Veterans speak out about PTSD, suicide

Published: Jun. 29, 2012 at 9:20 AM CDT|Updated: Jul. 5, 2012 at 3:44 PM CDT
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Sgt. Matthew Davis is walking to raise awareness about PTSD in veterans. His sign indicates the...
Sgt. Matthew Davis is walking to raise awareness about PTSD in veterans. His sign indicates the seriousness of the problem.

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - E5 Sgt. Matthew Davis has been in the military for 10 years and spent a total of 40 months in the theater of the Iraq War. He's one of thousands of soldiers who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

"I'm still dealing with it," said Davis. "It's something that I'm going to be dealing with the rest of my life. It's not just an on and off switch. So, I'm learning to cope with it."

The transition from military to civilian life has been difficult for him and coping with PTSD is a constant struggle.

"I don't like to go out in public, really. I no longer hang out with friends. I have lots of nightmares. My wife told me that I rolled over, told her crazy things," Davis added.

To help manage his PTSD, Davis receives counseling each week at the New Orleans Veterans Affairs. A few weeks ago, he took another step to recovery. Inspired by Ron Zaleski, an ex-Marine who walked cross-country barefoot to raise awareness about veteran suicide, Davis started walking from his home in Houma all the way to the heart of Baton Rouge. All the while, he carried a sign with a chilling fact: 18 veterans a day commit suicide.

"It's too much for someone to deal with," said Mike McNaughton, VA director of veteran outreach. "We've got to find other ways to take care of them."

McNaughton is a veteran of Afghanistan, where he lost a leg and some fingers after stepping on a land mine. He has his own experiences with PTSD and uses that knowledge to help fellow military members.

"These are our sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, everybody and we have to take care of them," McNaughton said.

The outreach director draws on his own experiences to help relate to military members struggling with PTSD. He said there is a lot of resistance from soldiers to seek help because of the stigmas associated with PTSD. According to McNaughton, military members are viewed as tough and invincible and admitting a mental issue is perceived by many as being weak.

"It was getting the commanders on down to realize that it's something that's a problem," McNaughton added.

However, there is a wide variety of resources for military members and their families. The Louisiana VA has four veteran centers that use a variety of techniques to help veterans.

"It's not something that you feel bad about, that you feel like you're going crazy. They make you feel real comfortable. You can come and go as you please," McNaughton explained.

There is also the Baton Rouge Crisis Intervention Center, which specializes in suicide prevention. McNaughton warns that while a veteran may not have any physical injuries, the mental scars can run deep. He said it's better for concerned family or friends to be proactive when getting their loved ones help.

The Crisis Center has two 24-hour hotlines for help.  The numbers are (225) 924-3900 or (800) 437-0303.

Like Davis, McNaughton also uses physical activity to cope and encourages other veterans to do the same.

"Sometimes you have people and they're sitting at home in their cocoon and they don't want to get out. You get them out and on a bike or doing something physical and they get tired and they start getting very emotional and they start telling you how they feel," McNaughton said.

Programs like Ride 2 Recovery, a cycling group, provide veterans with a platform to ride with other veterans with similar experiences.

McNaughton said the entire community can help to involved veterans and help them adjust to civilian life.

For more information on helping veterans, you can contact the VA.

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