I believe that many high school dropouts are related to having a father or mother who can’t adjust to civilian life. We also know that children of veterans diagnosed with PTSD have a tendency to turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with the parent."
For one local veteran of the Iraq War, who asked that his name not be used, the creation of a support group for local families is an important first step.
"I’ve been with my girlfriend for 21Ž2 years, and I’m very lucky she puts up with me. There are days that are very difficult, where I don’t even acknowledge her because I can’t," he said. "I’ve talked about going to a support group with her and she’s been reluctant. There’s a stigma that’s attached with counseling and group therapy. However, we just attended a function held by the Wounded Warriors Project and she met three other wives/girlfriends who are in the same boat as her. She found people who understand our situation."
Cariddi said she’s lending the new program her support and aims to help it in any way she can.
"This is long over due," she said.
For more information about The Berkshire Veterans WINS Program, contact Litchfield at the North Adams Veteran Affairs office at 413-662-3040. Office hours are Monday to Thursday, 8 a.m. to noon and Friday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Signs of PTSD
Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder:
* Reliving the event: Memories of the traumatic event can be experienced in several ways, including nightmares and flashbacks. Memories can also be caused by "triggers" -- a sight, sound or smell that the individual associates with the event.
* Avoidance: Individual avoids situations that may trigger memories: Crowds, driving, movies, etc.
* Feeling numb: Individual has hard time expressing emotions or can experience a loss of feelings, such as love, toward family members.
* Feeling keyed up (hyperarousal): Individual is always "on edge" or on the lookout for danger. Symptoms include being quick to anger, having trouble with sleep or concentration, being startled by loud noises.
Other problems that occur with PTSD:
* Feelings of hopelessness, shame or despair
* Depression or anxiety
* Drinking or drug problems
* Physical symptoms or chronic pain
* Employment problems
* Relationship problems, including divorce
Source: The U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs website http://ptsd.va.gov